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Bob Lutz: College landscape is difficult to look at

  • Published Friday, Sep. 23, 2011, at 12:08 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Sep. 23, 2011, at 3:48 p.m.

It's silly to pretend college football is about anything but money these days, but do the powers that be have to be so obvious?

Or so petty, indecisive, selfish, secretive, confrontational and envious?

Fans of the sport refuse to let go of their enthusiastic support despite being beaten over the head at every turn by talk of conference realignment and the inability of schools and their "adult supervisors" to work for the common good.

If this is higher education, the bar is being set lower and lower.

Let's look at the state of the Big 12.

In just the past 18 months: Two schools (Nebraska and Colorado) have left, one is on the verge of leaving (Texas A&M), who knows how many others would go if the going was good and a few are just hanging on like they're on a log ride, feeling like they're about to get drenched.

The Big 12 commissioner, Dan Beebe, is out less than a year after receiving an extension of his contract. Just a few months before that, he got a 33 percent salary boost, to nearly $1 million per year. But in a show of muscle, Oklahoma president David Boren said the Big 12 wasn't big enough for the Sooners and Beebe.

So Beebe went bye-bye.

The interim Big 12 commissioner is Chuck Neinas, who was the commissioner of the Big Eight — ah, remember the good ol' days of the Big Eight? —from 1971-80. Neinas, in his late 70s, has been running a head-hunting firm in Boulder and was partly responsible for helping Texas land its football coach, Mack Brown, and for OU bringing Bob Stoops aboard.

These days, Oklahoma and Texas are the ruling class of the Big 12, with OU doing what it can to bring the Longhorns down a notch or two and Texas comfortable in its wealth and new television network, the rest of the conference be damned.

The dynamic between OU and Texas is what you would expect it to be considering their disdain for one another. The Sooners don't like playing second fiddle to anyone and Texas views itself as a one-man band.

Nobody in the Big 12 likes the disproportionate Texas wealth, but Oklahoma has enough clout to be confrontational. If the conference is going to survive, the Longhorns have to make some concessions. At least that's Oklahoma's view.

Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, called together an expectant media Thursday night. It was thought he would throw his support behind the rejuvenated Big 12.

Uh, no, that's not really what happened.

Neither Deaton nor Missouri athletic director Mike Alden made any commitment to staying in the Big 12 and admitted the university has talked to other conferences.

A very different message was coming out of Norman, where Boren assured his constituents that everything is hunky dory now that the Wicked Witch of Austin — I mean Beebe — is gone. Yes sir, according to Boren it won't be long until everyone in the Big 12 is holding hands and singing "Kumbaya."

You want to believe him, but it just sounds so ludicrous. Especially since one of the biggest issues plaguing the conference — what to do with the proceeds from Texas' Longhorn Network — has not been resolved.

The Big 12 is just one of the conferences in disarray. Every BCS conference looks different than it did just a couple of years ago.

It's as if someone yelled "fire" in a crowded theater. There wasn't ever a fire, but that doesn't keep people from panicking and looking for an exit sign.

Why are all of these conferences realigning, anyway? Has there been an answer that is sufficient to you?

Nebraska left the Big 12, we believe, because it didn't want to be told what to do by Texas. That's also why Texas A&M has one foot out the door to the SEC. And it's why Oklahoma wants to make darn sure a few things get straightened out if the Big 12 wants the Sooners to hang around.

Last week, the ACC added Syracuse and Pittsburgh with no advance warning whatsoever, sending the Big East into an emotional spiral.

When it looked like the Pac-12 was on the verge of plucking four schools from the Big 12, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott surprised us all by saying his conference wasn't interested in further expansion.

There is nary a peep coming from the Big 10 these days. Its members appear to be comfortable with 12 teams, but you wonder what might be happening behind the scenes there. If Notre Dame suddenly became interested in the Big 10, don't you imagine that conference would fall over itself letting the Irsh into the fold?

If the SEC, as expected, adds Texas A&M, it surely has to add at least one more to get to 14 schools. Right?

I don't ever recall anything like this. Every day something changes. What looks good at 10 a.m. might be completely different by 2 p.m.

As I write this, the Big 12 would have you believe that the conference is in survival mode and that all nine remaining members are invested and devoted.

Do you believe it?

I didn't think so.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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