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Big 12 Conference fans feel anxiety and frustration

Big 12 Conference: Texas A&M withdrew from the conference earlier this month, upset at rival Texas' $247 million cable television deal with ESPN that does not have to be shared with other conference members.

By Rustin Dodd, Mike Dearmond, and Kellis RobinettMcClatchy Newspapers / September 22, 2011

Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers (3) is seen during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Idaho Saturday, Sept. 17, in College Station, Texas.

David J. Phillip/AP

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KANSAS CITY, MO.

The Big 12 Conference may be on the path to survival, but angst remains.

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In Lawrence, Manhattan and, to a lesser extent, Columbia, frustrated boosters, fans and alumni are troubled because their schools' fates seem dependent on what bigger programs decide.

And while the conference may have avoided extinction for the second time in 15 months, there's no reason to think this is over.

"It's too much about money now," said Tanner Pieschl, a manager at a custom T-shirt shop in Manhattan. "A few people are upset about Texas having a network when others don't, so we're all going to changeconferences? I don't get it. No fans want this.

"It's all Oklahoma and Texas. We're just here floating to whatever conference we get put into. That's disappointing. ... We have a lot to offer, but it seems like we have no say."

Indeed, it was the Texas schools that caused this latest round of Big 12 uncertainty. Texas A&M withdrew from the conference earlier this month, upset at rival Texas' $247 million cable television deal with ESPN that does not have to be shared with other conference members. The Longhorn Network also caused a stir when officials said it would show live high school football games, a move construed to be a recruiting advantage for Texas and later rejected by the Big 12.

A&M departed anyway, leaving the Big 12 with nine teams for the following season, and the conference'sfuture got more bleak when reports indicated Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech considered a move to the Pac-12 that would drop the Big 12's membership to five.

That move was stopped Tuesday night with the Pac-12's decision not to expand, but questions about the Big12's future remain. Missouri could still have an informal offer from the Southeastern Conference.

And if the league's remaining members can't settle their differences, Kansas City stands to lose a marquee event for the Sprint Center — the Big 12 men's basketball tournament in March — and a major conferencerooted in the Midwest.

Fans not only feel left in the dark, but also as though their opinions don't matter. Even as most prefer theBig 12 as is, school presidents still explore options in other leagues, some of which would require travel across time zones and breaking up traditional rivalries, such as Missouri-Kansas or Texas-Oklahoma. But otherconferences have the potential allure of more stability, prestige and most importantly, money.

A survey of 300 college graduates within each of the Big 12 states of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa conducted last week by KRC Research found a majority supported existing conference alignments. Only 19 percent said the commercialization of college sports is inevitable and should be accepted while 77 percent said schools should "fight to preserve the original intent of collegiate athletics as part of the student experience."

Only 37 percent of respondents said the current discussions regarding conference affiliation have been "honorable and transparent."

"Our conference, no matter how many teams are in it, should be strong enough to cover this part of the country," said Dave Wurth, a lifelong KU fan who lives in Raytown.

K-State

For Jed Mosher and Phil Kuehl, talking Kansas State sports is part of the job. Together, they run the Aggieville Barber Shop in Manhattan, and list football coach Bill Snyder and athletic director John Currie as regular customers.

So when someone walks in and asks if conference realignment has been discussed much in the past few days, Mosher and Kuehl can't help but chuckle.

"It's almost gotten to the point where you get tired of reading about it," Mosher said. "You can't get into your doggone car on a Friday night and drive to an away game at Syracuse or West Virginia or wherever the (heck) we end up. That would be bad for students and fans. You keep the Big 12 together and you can drive to a game on any weekend against a rival and drive home that night. Why would you want to change that?"

Now that it appears the Big 12 will survive, fans are more upbeat about the future. K-State can continue playing its natural rivals instead of merging with a group of teams left behind from the Big East, which has lost two teams in this latest realignment shuffle.

But who's to say this uncertainty won't happen again next year?

"Nobody wants that," Mosher said. "I'd love to see Texas A&M swallow their pride and say, 'OK, we'll stay in the Big 12.' They're just jealous of Texas."

Kansas

On the other side of the country, in California, prominent Kansas booster Dana Anderson is sorting through the same concerns from last summer.

He's spent the last few years trying to jumpstart KU's football program — that's his name on the three-year-old, $31 million Anderson Family Football Complex — and the idea that Kansas could end up in a lesserconference is a distressing thought.

"We need to be in a BCS conference for football, obviously," Anderson said.

For Anderson, no BCS conference means less television revenue and a negative effect on a football program that's already struggled the last three seasons.

Other influential boosters are concerned as well. David Booth has donated millions over the years to Kansas, and his name hangs on the Booth Family Hall of Athletics in front of Allen Fieldhouse.

"I'm just like everybody else," Booth said. "Whatever is going to happen, I just wish it would happen soon."

Booth, like Anderson, said he's confident in KU's leadership. But as a resident of Texas, he's fully aware that athletic director Sheahon Zenger and other Kansas officials can do only so much.

"I don't think other conferences will decide to invite Kansas based on how well they like Sheahon," Booth said. "If they're interested in KU, they could have almost anybody there and ... as long as they can answer the phone."

Wurth and his wife, Shirley, have had season tickets to KU football games since 1957, when the conferencewas called the Big Seven. He hopes that phone call comes soon. And in a perfect world, it would be the call to confirm that the Big 12 — in some form — has avoided extinction for good.

"I really trust Sheahon Zenger," Wurth said, "but now it's time to see what he can do."

Missouri

At Missouri, fans are either staunchly confident in the future or won't even begin to claim they know anything about what will transpire.

"I just don't (blanking) know," said Dennis Lynch, an MU fan who not only attends games but also practices, scrimmages and football coach Gary Pinkel's "Tiger Talk" radio show broadcast on Monday night in Columbia.

"But I found out to only worry about the things that you have control over. We have no control over this."

Then there's Drew Carver, a Missouri booster in Phoenix who's married to the daughter of Dan Devine, the late and great Missouri football coach of the 1960s.

"We're going major," Carver said. "This is my prediction. SEC all the way, baby!"

The Star reported Tuesday that Missouri has an informal offer to join the Southeastern Conference, pending the outcome of the Big 12. The SEC and Missouri, of course, denied an offer had been made. But Carver and other MU fans point out that the SEC and Texas A&M made similar statements before the Aggies were formally accepted by the conference.

"It's frustrating for fans," Carver said. "You hear different rumors every day.

"But I think they've got the president (interim MU systems president Steve Owens) working on it ... who is a pretty sharp cookie."

The Missouri Board of Curators and Big 12 Board of Directors, of which MU chancellor Brady Deaton is the chairman, meet today and could shed more light on the league's future.

Not all fans are rooting for Missouri to depart the Big 12. One of them is Gene Gervino, the father of Chris Gervino, who among other things is the host of the weekly MU football highlights show.

"It's a good league," Gene Gervino. "The history of the rivalries, for instance against Kansas and Mizzou and Oklahoma and Texas, it's still better if they can keep that together.

"And it is driving me crazy."

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