Dave Sittler: Big 12 needs leader who will think outside the box
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
1/25/12 at 3:58 AM
Go to Dave Sittler's BlogOriginal Print Headline: New commish must think outside the box
Here's an idea: The next Big 12 Conference commissioner should be the current CEO at Hooters. There, did that get your attention?
Hopefully it did because identifying the Big 12's next leader should be of paramount interest to anyone who cares about the long-term future of the beleaguered league.
Suggesting the boss of Hooters was more than just an attention-getter. Terrance Marks, chairman of the restaurant chain, finished second when the Pac-12 conference hired its new commissioner in March 2009.
Marks was President of Coca-Cola's North America division when he became a finalist for the Pac-12 job that eventually went to Larry Scott.
Larry Who? That was the overwhelming reaction throughout collegiate athletics when Scott was hired to fill the spot vacated when Tom Hansen retired.
Nobody is asking that question any longer. In less than three years, Scott has become one of this country's most dynamic, powerful and successful sports leaders.
Before replacing Hansen, Scott had been chairman and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association. His only involvement with collegiate sports came when he was an All-American tennis player at Harvard.
An Ivy League degree obviously impressed the Pac-12 search committee, which broke with tradition by hiring someone who didn't come from the good-old-boy college network that has long supplied commissioners and athletic directors.
The committee members wanted a person who approached the job with the same type of outside-the-box thinking they used to locate Scott.
The Big 12 has been without a permanent commissioner since Dan Beebe was fired last September. Former Big Eight commissioner Chuck Neinas, at the urging of Oklahoma president David Boren, replaced Beebe on an interim basis.
When the 79-year-old Neinas accepted the Big 12's offer, he said he expected the appointment to last no more than six months.
"I am not a candidate in any way, shape or form on a permanent basis," Neinas said. "I will offer my services to assist in the search. That's what I've been doing for the last dozen years."
And that could be a problem for those who want Big 12 leaders to follow the Pac-12's model of not limiting itself to candidates well-connected on the collegiate level.
Neinas' search firm has helped numerous universities hire athletic directors and coaches. Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione and football coach Bob Stoops were both recommended to Boren by Neinas.
Perhaps Neinas' firm has the wherewithal to identify a person like Scott, someone who doesn't need a strong college background to make the dramatic and vital changes needed for survival.
The Pac-12 was the Pac-10 when Scott arrived. But within a year on the job he had expanded the league to 12, narrowly failing to grow it to 16 by adding OU, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech.
Scott used his connections in professional sports to help both in expansion and signing the richest standard television deal of any conference.
Scott's impressive accomplishments don't stop there. But you get the idea what the next Big 12 commissioner's resume should include.
Having the skills to negotiate mega-TV deals is critical. So is the leadership needed to fight off predators like Scott, who still hopes to entice the Bedlam Brothers and the Longhorns to abandon the Big 12 and head west.
But the initial question the Big 12's search committee must answer is what to do with Texas AD DeLoss Dodds, who has long been viewed as the league's de facto commissioner.
Do they hire someone who will cater to Dodds like previous commissioners? Or will they find someone with the backbone to stand up to the Longhorns' AD, and then give him or her the power to do it?
If it's the latter, that should eliminate any sitting ADs, especially within the Big 12. The same goes for commissioners of non-BCS leagues, who might have strong connections to Neinas but not the skills and savvy of a Scott or Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
I have no idea if Marks would have any interest in leaving Hooters to run a league that became the target of national hooting when other conferences raided four charter members - Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri.
But if Marks was good enough to finish runner-up to Scott out of a strong field of candidates, it's at least worth a phone call to see if he'd still like to lead a BCS conference.
There are numerous out-of-the-box candidates out there. Perhaps a deputy commissioner from one of the pro leagues, or a national political figure who has the clout and sources needed to deal with these uncertain times.
Amazingly, with Neinas' six-month deadline rapidly approaching, the Big 12 hasn't even formed a search committee and devised a plan to find his replacement.
Not that there should be any sense of urgency. After all, the only thing possibly hanging in the balance is the life or death of the Big 12.
Terrance Marks: The Hooters CEO was a finalist for the Pac-12 commissioner job.