Neinas deserves credit for keeping Big 12 together
Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 13:08
In the past few years, the Big 12 Conference’s annual Media Days in Dallas had been filled with a common theme.
That theme during that time was uncertainty.
With conference realignment imminent, it was unclear what the future held for the Big 12.
Teams were leaving the conference, eager to get off of the sinking ship that was the Big 12. After Nebraska and Colorado had left for the Big Ten and Pac-12, respectively, and Texas A&M had announced its intentions to leave for greener pastures in the SEC, Dan Beebe was ousted as the Big 12’s commissioner.
A conference that was in bad enough shape with its dark and unclear future now found itself without a leader.
And then, Chuck Neinas stepped in.
"I wasn’t given a lot of time. When I got there I had to address the issues and do the best I could to help resolve them and get the league back to where it was moving forward again," Neinas said.
"The big thing was to find a way to make sure that people were comfortable working together and just realize that every school’s best interest was to work together and make this league stronger."
For Neinas the first order of business was easy to figure out. He had to find a way to get Oklahoma and Texas on the same page.
Once he did that, everything started to fall into place.
"There were three big issues that we needed to address, and when we were able to get the presidents at Oklahoma and Texas to jointly offer a resolution, we were able to take care of all three," Neinas said. "When the rest of the membership saw that OU and Texas were behind (staying in the Big 12), they said, ‘Of course, we vote yes too.’ "
Next for Neinas was to get back to 10 teams. With Texas A&M and Missouri leaving for the SEC, the Big 12 was left with eight teams in the conference.
So, with a committee consisting of two of the league’s presidents, two athletic directors, representatives from the league’s two television partners and three outside consultants who provided Neinas with objective advice, the Big 12 began its search for the final two teams to bring the league back to where it wanted to be.
"There were about 15 schools that contacted us with interest. We didn’t have to reach out and beg anyone to join the conference," Neinas said. "That helped us go about it in the orderly fashion we went in."
The first school to make the jump was TCU. The Horned Frogs left the Big East before they had even played a game in the league.
In early October, not too long after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced they would leave for the ACC, Neinas received a call.
"I was in the car driving somewhere. My phone rang, and it was (WVU President) Jim Clements," Neinas said. "We had a conversation about West Virginia possibly joining the league, and that’s how it all got started."
By the end of the month, West Virginia had accepted the Big 12’s invitation to join the league as its 10th member, completing the effort toward restoring the conference to where it wanted to be.
And Neinas deserves a lot of credit for that.
It couldn’t have been easy to step in under those kinds of circumstances and navigate a league in that much turmoil and turn it into the league we see it as today. It’s now one of the strongest conferences in the country, as evident in its recent partnership with the SEC to start the Champions Bowl.
Even though Neinas has left the conference, the Big 12 is still in great hands. New commissioner Bob Bowlsby is one of the most highly respected administrators in college athletics. He turned Stanford into one of the premier athletic departments in the country during his time there, and was one of the most successful NCAA tournament chairmen.
But even Bowlsby acknowledges that he and the Big 12 wouldn’t be where they were last week at Big 12 Media Day without the work Neinas was able to do during his short time as the league’s interim commissioner.
"We’ve had some challenges over the last couple of years that have made us pretty uncomfortable," Bowlsby said. "Last September, during a time when there was great instability, we were fortunate enough to entice Chuck Neinas to come and put his hand on the tiller and try and bring a period of calm to the league.
"And through his sage advice and insights and experience, we were able to get through a really tough time."