For the last three weeks, KU football coach Charlie Weis crisscrossed the state of Kansas, meeting fans, telling stories, offering a fresh voice before his first season in Lawrence. On most days, Weis would stand in front of a group and deliver a speech on the old college football standbys: Recruiting, discipline, expectations.
On Wednesday evening, as Weis arrived at Livestrong Sporting Park, the final tour stop of the spring, the questions about recruiting and scheduling took on a secondary nature.
As the conference realignment winds begin to pick up — and speculation begins to swirl — Weis found himself answering questions about college football’s unsettled landscape. In the past month, the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference aligned themselves with the invention of a new postseason bowl game, school administrators from across the country joined the public debate, and major conferences such as the ACC and Big East suddenly appear weakened.
And Weis, an alum and former coach at Notre Dame, a former assistant in the SEC at Florida, and now a head coach in the Big 12, certainly brings a varied perspective to the looming uncertainty.
“It’s not uncertainty for us,” Weis said. “A year ago, if I were the (Kansas) head coach, I’d probably be talking about uncertainty. Right now, it’s uncertainty for all the other teams that are outside the four conferences right now.”
Weis’ comments added credence to the growing belief that a four-conference power structure has emerged in college athletics: The SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12. And for now, Weis says, Kansas and the Big 12 appear to firmly among the elite.
“I’m just happy to be part of … one of the four conferences that everyone is looking to get in,” Weis said. “Because the Big 12, a year ago, was a mess. It was a mess. Everyone thought it was gonna dissolve. No one was gonna be there. Where was KU gonna end up? And now, KU ended up doing just fine.”
As he spoke, Weis was adamant that he had no desire to speak for any constituencies in the ongoing realignment story: Not Notre Dame, his alma mater and former employer, and certainly not the Big 12.
“I’m not gonna be the team spokesman for the Big 12,” Weis said, “after I’ve been here two minutes.”
Weis and KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger did praise the Big 12’s recent moves. But, of course, realignment news can seem to move at light-speed.
“As an old coach,” Zenger said. “I’ll tell you, ‘You never hang your head too low or over-celebrate.’ ”
For now, Weis says he’s simply an interested observer. And one of the most intriguing storylines of this round of realignment could affect one of his former schools. With an expected four-team playoff coming to college football, Notre Dame’s independent status could become an important topic to sort through in the coming months.
On Wednesday, Weis said he didn’t want to speak for Notre Dame. But as a graduate and the head football coach from 2005-09, Weis spent years embedded in the traditions and culture of the Fighting Irish.
“I know they would like to be an independent,” Weis said. “You just don’t know — with where it goes — that they can. Whether they’d like to, and whether they can, are two different issues.”
For now, as speculation runs rampant, Weis is simply waiting. But when a reporter did offer up the idea of the Big 12 — or another conference — potentially moving to 16 teams, Weis answered with a clear (and hypothetical) idea of how he’d like to see college football structured.
“Philosophically, it would be good if everyone was kind of on equal ground,” Weis said. “Let’s say that all four of those conferences ended up with 16 teams and two eight-team divisions. And then the division champs played, and there’s your four teams.
“Philosophically, that sets up the way we’d all grown up with every other sport that we’ve ever (dealt) with. But that’s gonna take some time.”