John Klein: Griffin part of Baylor's impressive athletic turnaround
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
4/24/12 at 5:20 AM
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Baylor's Robert Griffin III will be the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft on Thursday, just the latest shining moment in what has become a dream year for the Bears. Baylor is proof to every small private school out there that it can be done.
The Bears live and play just about an hour north of the University of Texas, the richest, most powerful and influential athletic department in college sports.
Baylor plays in a league full of large state schools with built-in fan bases, luxurious facilities and superstar billionaire boosters.
For years, it was rumored Baylor didn't belong in the Big 12 Conference and the Bears should get booted out.
Baylor didn't go into a corner and feel sorry for itself.
The Bears went to work. They built facilities. They hired the right coaches.
And, now, Baylor is one of the most successful athletic programs in the country.
In what should be an inspiration to schools like Tulsa and SMU, Baylor is at the top of college athletics these days.
Griffin's expected glorious future is just the latest of what has been a school year to remember in Waco.
The Bears recently won the national championship in women's basketball, completing a 40-0 season (the first 40-win season in NCAA history), with the championship victory over Notre Dame.
Baylor's men's basketball team reached the Elite Eight before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky.
The Bears won 10 games in football, including the Alamo Bowl, and quarterback Griffin won the Heisman Trophy.
"This is for Baylor," said Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey after the Bears won the national title game. "This is for everything you can do for a university.
"It is to play at the highest level. And, Baylor is doing that, not just in women's basketball but in all sports."
Baylor had the nation's top player in two of the three major sports in college athletics this year. Brittney Griner, in women's basketball, joined Griffin as a national player of the year. Baylor's Perry Jones III, in men's basketball, was considered one of the top 10 players in his sport.
Baylor, the doormat for many years in the Big 12, is now enjoying the greatest era in the school's athletic history.
"At Baylor, they used to not let the Baptists dance," said Mulkey. "I bet they're dancing now. It is fun.
"Look, it has been a great year for Baylor."
It is doing it by playing at the highest possible levels in collegiate athletics.
It is doing it by playing and beating schools in its league that have far more resources, facilities and money.
It is especially impressive considering where Baylor is located. Waco is less than two hours from the campuses of Texas and Texas A&M, two of the biggest and richest in college athletics.
It is time to give the Bears some credit. What they've done in the past few years to elevate their programs is pretty much off the charts.
"I think Baylor is such a family type of environment," said Baylor men's basketball coach Scott Drew. "These guys all go to the football games, all go to the women's basketball games.
"These guys support one another."
RG3 was at the Women's Final Four, supporting fellow students from Baylor.
That shouldn't be surprising. He is often a visitor to other sports at Baylor.
"RG3, he's spent more time in our locker room his freshman year than maybe some of our coaching staff did," said Drew. "Everybody likes one another, supports one another, so happy for one another."
Say what you want about Baylor and its future in college athletics, but give the Bears credit for what they've done to get to the top of the Big 12.
Missouri, with all types of advantages, is leaving the league for the Southeastern Conference but isn't taking many trophies. Some would argue Mizzou's Big 12 highlight was winning the conference wrestling title this year.
By contrast, Baylor has won national championships in two sports since joining the Big 12 (women's basketball and men's tennis).
Just last summer, Baylor was rumored to be one of the schools that would get left behind in any type of conference realignment.
Baylor was so desperate it was threatening legal action over Texas A&M's departure to the SEC.
Baylor still might not be high on realignment wish lists of conferences, but the Bears now have some serious clout.
In addition, Baylor continues to do the things that will make it attractive in the future.
It was recently announced that Baylor is moving forward with plans to build a new luxurious football stadium on campus along the banks of the Brazos River.
It is a good time to be a Baylor Bear.
Original Print Headline: Griffin part of Baylor's turnaround
2012 NFL Draft
At Radio City Music Hall, New York
Round 1: 7 p.m. Thursday
TV: ESPN-25, NFL-252
Former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is expected to be the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft on Thursday in New York City. Associated Press file