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More Than Sports At Stake In Big 12 Shake-Up

Kansas City, MO – There figures to be strong aftershocks this week in college athletics after last week's departures by Nebraska and Colorado from the Big 12 Conference. Decisions this week by the remaining schools in the Big 12 will determine whether the conference survives.

Metaphorically speaking, the tectonic plates represent the schools in the north like KU, K-State and Missouri and the Texas schools in the south.

Experts like Kansas City Star sportswriter Blair Kerkhoff says there was always something that rubbed either side the wrong way.

" I think you can trace the demise of the conference to the decisions that were made and agreements that weren't made back 16 or 17 years ago," say Kerkhoff.

That was before a game was even played on the field. Disagreements like the selection of the first commissioner, the location of the conference office and the distribution of revenue from TV football rights.

Since the first year of competition in 1996, the prestige of the conference grew along with the revenue generated from football telecasts. The football revenue wasn't divided equally. That's a major reason for the wedge between the north and the south. Relative to the size of the athletics budgets, the difference wasn't that disproportionate. Nevertheless, it created hard feelings.

"There was a perception in this conference that they weren't in it together. They weren't equal partners. Some were more worthy than others and that feeling persisted throughout the history," says Kerkhoff.

Two years ago, Missouri won in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the first time in 30 years en route to the Tigers' greatest football season ever. But since their loss in the Big 12 championship game to Oklahoma that season, the Tigers have felt like an ugly stepchild.

Despite winning the North, KU played in a BCS bowl game instead of the Tigers. Then last year, the Tigers were passed over by Iowa State in the more prestigious Insight Bowl in Tucson, Arizona. When the Tigers were invited to the less lucrative Texas Bowl in Houston, coach Gary Pinkel was at his diplomatic best.

" It's certainly a great opportunity for the Missouri Tigers," said Pinkel.

Shortly after that declaration last December, the Big 10 Conference announced it would look into expansion. Notwithstanding its traditional rivalries with KU and K-State, Missouri was all ears. That caught the attention of Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman.

" We saw reports of officials at Missouri who had made clear that they would want to go to the Big 10, including statements by their governor, I believe by members of their Board of Curators, by their chancellor, at least comments that were clearly not supportive of the Big 12," says Perlman.

It came to a head at the Big 12 meetings two weeks ago in Kansas City. When the meetings concluded, Harvey Perlman and athletics director Tom Osborne decided it was time to make a pre-emptive strike. As a result, Nebraska was invited to the Big 10.

As the remaining Big 12 schools face a decision on their future, one interested observer is Kevin Gray, the president of the Kansas City Sports Commission.

"It's very important to us. We are continuing to monitor it very closely. We are continuing to be engaged with a lot of different individuals around the country and in our region. We're trying to look out for the best interests of Kansas City at this point," says Gray.

Considering that the Big 12 men's basketball tournament is scheduled to take place in Kansas City for the next four years, millions of dollars are at stake on the local economy.


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