Perhaps Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger are deeply concerned and inwardly frightened about the possible demise of the Big 12 athletic conference, but the public has no reason to believe this is the case.
Maybe the truth of the matter is they are not that worried, but, if that is so, they are making a big mistake. It is good they are starting to state their positions. They should be vocal about the situation, urging their fellow conference chancellors, presidents and ADs to be far more aggressive in doing whatever is necessary to retain the remaining nine members of the conference and add three more nationally recognized universities.
This effort should be a top priority.
The breakup of the conference started when Nebraska left for the Big 10 Conference, making no bones about its belief it was too good to remain in the Big 12. Next, Colorado joined the Pac 10 Conference, and, last week, Texas A&M announced it wanted to leave the Big 12 and seek affiliation with some other conference. The A&M departure is understandable due to its decades-long dislike of the University of Texas and the manner in which Texas has dominated the Big 12, particularly with the formation of the Longhorn Television Network, from which Texas keeps the biggest share of revenues and parcels out smaller shares to the other conference schools. In most every other athletic conference, all schools share equally, with no one university, like Texas, calling the shots.
Now, there is word that University of Oklahoma officials are studying the possibility of leaving the Big 12. This would be a mistake for Oklahoma as well as for the entire conference.
Maybe there is a tremendous amount of effective and proactive work going on behind the scenes at Big 12 Conference headquarters, but there is no evidence of such concern. Chancellors, presidents and athletic directors should be meeting now to discuss and investigate what three schools would be a good fit for the Big 12. Many factors must be considered such as the academic excellence of the schools, whether they are members of the American Association of Universities, their national reputations, their geographic location, the breadth of their athletic program, whether they run clean programs, and the size of the television viewing audiences the schools bring to the party. This is where dollars come into the equation.
As one knowledgeable observer pointed out, Texas is the locomotive that drives the Big 12 train and is the focus of a great deal of animosity over the formation of the Longhorn Television Network and the manner in which Texas plans to share these riches with other Big 12 schools. However, as this observer noted, this is both a blessing and a curse for Texas. They couldn’t join any other conference and play by the same rules, and the Big 12 is the best possible conference for Texas — as well as Oklahoma.
Other chancellors and presidents must take a far more powerful role in selling this idea, as well as selecting three other superior universities to join the conference, rather than acting so blasé about the matter.
It’s time for Gray-Little to show some fire in her belly and urgency about this matter, if for no other reason than to show KU alumni and all Kansans she is genuinely concerned about the health and future of the Big 12. Granted, the top priority of the university is providing a challenging academic and research environment, but a strong, allied conference of like universities — for academic as well as athletic competition — is important and rewarding for all member institutions.
Let’s see some strong, public indications that Gray-Little and Zenger are deeply interested and concerned and are taking meaningful actions and initiatives rather than KU being exposed as being caught off-guard in this conference realignment game.