Chuck Neinas ready to lead Big 12
Needing someone strong and savvy to mend the Big 12, the league has turned to a former Big Eight commissioner who also helped usher in the era of college football as big business.
Chuck Neinas, who is known across the college landscape as a smart consensus builder, will take over the Big 12 as interim commissioner on Oct. 3. The Big 12 dumped former commissioner Dan Beebe on Thursday in a mutual agreement after the conference nearly fell apart for the second time in 15 months.
The 79-year-old Neinas said he is going to the Big 12 to work, not just sit around until his successor is picked. He is not going to be considered a candidate for the permanent job.
"I am not a caretaker. My mission is to bring the conference closer together and move forward and make progress in all areas," Neinas told The Associated Press on Friday, adding he expects to be on the job six months or longer.
Neinas was Big Eight commissioner from 1971 to 1980. He left for the College Football Association, a confederation of schools that fought to take control of TV rights away from the NCAA. Oklahoma and Georgia had sued the NCCA over the issue and federal courts ruled in favor of the schools, putting them in charge of negotiating television contracts that are now valued in the billions.
"They've hired me to be the commissioner. I'll act like a commissioner," Neinas said when asked if he'd have a diminished voice because of his interim status.
"I might be there for the interim, but if you look at my record, I'm not afraid to make decisions."
TV rights are also at the center of the Big 12's attempt to patch itself back together.
The nine remaining schools -- Texas A&M is planning to leave in 2012 -- have agreed in principle to give their TV rights to the conference for the next six years. That would essentially handcuff the schools to the Big 12 by making them leave behind their TV rights and money if they break away or are poached by another league.
No contracts have been signed and the proposal needs approval of at least some school governing boards around the Big 12.
"If the institutions take this step, then there's no question. They're basically locked in for that period of time," Neinas said. "During the period of time, hopefully they could solidify the situation and that would help fortify the foundation of the conference.
"That would be my assessment, but you're talking to someone who is still getting his feet wet on the job."
There seemed to be a disconnect after a Thursday night conference call between Big 12 school leaders. Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton said the members would "pursue" giving their media rights to the conference, while Oklahoma president David Boren talked as though the agreement had already been reached.
Neinas said Deaton informed him "he has some curators that are new and they are interested in discussing a bunch of things, but I do believe that in the end it will be resolved."
Neinas said you have to be concerned about the doubts surrounding Missouri but he believes the Big 12 would still be viable with the other eight schools and could seek other ways to strengthen the league.
He said he believes Missouri will stay and Texas A&M will leave after receiving conditional acceptance to the Southeastern Conference requiring all legal issues be resolved first. But he hasn't given up hope on keeping all 10 members together.
"I think their history belongs in the Big 12," Neinas said. "They're from the Southwest Conference, they're in the state of Texas. That's where they were born and bred. That's where they should stay."
Beyond his business acumen, Neinas said it's his job to help mend hurt feelings in a league where he has many long relationships.
"I would like to see the same kind of atmosphere that we had in the Big Eight. It was family," Neinas said.
After the CFA disbanded, Neinas founded a consulting firm that helped many of the Big 12's biggest names land their jobs. His search firm helped Texas hire football coach Mack Brown and helped Oklahoma hire both football coach Bob Stoops and athletic director Joe Castiglione.
Neinas also hired current Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds as an assistant commissioner in the Big Eight in 1977.
Steven Hatchell, who was the first Big 12 commissioner when the league was formed in 1996 and is now president of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame, has known Neinas since 1971. He called him "ideal for what needs to be done."
"He's smart, intuitive and very experienced on these types of things," Hatchell said.
Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer said Neinas is respected by everyone and has the skills to bring the biggest and smallest programs in the league in line.
"I see all these games on television every Saturday and I think about this: They wouldn't be on television if it hadn't been for us and for Chuck Neinas and Georgia taking on Goliath," Switzer said.
"When I heard Beebe was leaving, Neinas was the first guy I thought of. He knows every athletic director in the country," Switzer said. "He's the one who can rein in Texas, if it can be done. That's what they've got to have."
The Longhorns have long been viewed by some Big 12 schools as the conference bully. Texas has the largest and wealthiest athletic program in the league and earlier this year signed a 20-year, $300 million contract with ESPN for the recently launched Longhorn Network.
The network has been blamed for helping send Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12, while the Aggies were clearly unhappy with the network as they announced plans to join the SEC.
The network may have even been a key stumbling block as the Pac-12 considered whether to add Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
Pac-12 and Texas officials met last week, but it became clear Texas would not agree to equal sharing of Longhorn Network revenue, a person with knowledge of the talks said on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.
Dodds said this week that the network's revenue is not subject to sharing with other Big 12 members. Texas officials have not commented since Beebe was let go and the new TV rights plan was disclosed. Neinas confirmed that Longhorn Network revenue, and other third-tier television money for other schools, should stay with that institution.
Asked how he'll deal with Texas, Neinas said: "Bringing people together is what I'm going to do."
"I think it comes down to one word: Trust," Neinas said of the fractured league. "You've got to make sure that there's a trust that exists between the members."
Neinas says he has the energy for the job. He's an avid skier and jogs two miles a day.
"He's a big picture guy with an ability to become very granular in translating what has to be done," Hatchell said. "And he knows how to build consensus. I'm pretty sure within a short period of time he'll have everyone pulling on the reins with the same intensity."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press