The night before this issue went to press, members of the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors (comprised of presidents and chancellors from each institution) announced their renewed commitment to the league and that discussions are underway on specific actions that will further strengthen the conference.
For the two months preceding the announcement, conference realignment rumors were once again headline news, and the very existence of the Big 12 Conference looked in jeopardy through much of August and September. Baylor's stance and actions during this time became the substance of many articles in media outlets across the country.
Some questioned Baylor's right to have any voice in the discussion and questioned the university's position in calling for perspective, transparency and honor. Many more applauded Baylor and President Ken Starr for standing up for the university and its constituents and for calling for a broader dialogue. Through it all, far too many reports repeated misinformation about Baylor's actions and intentions, leading some members of the Baylor family to have questions about what Baylor was doing and why.
Baylor has not filed suit (or even threatened to file suit) against anyone, including the Aggies, who notified the Big 12 of their intention to leave the league in early September and subsequently applied for admission to the Southeastern Conference. The SEC accepted Texas A&M, on the condition that each Big 12 institution waive its rights to any legal challenge surrounding the move.
While the Big 12 Conference board had authorized the conference to waive its right to legal action, the member schools individually had made no such agreement. In fact, many of the university presidents would have had no authority to make such a decision without their board's approval.
What Baylor did do was decline to waive its rights, citing the importance of agreements made in good faith; other schools followed, referencing significant financial commitments to capital projects (based on expected revenues from Big 12 agreements ratified just months before) that could have been in jeopardy had A&M's departure caused the league to collapse and its TV contract to be nullified.
Of course, Baylor was going to do what was best for its own interests. But what those with a cynical approach to the issue fail to understand is that doing what's best for Baylor and doing what's best for the student-athletes, fans and others are not mutually exclusive options.
President Starr has been consistent throughout the discussions, calling those leading the charge to slow down and take a wider view of current events. He urged university presidents and lawmakers to take a step back and reflect on the impact of these moves, particularly on student-athletes who should not be expected to regularly travel across time zones. The national dialogue has since picked up this issue as athletic officials and members of the media have repeated many of these sentiments.
Recognizing that the voice of the fan seemed lost in the shuffle, the university commissioned a scientific survey of fans across the Big 12 region to see what the average sports fan wanted; the survey found that fans overwhelmingly did not want to see historic regional rivalries fall by the wayside.
In both public and private conversations, Starr called for his fellow presidents to consider what's best for college athletics on the whole and to remember that the original purpose of varsity sports is to build school spirit and enhance the college experience -- not to be a golden egg thanks to ever-growing television contracts.
To the extent it has been in Baylor's power to participate in this process, BU leaders have tried to do so in a transparent fashion and in a way that Baylor constituents could respect.
It's a poor analogy to compare what happened with the SWC against what the Big 12 faced. Only four SWC charter members remained when it became obvious that the conference was crumbling. Back then, Baylor didn't initiate anything; it took the last seat on a ship that was leaving a sinking island, choosing to maintain as many of its historic rivalries as possible by going with the league that had more of its oldest rivals than any other.
From the beginning, BU officials recognized that holding the Big 12 as intact as possible was the best option, both in terms of what was right and also what was best for Baylor. At the same time, university leaders were working on contingency plans in case the Big 12 reached a point where it could not be saved. There was always a conversation about "what if," but Baylor officials were always focused on the Big 12 first and foremost.
That's an excellent question -- one that is difficult to nail down in the timeframe of a quarterly publication like Baylor Magazine. As this issue went to press, Big 12 presidents were moving in the direction of transferring their primary media rights to the Big 12 for the next six years, and a committee had been formed to study other issues such as equal revenue sharing and individual school networks.
President Starr was quick to thank Baylor Nation for its willingness to act on behalf of BU. He urged fans to continue filling Floyd Casey Stadium each week and to demonstrate their support of Baylor student-athletes through support of The President's Scholarship Initiative.
There will certainly have been new developments between the time we went to press and the time this magazine landed in your hands; for the most recent information, visit www.baylor.edu/nation.