Late Tuesday night, as one of the wildest days of the conference realignment saga was starting to wind down, the Pac-12 Conference released a statement saying it was not interested in expanding past its current 12-member set-up.
Moments after the statement was released, officials at Kansas University said nothing.
It’s been debated for the better part of the past three weeks whether KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger and chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little were going about things the right way with regard to KU’s position in all of this. As it stands right now, it looks as if they played it perfectly.
Look no further than Missouri for proof of that. Sources close to KU said all along that MU chancellor Brady Deaton and athletic director Mike Alden were all-in with the Big 12 Conference and that both were working tirelessly to ensure the conference’s survival. Deaton, the chair of the Big 12’s board of directors who, later this week, is scheduled to meet with OU president David Boren to hash out OU’s demands for a more perfect Big 12 union, continues to work toward that end.
But while those two toed the line, a Missouri booster almost cost the Tigers their spot in two conferences. All by opening his mouth.
Earlier Tuesday, a report surfaced about MU having a deal in place with the SEC. The report stated that the deal was contingent on the Big 12 imploding, but it was never intended to get out. Once it did, reports indicated that SEC officials were furious with the Tigers. At the same time, officials in the Big 12 were forced to at least question Missouri’s allegiance.
By saying little and working a lot, KU ensured its survival. If the Jayhawks had made a deal elsewhere or taken a hard stance against OU, Texas or the Big 12, they’d be saddled with the tough task of crawling back to the league and asking for forgiveness right now. If the Jayhawks had spoken out against the other conferences freely attempting to poach their brothers, they would’ve buried themselves in the event that the Big 12 did die.
It may have been nerve-racking, and still may be; but it also was 100 percent in line with what Zenger is all about. Substance over image.
“You have to be consistent with your message and you have to treat people the right way, inside and outside,” Zenger said in an interview earlier this summer.
He nailed it here.
This thing isn’t over yet. Until the nine remaining Big 12 schools hash out their issues — including those that existed long before OU’s list of demands went public on Tuesday — the conference will remain on unstable ground.
In the end, the one thing that’s been holding it together all along may be the thing that saves it: The Big 12 is the best place for every current member to be. Period.
Some benefit from the power and prestige. Others are aided by longstanding traditions and rivalries. And still more are buoyed by geography, fertile recruiting ground and revenue beyond their wildest dreams.
One of the biggest questions still to be answered is what happens to Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe. Early Tuesday, OU said it would return to the Big 12 if Beebe were removed. With the Pac-12 off the table, will the Sooners hold their ground?
I’m not of the belief that Beebe’s solely to blame for all that ails the Big 12. He’s not perfect, but he’s not clueless either. He is, however, a direct link to a checkered past, and if this conference is going to survive, it’s going to have to be without him.