A lesson on the history of the Big 12

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
9:45
AM ET
Outstanding story from Cole Manbeck at the Manhattan Mercury here, looking back at the history of the Big 12, as told by former Kansas State University president Jon Wefald.

You should read the full thing for all the insight from Wefald, but if you're a little fuzzy on the details of the Big 12's creation, a merger of the Big Eight and half of the Southwest Conference, here's a rundown of the details.

In 1990, Arkansas announced its departure from the league and joined the SEC. Penn State joined the Big Ten after being independent.
"The dominoes are real shaky in 1990," Wefald said, reflecting back on that time period. "The dominoes were falling and I was concerned about the future of the Big Eight. It's very similar to July of 2010, and now late summer, early fall of 2011."

The Big Eight saw a chance that the future could hold instability or have the league end up in poor position moving forward. The answer? Get aggressive.

"What I was worried about was Texas would join the Pac-10 in 1990, kind of like the same thing we found last year and now," Wefald told the paper. "They'd be leaving the Southwest Conference and that would be a powerful force to maybe trigger Oklahoma into joining the Southeast Conference."

The hope was a full merger with the Southwest Conference and a 16-team league.

Later in 1990, most of the presidents of the 16 schools met in Kansas City, where they were, coincidentally, meeting for another event.
A partnership between the two leagues was discussed, but University of Texas president Bill Cunningham shut down the talks relatively quickly.

"We were talking about the merger," Wefald recalled. "After about a half-hour or 45 minutes, Bill Cunningham said 'we're not interested.' They were the only one to say that.

The Big Eight let it stand for a couple years, before approaching Texas and the rest of the Southwest Conference again.

Bob Berdahl took over as the university's president in 1993, when Cunningham became chancellor of the 15 institutions in Texas.

This time, 15 of the 16 schools met again, with only Rice not taking part.

The meeting lasted two hours. Early on, they asked who would be in interested in a merger.
"We're going around the room and it's one after the other 'I, I, I, I,' and ironically the last school was the University of Texas."

Fitting that it would once again come down to Texas. There sat new president Bob Berdahl, pondering the decision.

"The 14 schools said let's do it and we got to the University of Texas and Berdahl said 'I've got to think about this, I've gotta take it to our board of regents.' I just said to myself in my mind, 'oh darn-it, it's not going to happen.' That's just how influential the University of Texas is."

No one wanted the merger in limbo long, so within weeks, they scheduled a conference call.
Fifteen minutes into that call, Wefald spoke up.

"I just said 'what do you guys in the Southwest Conference want to do?" he asked.

The first person to chime in: Bob Berdahl, the president of Texas.

"He said 'we've decided you should invite four schools: Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech," Wefald recalled.

There's more great stuff about the divides between Nebraska and the rest of the league, dating back to the issue of partial qualifiers, which the Mercury clarifies.

Texas got its way and Nebraska, which used 20-25 of them, had to deal with that number being trimmed significantly.

It also looks into the issue of unequal revenue sharing and how it came to be, when the SEC and Big Ten were sharing equally at the time.

The old Pac-10 distributed revenue unequally, but the new Pac-12 has adopted equal revenue sharing.

Seriously, go check it out. It's been a couple decades. I can promise you, you'll learn something.

The Big 12 seems to be immune to death these days, but now is as good of a time as ever to look back on its birth.

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