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Why Baylor is bearing down on the Big 12, and everyone else

COMMENTARY — Its quarterback built a Heisman campaign on his triumph over Oklahoma. This week Baylor sends two powerhouse basketball teams to Norman. It's probably time to salute the Waco Wonder.
by Berry Tramel Published: January 22, 2012

Not all that long ago, some wondered why Baylor belonged in the Big 12. In the name of full disclosure, I was one of the some, arguing in February 2001 that the conference should drop Baylor.

Good thing no one listened.

We're bearing down on February, and in the three sports that matter most in these parts, the Baylor Bears have lost five games. Total.

Baylor football went 10-3, won the Alamo Bowl and, on a wild November night, handed the Sooners a knockout blow from national title contention and the Big 12 a Heisman Trophy, with Robert Griffin's magic game.

Baylor men's basketball is 17-2, with both losses last week, courtesy of fellow-top 10 teams Kansas and Missouri.

Baylor women's basketball is 19-0, the clear No. 1 team in the nation, and sports the nation's best player, Brittney Griner.

Both basketball squads come to Norman this week; the Baylor men play OU on Tuesday night, the women play OU on Thursday night. And now seems as good a time as any to salute the Waco Wonder.

A school that a decade ago didn't seem worthy of Big 12 membership, now is one of the shining lights in a conference trying to regain its footing.

“There were years that Baylor didn't contribute as much to the Big 12 Conference,” admitted Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw. “It has been gratifying the last few years to go to bowl games, go to NCAA basketball championships. I think Baylor is viewed as a very significant and positive contributor to the conference.”

No question. In the first 14 seasons of Big 12 football, Baylor did not qualify for a bowl game. But the Bears went 7-6 in 2010 and reached the Texas Bowl. Then Baylor this season finished third in Big 12 football and beat Washington 67-56 in the wildest of bowl games.

And Baylor men's basketball not only failed to distinguish itself, it embarrassed itself, the league and all the family of man with the Dave Bliss scandal of 2003.

But under successor Scott Drew, Baylor made the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and 2010, making the regional finals the latter year, and will be seeded high for 2012 March Madness.

Baylor's women's basketball has been a power throughout Kim Mulkey's 12 years as coach, making two Final Fours and winning the 2005 NCAA title.

And Baylor's formula is no secret. Dedicate the resources and hire good coaches.

“Starts with great coaches,” McCaw said. “We're kind of at a point where we're riding the crest of the wave.”

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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