Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World didn't end; neither did Big 12

   Oil seeped from a hole in the Gulf's heart. State budgets continued to bleed from the worst economy since food riots. The Afghan military ordeal officially became Vietnam-long. And what was America talking about?

   Football. And not even the World Cup brand, which at least was about to be played.

   America was talking about where major college teams would be playing football two years from now.

    Yes, football, where colleges will spend more to advance an inflated cowhide bladder along an artificial pasture than for just about any other pursuit — like curing cancer or AIDS, or finding ways to get us out of our fix with earth-destroying fossil fuels.

     That said: If the University of Texas right now wanted to build another palatial football practice facility, as if it needed one, all it need do is set up a kissing booth.

     President William Powers, the UT regents, and athletic director DeLoss Dodds could raise millions by setting up shop for a pucker. They could expect slobbery busloads from Waco, at the least.

     UT officials decided to keep the Big 12 intact by not selling out to the high-bid Pac 10. Hoo-rah. Boola-boola. I thought I was gonna die.

     Well, not really. But I did think something serious would befall my body or mental state if I heard one more breathless, hysteria-driven projection about the future of college football depending on what UT did.

     My fault for paying attention, I know: But how many miles can the media run on raw speculation? The Big 12 was deader than Francisco Franco, we were told. Deader than disco. Up to half its schools were going to make like contestants in The Great Race, sprinting west for TV-package gold. Except for A&M? Maybe? Probably? Inevitably? Wagons east?

     The high comedy: Colorado takes the leap to the Pac 10 and the money. It calls it "another large quest in our athletic and academic success." Academic? Ahem. These words are uttered one day after CU loses six scholarships for dismal ratings under the NCAA Academic Progress Report.

    Amid all the speculation, never was it clearer what sport spins the NCAA's turbines.

    How possible that, with six Big 12 six schools courted by the Pac 10 and others sought by the Big 10 and SEC, perennial basketball juggernaut Kansas could be left a porch orphan?

    Baylor, with big-time success up and down the line in all sports but football — we're talking Elite Eight in men's and women's basketball this year, national champions in women's basketball in 2005 and men's tennis the year before — was deemed a no-hoper in the conference-busting mad scramble.

    No one stood to lose more. Baylor and Waco wear Big 12 status like pawn-shop jewelry. To be knocked down a peg, to have to commune with the — eeww — SMUs, and Rices, and North Texases of the world once again: Well, a God of mercy would not allow it.

    But so said the advance obituaries, busily chiseling the tombstone: The Big 12, dead in the Year of Our Lord 2012.

    In all of this, I'm wondering if a little deathbed inspiration might have visited some Baylor high-rollers. For 2012 is also the year they set as their target to reach top-tier status among universities, the prominence of Big 12 status adding a golden shimmer to it all.

    Dating back to the presidency of the controversial Robert Sloan and the inception of the master plan coined Baylor 2012, an air of ruthlessness pervaded, with  "intentional Christianity" edicts and a publish-or-perish component.

    Sloan is gone, but the heavy-handedness persists, most recently manifested when Baylor severed official ties with an active and effective but independent-minded alumni association.

    After Baylor saw its Big 12 status salvaged with some help from its rivals in Austin, and with frantic lobbying in the Capitol, the general consensus was that everyone pulling together made it possible for a good thing to continue. Would that the same lesson applied to Baylor governance. Maybe new President Ken Starr gets it: We need all the friends we can get.

     With hysteria whipping up fears, someone stepped outside of the moment and stopped a stampede that would have changed the college sporting world.

     Now, what other worldly concerns have we?

     John Young, a former Waco newspaperman based in Colorado, writes for several newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


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