There is tremendous interest in the musical chairs game currently being played by schools that have been, or currently are, members of the Big 12 Conference, as well as universities that may become part of the conference.
In most cities where these universities are located, the No. 1 concern is to do what is reasonable to keep the current conference alignment. It is a historic conference. It ties together a number of schools within a relatively close-knit geographic area. Friendships have developed during the years and, in most cases, there is a healthy, but intense, rivalry.
Fans and supporters of these universities and their athletic programs want to maintain the current conference arrangement and, if possible, make it an even stronger association of like-minded universities.
There are exceptions, however, in the motives of those calling for maintaining the current conference arrangement.
Kansas City is a case in point.
Granted, there are thousands of Kansas and Missouri alumni living in Kansas City, as well as thousands of Kansas State graduates. Aside from a number of Missouri alumni and fans who want their school to drop its association with the Big 12 and merge into the Southeastern Conference, the majority of KU, KSU and MU fans would like to see these schools continue their long-standing conference ties.
However, a powerful element in Kansas City isn’t motivated by ties to the three schools, or any other university in the Big 12.
Their primary interest is strictly monetary. All they are interested in is keeping the Big 12 postseason basketball tournament at the Sprint Center and the football game between Kansas and Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium.
These games bring millions of dollars to Kansas City in the way of hotel-motel business, shopping, restaurants and other expenditures, along with sales tax dollars to the state of Missouri.
These interests try to suggest they are calling for the University of Missouri to remain in the conference because of historic athletic ties to this part of the country and the number of Missouri fans who live in Kansas City.
This sounds nice, but the major reason actually is that KC business leaders know if Missouri thumbs its nose at the remaining schools in the Big 12, the postseason basketball tournament would become a thing of the past, as would the Arrowhead Stadium Border War game between KU and MU. These games represent a tremendous economic shot in the arm for KC businesses and the state of Missouri.
These business and convention interests are engaged in an all-out effort to keep MU in the Big 12.
Shouldn’t this open the eyes of KU officials to how much the KU-MU game means in dollars and cents to Lawrence and the entire state? Why don’t KU and Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials work just as hard and, it is hoped, more effectively, to return the KU-MU football game to the university campuses in Lawrence and Columbia? That’s where they belong, not in the professional football stadium in Kansas City, Mo. How about showing some appreciation for what residents and businesses of Kansas and Missouri, particularly those in the vicinity of Lawrence and Columbia, mean to the universities?
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“What ifs” never count, but it is interesting to wonder what would have happened if a former KU athletic director, the late Bob Frederick, had been selected to lead the new Big 12 Conference, rather than Steve Hatchell, who had been commissioner of the Southwest Conference.
Frederick and Hatchell were finalists for the job. Once Hatchell secured the position, he moved the conference headquarters from Kansas City to Dallas.
This marked the start of the collective Texas effort to call the shots in how the conference would be run.
Hatchell also played a, if not “the,” key role in negotiating lucrative television contracts for conference athletic programs. Those contracts called for an unequal sharing of dollars among the schools.
Some try to deny the fact, but officials at schools such as KU, KSU, Iowa State and Nebraska didn’t like the way Texas schools tried to hijack the rest of the conference.
This triggered the early efforts by Nebraska to gain interest in the Big 10 and Missouri’s efforts to get into the Big 10.
Both schools have tried for years to join that conference. Nebraska made it; Missouri didn’t.
The new Texas Longhorn TV contract would send millions of added dollars to the school, and this seems to be the straw that broke the backs of many Big 12 athletic programs. Nebraska saw it coming and intensified its efforts to get into the Big 10.
There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on as to who is responsible for the breakup. But Hatchell and the move of the conference offices out of Kansas City set the stage. Texas officials and Texas AD DeLoss Dodds certainly have played a role. Chuck Neinas, who now has been tapped as interim commissioner of the Big 12 to hold the conference together, also was active in the conference and television affairs in the early days of the Big 12.
All of this begs the question: What would have happened if Bob Frederick had been selected as the first commissioner of the Big 12 Conference? Chances are, conference offices would have remained in Kansas City. It is not known whether he would have agreed to the unequal share of television revenues.
Would we have the mess we now have? Would the conference be stronger or weaker?