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This Day in Baylor History: Ken Starr Halts Conference Realignment


We once again find ourselves in the pre-ODB era of Baylor and Big XII history as we look back one year ago today to a conference literally on the brink of collapse. The realignment of college football that "began" in 2009 had descended upon the Big XII for the second time in two years like a plague, prompting many, myself included, to believe the conference was not long for life. With perennial powers Texas and Oklahoma looking west with little brothers Texas Tech and Oklahoma State en tow and Texas A&M having already announced its intentions to leave for an as-yet unstated destination (though everyone knew it would end up in the SEC), Baylor's place in the whole mess-- as well as that of Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State-- was, to put it mildly, uncertain. A drop-off from the Big XII to Conference USA or the Big East might mark the death knell for a program that was only beginning to turn itself around. And even then, the specter of realignment may yet reappear and cast future affiliations into doubt.

Baylor needed someone or some thing to slow down the stampede of realignment and give the parties involved on both sides pause about the decisions they were making. We needed breathing space above all else. Leave it to President Ken Starr, who had only been in his post a few months when our future became threatened the first time around, to give it to us. It was on this day one year ago that news broke that Baylor, led by President Starr, had no intention of waiving its legal rights to allow Texas A&M (and, potentially, other schools) to leave the conference. Baylor would, if it had to, fight the fight for its athletic survival in the courts.

Because ODB launched after the Realignment Crisis of 2011 settled somewhat, we never got the chance we hoped for to give the Baylor perspective on this decision, which was roundly and vociferously criticized across the country. Now that it's no longer necessary and the hoped-for ends have been realized, I won't do it now, either. I also won't debate the potential merits of any tortious interference claims Baylor might have brought, though I always felt like most legal observers missed the point; the threat of legal action was as important to our survival then as the threat that Nick Florence might run on the read option is now. It really didn't matter if Baylor would ultimately prevail, it just needed the potential opponents to think that it might. The threat worked.

But I digress-- I mean it when I say I don't want to have those arguments again. Especially with the Aggies. Suffice to say that I believe this decision, admittedly not the catalyst for the continuation of the Big XII as a viable entity, was extremely important. There was a point, if only for a few weeks, when the Big XII had no one else willing to hoist its banner and argue for its continued existence. Yes, Baylor did so out of desperation-- we were going to (perhaps justifiably, given our recent history) be left out in the cold-- but it did. Emboldened by news of Texas's disillusionment with the Pac12 on September 5 (a situation that was far from settled), Starr and Baylor chose to fight for the Big XII's survival by lashing the wayward schools together through litigation. That fight became much easier when the Pac12 decided to stand pat on September 20, giving Baylor a powerful ally in Norman with basically no place else to go. OU had already been leery of joining the Pac12 without the Longhorns, and, for whatever reason, apparently would not consider the SEC. Thus they began to lobby the same Texas officials that had been lobbying them just weeks above. And, after exploring membership in both the ACC and, reportedly, the B1G, Texas eventually rededicated itself once again to the Big XII. The combined pledges of these two flagship schools ensured the conference's survival, if not its ultimate stability, for at least a little while. You could build a conference with OU and UT as your base. Though A&M and Missouri would eventually depart for the greener pastures of the SEC to be replaced by TCU and West Virginia, the Big XII would live. And Baylor would have a home.

Now, on September 7, 2012, we have more finality and stability than ever before with a new television pact through Fox and ESPN and, even more importantly, a Grant of Rights that will bind our schools together for the next 13 years at least. In this arrangement, we finally have the equal revenue sharing whose absence drove Nebraska away, as well as greater exposure for the league and the ability, should the opportunity arise, to expand. I didn't write this post to argue for Ken Starr's canonization (we are nominally Protestants, after all) or try to overstate his impact; like I said, Baylor's actions were not the reason the Big XII stayed (mostly) together. I wrote this post to call attention to an extremely important day where Baylor, behind a new, controversial leader, stood against the seemingly unbreakable tide of conference realignment.