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Year later, a more perfect union for Big 12

By Stefan Stevenson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram –

FORT WORTH, Texas — A year ago, the Big 12 Conference appeared to be splitting apart at the seams.

Texas A&M was tired of being the maroon-headed stepchild to favorite son Texas and bolted for the Southeastern Conference. Soon, Missouri followed them out of the Big 12.

Former conference commissioner Dan Beebe was ousted because Oklahoma and others felt he was too cozy with the University of Texas. And the Sooners and Longhorns each took turns dating the Pac-12. The emerging Longhorn Network, a final straw for the Aggies, remained a thorn in the side of the rest of the conference until certain concessions were made. Baylor threatened the Aggies with litigation.

The ordeal played out like a bad episode of “Dallas”. Back-stabbing, over-the-top emotions and cliffhangers at every turn.

Enter interim commissioner Chuck Neinas. He nimbly navigated the tattered conference through a reassessment of itself, helped to soothe outsized egos, patch up differences, and forge a bond for the future among the remaining universities.

By late September, the rubble and egos had settled and the Big 12 started putting the pieces back together with the invitations to TCU, and then West Virginia.

A year later, the Big 12 appears stronger than ever. New Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced last week a multiyear television deal is nearing completion that could be worth as much as $2.6 billion.

“The exposure for our football programs, for men’s and women’s basketball and our Olympic sports, will be unprecedented,” Bowlsby said in Lawrence, Kan., last week. “We’ll be much more widely distributed.”

Bowlsby has been making the rounds, stopping in Norman, Okla., and Austin this week. He toured TCU with athletic director Chris Del Conte last week. At each stop he has touted the league’s newfound solidarity.

“I will suggest to you, I think the private reality of the strength of our conference is different than the public perception,” Bowlsby told “The Oklahoman”. “What I found during the interview process is the mutual commitment and the levels of commitment is much higher than the public perception right now. As we go forward, we’ll get the public reality and the private reality consistent with one another.”

As Bowlsby pointed out, that comes from not only showing long-term conference stability, but also winning national championships.

“Do we want to compete at the very highest level nationally? Absolutely,” he said. “We don’t want the SEC to win another national championship. We think the University of Oklahoma can compete at that level and have a chance. And we think there are several others this year that can do similarly. The thing that makes a great conference is great competition every time you take the playing surface. I think the top of our conference in every sport is competitive at the national level. I also think the distance between the top of the league and the bottom of the league in most sports is relatively narrow. Those are both good qualities.”

Bowlsby has continued to maintain the Big 12 is not looking to expand, despite reports that several high-profile schools are interested. Bowlsby said in Austin that a majority of the league “likes 10 and is content to stay at 10.”

“We’ve heard from a number of institutions that might have interest,” he said. “We have no active consideration of new members right now. But we certainly are not going to not have it on our dashboard.”

That’s probably the smartest course. After the soap opera a year ago, the Big 12 would benefit from a period of calm.

“I think we need to be the hardest fraternity to get into,” Bowlsby said at the league’s football media days in July.

“But if there’s somebody out there who adds real value to the Big 12 then we ought to also think about that.”

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