KU’s Zenger, Big 12 leaders laud Neinas for league’s revival, booming prospects

Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger speaks to reporters about interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas and incoming commish Bob Bowlsby at the league’s spring meetings on Thursday, May 31, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger speaks to reporters about interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas and incoming commish Bob Bowlsby at the league’s spring meetings on Thursday, May 31, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo.

Friday, June 1, 2012

— If you let the league’s presidents and athletic directors tell it, interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas is a direct descendant of Superman.

If you listen to Neinas, you’ll hear a humble man talking ever so briefly about taking the reins of a league that needed help and nothing more.

The ADs and presidents are closer to the truth.

As the final month of what no doubt will be remembered as the wildly successful Chuck Neinas era of the Big 12 begins today, many Big 12 leaders were in the mood to send their captain off in style.

“I could spend the rest of the day talking about him,” Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger said of Neinas. “Nine months ago we all heard his press conference and we all wondered what he could do and what he could accomplish, and I don’t think we had any idea what he could accomplish in those nine months. He humbles me with regard to his mental capacities, and I would summarize all this by saying he’s now another individual on my list of people that I want to be like when I grow up.”

Zenger was not alone. Oklahoma State University president Burns Hargis, the current chair of the Big 12’s board of directors, shared similar sentiments and said that the vibrant status the Big 12 currently is enjoying was a direct reflection of Neinas’ resolve and calming influence.

“Everybody had pretty much buried the Big 12,” Hargis recalled. “And you fast-forward to today and you see a conference that’s not just stable, it’s a conference that is sought after by many schools in the country. And I think that’s the proof that Chuck Neinas has been a wonderful leader and navigator for us through these very difficult times. All of the great qualities that we like to see in sports, I think Chuck epitomizes. We thanked him profusely in the meetings, and I’m going to do so again right now. Thank you, Chuck.”

In transforming the league from a broken mess into a united and powerful force, successfully navigating improved television deals and openly welcoming new members TCU and West Virginia, Neinas’ fingerprints are all over the suddenly strong league and his impact, though short in time, will not be forgotten any time soon.

As it stands today, Neinas’ final day is set for June 30. New commissioner Bob Bowlsby will begin his term on June 15, which means there will be at least two weeks of overlap between the two highly respected college administrators. Score another one for the Big 12. Because if that two weeks is anything like the past two days have been at the Big 12 spring meetings in Kansas City, Mo., even more good times lie ahead.

“It’s been great to have both of them,” said Kansas State athletic director John Currie, making a point to call Neinas and Bowlsby co-commissioners, at least for now. “Obviously, they have a high degree of respect for each other and I think we’ll have a really good transition.”

Whether that includes new members or not once again was a hot topic of discussion at Thursday’s meetings. But just as those who spoke before them on Wednesday, the men who took the podium on Thursday emphasized that the Big 12 was happy with 10 teams.

“What we just experienced this week was a week of great camaraderie and harmony,” Zenger said. “We have 10 schools who want to be together and we want to enjoy that for this current time. A year ago we said we liked 10 and we still like 10, yet the landscape has changed. It’s ironic how 10 looked last year and how 10 looks this year. We’ll continue to survey the landscape. It doesn’t have to be 10 forever, but right now it’s what we like and what we’re very comfortable with.”

Added Currie: “We’ve been talking about this 10-team deal for two years now. It’s almost like nobody wants to believe it.”

Pressed for a reaction to the talk of Florida State having interest in listening to what the Big 12 might have to offer, Hargis became the latest to hammer home the league’s stance.

“Obviously, I’m aware,” he said. “You’d have to be under a rock to not be aware. And as a Big 12 member I’m flattered that a school of the quality of Florida State is interested in the Big 12. I think it’s another indicator of where this conference is. But there are no discussions going on between any school and the conference, offline or otherwise.”