IRVING, Texas — In the wake of the Penn State scandal, the Big Ten Conference produced an 18-page plan that included a stunning proposal.
Give commissioner Jim Delany the power to fire football coaches.
When the idea hit the public square, the Big Ten quickly backtracked and said that proposal would not be considered by league fathers.
But merely the discussion of such a concept shows the difference in philosophy from the Big 12 and peer leagues like the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12. Those conferences have anointed their commissioners with power.
The Big 12 has been slow to allow its commissioner to make important conference decisions, much less institutional decisions.
And that's been the case historically, going back to the old Big Eight and Southwest Conference days.
So as the Big 12 starts the Bob Bowlsby era — he took office July 1 and greets us Monday with a press conference at Big 12 Football Media Days across town at the Westin Galleria — it's fair to ask if anything has changed.
In the wake of two straight years of defections — Colorado and Nebraska in 2011, Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012 — will Big 12 politics evolve? Will Bowlsby centralize power in a conference that always has been run by the school presidents?
Will Bowlsby take the lead on visionary decisions like conference expansion and media ventures, or will he merely be executor of whatever the 10 presidents want?
“I don't think Dan Beebe was a puppet by any means,” OSU president Burns Hargis, the current Big 12 chairman, said of the Big 12 commissioner deposed last September. “And I can assure you that being a puppet was not part of the qualifications we were looking for in our job description.”
I'll accept the latter. Can't accept the former. Beebe clearly was fired because some Big 12 schools saw him as a figurehead controlled by the University of Texas. Personally, I don't think that was a fair description, but clearly it was the belief of some, including OU president David Boren.
Of course, there's a big difference between puppet and weak. I do think Beebe was a weak commissioner, not because he was incapable of quality leadership, but because this league's tradition and desire has been weak leadership.
The greatest example ever, of course, was former commissioner Kevin Weiberg, who pushed for a Big 12 Network. League leaders — from Texas and OU and Nebraska and A&M — patted Weiberg on the head and told him to scoot along.
You know what happened next. Weiberg resigned and helped the Big Ten launch its cash-cow network. Institutional endeavors, like The Longhorn Network, helped splinter the Big 12.
But perhaps there is reason for optimism.
Bowlsby did not take kindly to the inference that he will be less than a Delany or a Mike Slive (SEC) or a Larry Scott (Pac-12).
“I would suggest you do a little homework on me,” Bowlsby said. “I haven't been a puppet over the years.”
Bowlsby suggested his background — 16 years as athletic director at Iowa, six years as AD at Stanford — provides him the unique vantage point of being on board for the Big Ten's remarkable financial growth and Scott's recent transformation of the Pac-12 from a loosely confederated league to a united power broker.
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