BEFORE THE REAL GAMES IN THE BIG 12 KICK OFF, LET'S PLAY A game of our own: Name That Year. The object is simple: Identify the year in which the following quote was spoken by a conference representative. To make the task even easier, we'll narrow down the possible answers: 2011 or 2012. The topic is: Quotes on the Long-Term Stability of the Big 12. No Googling, please. Now, let's begin.
QUOTE NUMBER 1: "Our conference now is as strong as or stronger than it has ever been."
QUOTE NUMBER 2: "It's a marriage of commitment."
QUOTE NUMBER 3: "I think the future of the conference is exceedingly bright."
QUOTE NUMBER 4: "The Big 12 is here to stay."
If you answered 2011 for the first two statements (spoken by Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and former commissioner Dan Beebe, respectively), go to the head of the class. Give yourself bonus points if you knew that these were said just before Texas A&M and Missouri divorced themselves from the "strong" Big 12 for the sexier SEC. And if you answered 2012 for the last two sound bites (said in May by new commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis, respectively), you're today's big winner.
Indeed, taking what comes out of the mouth of a representative of the Big 12 and determining what's truth and what's spin can be a game show in itself. Because no matter how quickly the walls seem to be falling down around the conference, it's always the Happiest Place on Earth—at least in front of the cameras.
There are reasons, however, to believe that the current optimism about the conference's long-term stability is more than lip service. Consider: As of early July the 10 conference members were close to extending their first- and second-tier TV rights agreements with the Big 12 from six to 13 years, meaning that a school's TV revenue (about $19 million this year alone) would belong to the conference until 2024--25 if at any point that institution decided to leave. That's a hefty price to pay for anyone wanting to leave; the provision would essentially lock down every school to the Big 12 for more than a decade.
The man responsible for turning around (or at least stabilizing) the fortunes of the conference is Chuck Neinas. The former commissioner of the Big Eight, Neinas swooped in last September as interim commissioner after Beebe was forced out, and he immediately went to work. He bridged divides, massaged egos and fostered a cooperative spirit. Over the course of his nine months in office, the Big 12:
• added TCU and West Virginia as members;