Deal with SEC proves strength of Big 12

Deal with SEC proves strength of Big 12

Less than a year ago, the Big 12 was a league on the verge of collapse, the future of its member schools uncertain. Friday's announcement of a post-season bowl partnership with the SEC established the Big 12 as one of the power conferences in the sport, and capped a remarkable eight months of work by the league's interim commissioner, Chuck Neinas.

When this is all over, and the Big 12 finally settles for good, its member schools may want to consider keeping a standing tab open for Chuck Neinas at…well…wherever he wants.

The progress this conference has made since his installment as the interim commissioner in late September of last year are absolutely astonishing. Eight months ago, the Big 12 was gasping out its death rattle in the eyes of most - a sinking ship on the cusp of breaking apart entirely, leaving its members to carve out a spot for themselves in whichever conference would take them.

But then Neinas arrived, a veteran of the old Big 8, and almost immediately things began to change. He went on the offensive, poaching TCU and West Virginia from the Big East after barely a month on the job, effectively replacing the loss of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC. His decisive actions temporarily put the conference back on solid footing.

Fast forward to March, when reports of a gigantic new television deal with ESPN began to surface in earnest, reportedly worth as much as $1.3 billion for the duration - pushing annual payouts for each school to approximately $20 million.

Ever since, whispers of further expansion to the Big 12 have grown louder, centered primarily on candidates such as Clemson, Florida State, Louisville and Miami. The smoke has gotten so thick, in fact, that officials at Florida State have commented on the matter publicly.

And now comes today's news, that the Big 12 and SEC will partner for a post-season bowl game beginning in 2014 which is, perhaps not-so-coincidentally, the same year the BCS is expected to move to a four-team playoff system.

The unnamed bowl will pit the league's champions against one another, unless one or both are selected to participate in the playoff. Should that occur, another representative from each league will be chosen.

This is big-time stuff, because by tying itself to college football's premiere conference, the Big 12 has claimed for itself a spot at the sport's head table. While the Rose Bowl may have the advantage in longevity and tradition, this new pairing between the Big 12 and the SEC will have far more national appeal. During the 14-year tenure of the BCS, the two leagues have combined for 16 national championship game appearances.

This is football millions upon millions of viewers will tune in to watch, and the sale of the television rights should bring with it yet another windfall to both conferences.

It's funny how things work out. Four schools leave the Big 12, each citing instability as one of the driving factors behind doing so, and in the blink of an eye the league is poised to become more stable than it has ever been.

When Stanford athletics director Bob Bowlsby takes over for Neinas on June 15, he'll inherit a strong, united partnership of schools - not a fragile confederation on the verge of collapse.

And he'll have his predecessor to thank. Here's hoping Neinas takes a few minutes to appreciate the work he's done, maybe opens a bottle of some seriously old scotch and toasts himself.

He's earned it.

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