Chuck Neinas has the Unenviable Task of Navigating the Big 12 Through Unprecedentedly Choppy Waters

October 4, 2011 – 8:00 am by Michael Bean

Best of luck to Mr. Chuck Neinas. The new Big 12 commissioner, who recently replaced the terminated Dan Beebe as the head honcho of one of several conferences experiencing major change in the still ongoing NCAA conference realignment saga, sounds like a steadying presence to occupy by the demanding job. But I don’t envy him whatsoever. The future remains decidedly murky for the conference as it decides how to proceed in the wake of the loss of three member institutions to other conferences.

Neinas joined KCSP in Kansas City to talk about why any of the remaining nine Big 12 teams would be okay with the conference not expanding to add teams in the future, if he’d agree that only Texas and Oklahoma would be okay with the conference remaining at nine teams into the future, whether he thinks the conference would be at a disadvantage or an advantage by staying at nine teams rather than trying to expand, how he and others in the conference have been meeting with impartial television analysts to determine what the best course of action is for the conference in terms of television revenue, why he doesn’t feel powerless despite the seemingly varied agendas of all the conference’s commissioners, why the Longhorn Network was legally an avenue that the University of Texas could explore based on a former Supreme Court ruling regarding third-tier television rights, and why he adamantly believes that the University of Missouri should remain in the Big 12 rather than jumping ship to the South Eastern Conference.

On why any of the remaining nine Big 12 teams would be okay with the conference not expanding to add teams in the future:

“I can’t answer that. There were two AD’s who said ‘you know, what we need to do is make sure that we’re comfortable with the nine, and then maybe look down the road.’ I’m not saying they said they would never expand, I’m saying there were others who favored going to ten, and others who favored going to twelve. Here’s the bottom line: we’ve got an expansion committee, and the expansion committee has been reactivated and will start doing its work soon. And once that happens, we’ll have a better handle on how we progress. But expansion is on the front burner, not the back burner, and something that will be addressed relatively soon.”

Is it fair to say that Texas and Oklahoma are the only two teams that would be okay with staying at nine teams:

“No, you’re wrong.”

If he thinks the conference is unequivocally weaker by having fewer teams in it:

“Well there’s an intermediate step. It could go back to ten. Let me just say this: we’re in the process of doing a lot of analysis in a lot of different ways, and that is something that we are looking at very carefully. And I’m talking with some TV analysts — by that I’m not talking about the fellow who’s analyzing football games, but not on the business side — to get their thinking about not only number but analyzing different opportunities relative to markets.”

Can he explain that more?

“Very simply, I guess the quickest way to explain is ‘is it more valuable? What are the advantages of going to twelve rather than staying at ten for example?’ We’re trying to look at that very carefully with people who would give us an objective view.”

Does he feel at all powerless as he thinks about what lies ahead in terms of appeasing the different agendas of the conference’s existing commissioners:

“Let me say this: power is not a good word. Let us say that my mission is to listen and find out the concerns, try to help them frame the objectives that they want to accomplish, and then work on a timetable and a plan to get that done. So basically, I’m a conduit for thoughts being expressed by the membership, trying to put them together and seeing if we can move forward.”

Does he think that allowing Texas to introduce the Longhorn Network was a mistake:

“I can’t answer that, I wasn’t there at the beginning. Let me just say this, this is a basic thing that you must remember: I don’t know if you remember the College Football Association, I was involved with the CFA. We challenged the NCAA which at that time controlled all television rights for its members. We challenged the NCAA that the institutions should have the rights to their football teams’ television. It went all the way to the United State Supreme Court, and in 1984, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA did not control the television of its member institutions, but that those institutions controlled their own rights. So what’s happened through the years is what’s understood as what we call third-tier rights….first-tier rights in our vernacular would be the ABC network; second-tier rights would be FOX cable; third-tier rights belong to the institution. That’s never been in doubt.”

How he would respond to the debate surrounding Missouri and whether it might be in the school’s best interest to head to the SEC where the future looks to be more bright and stable:

“I can see how you would advance that argument, but let me bring up something that I think is more important. Admittedly, I may be not as objective as you. The university, they have to think about the future of the University of Missouri, and above all, the state of Missouri. You have the conference tournament in Missouri, you have the KU-MU game every year, one of the truly great rivalries in the country. How many people are going to be able to afford to go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama or Gainesville, Florida? The culture of the university is Midwest. People can get in their car and drive to Big 12 games. You’ve got a great tradition and history going back to the absolute formation of what at that time was the Missouri Valley Conference. Do the Tigers want to give that up just to play a few games down South? I don’t think so. The Big 12 is an outstanding conference. Take a look at where the standings are of our members today. Missouri belongs in the Big 12, and that’s where they should stay.”

Listen here to Neinas with What’s Wright Monday on KCSP in Kansas City

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