In good times and bad for DeLoss Dodds, one constant remained: his great influence on the Big 12.
The realignment uncertainty of a few years ago makes any retrospective of Dodds, who announced his resignation as Texas’ athletic director on Tuesday effective at the end of the school year, a bittersweet exercise outside of the Longhorns’ sphere.
Dodds, 76, oversees the richest athletic program in college sports, and Texas has won more national championships across the sports spectrum than any school in Big 12 history.
“He is one of the giants in college athletics,” Texas president Bill Powers said. “These are huge shoes to fill. You can’t replace him. You build on this.”
One of Dodds’ most notable accomplishments was his engineering of The Longhorn Network for the school’s third-tier television rights, which will be worth about $300 million to Texas during its 20-year lifespan. During Dodds’ news conference, the only microphone at the table carried a Longhorn Network label.
But that agreement with ESPN, which has failed to gain wide distribution, was a leading source of contention among original Big 12 members. When Missouri and Texas A&M landed in the SEC and Nebraska in the Big Ten, all suggested the relationship with Texas factored into the disassociation.
It was also Texas and Dodds that, after considering a move to the Pac-12, decided to stay in the Big 12 when it appeared the league could dissolve without the Longhorns.
That gave Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State the best conference option, allowing them to remain members of a conference that has television contracts with ESPN and Fox worth about $2.5 billion. At the time of the realignment confusion, there was no obvious better option for those schools.
As this was happening, Texas was dealing from a position of athletic success. In football, the Longhorns played for the BCS National Championship after the 2009 season; Kevin Durant turned in a national player-of-the-year performance for coach Rick Barnes’ basketball team in 2007; and the baseball team won the 2005 NCAA championship, the same season the football team won the BCS title with Vince Young.
But during the last three years, Texas’ high-profile sports have floundered. In that span, football has had one winning Big 12 record under Mack Brown, and the men’s basketball team missed the NCAA Tournament under Barnes for the first time last year.
Hot seats have been speculated for Brown and Barnes, and Dodds did not answer questions about prospective coaching changes.
“Anything this department does significantly over the next year needs to have the hand of the new person on it,” Dodds said.
The poor records have happened despite Texas’ position as the top revenue producer in college sports at $163.3 million for 2012-13, according to federal figures.
Dodds was in on the formation of the Big 12, bringing together the Longhorns and three other schools from the Southwest Conference with the Big Eight in the mid-1990s. He had extensive experience in both leagues.
Texas’ wealth and facilities were the primary reasons Dodds was lured away from Kansas State in 1981.
At the time, the Wildcats’ athletic budget was about $3 million. Texas was spending about $6 million on its men’s sports, and its venues, Memorial Stadium for football and the Erwin Center for basketball, ranked among the nation’s largest.
He was an attractive candidate because of his diverse background. Dodds had spent the previous three seasons as K-State’s athletic director. Before that, he spent two years working in the Big Eight office in Kansas City as associate commissioner under Chuck Neinas, and he was the Wildcats’ track coach during 1963-76.
As K-State’s athletic director, Dodds navigated through the choppy waters of NCAA trouble he inherited. The Wildcats received sanctions that today would rank as the most severe in college sports — docking of 20 scholarships, no postseason or television appearances for two years and penalized one-third of conference revenue from media contracts and bowl games for three years. The major crime: awarding too many football scholarships.
Dodds worked to get the financial portion of the penalty reduced, and the athletic department’s morale greatly improved during his tenure.
If anybody seemed like a Kansan for life, it was Dodds. He was raised in Riley, Kan., just outside of Manhattan, and like so many Kansas youth, took to running. At K-State, Dodds became a Big Eight champion quarter-miler and anchored two champion relay teams. In 1963, he became the program’s track and cross country coach, winning a total of six league titles.