Is the Big 12 in danger? Chuck Neinas, the man who once saved the conference, gives his opinion

Chuck Neinas led the Final Four, the College World Series, the Big Eight and the visionary outfit that wrested the TV remote from the hands of the NCAA, turning college football into a money-making machine. He served on the USOC Board of Directors and chaired the NCAA’s Olympic and International Relations Committee. No job was too big. DeLoss Dodds once called him “the best administrator I’ve seen in 30 years in college athletics.”

And the former Texas athletic director made this proclamation before his former boss pulled off his biggest trick:

Raised the Big 12, even as the lifeboats were lowered.

Want to try again, Chuck?

“Nope [expletive] way,” he said.

Neinas, a burly 90 and living with his wife in blissful retirement in Colorado, is a decade away from his one-year tenure as acting Big 12 commissioner. In case you forgot, the league had nearly collapsed twice in the 15 months before its installation. A quarter of its members had already jumped from the ship or were sneaking towards the railings. Given what seemed inevitable for the Big 12 at the time, yours truly prepared for the worst. I still have the obituary around here somewhere.

By the time Neinas handed over the reins to Bob Bowlsby in 2012, the league had stabilized. Neinas had everyone sign a rights grant until 2025 that prevented anyone from leaving, because if they did, it meant giving up their TV revenue to the league. The agreements reassured FOX and CBS. Also helped that Neinas chaired the additions of TCU and West Virginia, the latter of which may not have been his finest moment, come to think of it.

But everything held up, and against all odds, at least until Texas and Oklahoma decided to walk.

Neinas — who stayed in touch because of his curiosity and work ethic, not to mention a consulting firm that once placed Mack Brown in Texas and Bob Stoops in Oklahoma and filled more vacancies than a Airbnb – don’t think the Big 12 is in any danger of sinking this time. The additions of BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF mean this will remain a viable league.

“First, they got the top four schools that were left,” he said. “There is no argument. They don’t have the same market value without OU and Texas, but it’s going to be a solid conference, and I think they’ll play very good and entertaining football. And in basketball, the Big 12 will be even better. They won’t be softer than the Pac-12 or the ACC.

“What’s going to ruin everything is the TV contract that the Big Ten and the SEC are going to have over everyone else.”

Just guessing, but think somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-30 million more per school.

Instead of just the haves and have-nots in D1, we will soon see a middle class, where the Big 12 will reside in perpetuity.

So no 64-school, 16-team super-conference consortium and a divorce from the NCAA? Not with the money the SEC and the Big Ten will pocket, Neinas said. They will have no desire to divide it further. This means that expansion by other leagues is probably moot.

As for growing the college football playoff to 12 teams, Neinas thinks it’s a “done deal,” despite the Big Ten and ACC giving him the kibosh in favor of a one-to-one model. eight teams instead. Neinas finds the ACC’s position ironic. A larger field will benefit prospects in this league the most. But the ACC, Pac 12 and Big Ten always said no, and because it needed a unanimous vote before the contract expired in 2026, that was it.

“The fact that you have to get a unanimous vote is ridiculous,” Neinas said. “You can’t even get a unanimous vote on adjournment.”

So why is a 12-team model a done deal?

“That’s what the SEC wants,” Neinas said. “And the Big Ten too. Unfortunately, the Big Ten has a new commissioner.

“If Jim Delany was still here, it would be done.”

It’s funny what a connected commissioner can do. Of course, sometimes things are beyond even the brightest minds. Like when the old Southwest Conference ended. The popular opinion is that Texas has had enough of dragging all the needy. Neinas, who was in the room, says it was all ESPN. The Big Eight and SWC had decided to sell their TV rights jointly, and ESPN agreed. But the only schools he wanted from the SWC were Texas and Texas A&M.

Next thing you know, the governor and the lieutenant governor are stepping in, and Texas Tech and Baylor are getting reprieves.

The Big 12 was also a massive operation, at least until the defections. Neinas opposed leaving A&M at the time because it weakened the league, and the Aggies left their roots in a local league. But at least they’re competitive.

“The ones you have to ask are Missouri and Nebraska,” he said. “Do you know why Missouri is in the East and not in the West? LSU and Alabama wouldn’t vote to take them unless they put them in the East. Who in the SEC cares about Missouri? And the Nebraska program went south. Just think if A&M and Nebraska and Missouri hadn’t left the Big 12. You can forget about Colorado.

“Just think. Oklahoma and Texas probably wouldn’t leave now.

Nothing to do about it. Just like NULL. The NCAA cannot impose any parameters, Neinas said, due to anti-trust concerns.

“I don’t know what they can do, to be honest,” he said.

And if Chuck Neinas doesn’t know what to do, who does? He has “great concerns” for college athletics but, for the first time in more than 60 years, he is no longer responsible for anything. He took his time and he enjoyed it, but it’s someone else’s responsibility now.

He claims he doesn’t know the identity of the next Big 12 commissioner. Frankly, I don’t know if I should believe him. He says no one asked his opinion. If that’s true, someone should. Besides, someone should offer him the job directly. It went pretty well last time. Maybe you could catch him one day when he’s bored. But if his wife answers, hang up.

Doesn’t the NCAA have better things to do than watch an anthem singer on the Horns Down sign?

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