Campus Corner

Jon Wefald’s book revisits Big 12’s origins, K-State’s football rise and controversy

Former Kansas State University president Jon Wefald
Former Kansas State University president Jon Wefald

With Big 12 Conference expansion a constant topic, a book arrived this week that spends a portion of its 348 pages on the origins of the league and its complications. Former Kansas State University president Jon Wefald details his 23 years on the Manhattan, Kan., campus that ended with his retirement in 2009.

Two of the nine chapters in The Transformative Years at Kansas State: The Years of President Jon Wefald from 1986 to 2009 are devoted to athletics, Wefald’s thoughts on the hiring and rehiring of Bill Snyder, the so-called “secret” contract agreement with football coach Ron Prince, his role in helping recruit athletes and the admission of one of his two biggest mistakes during his tenure: “My huge mistake in letting (athletic director) Tim Weiser leave KSU.”

Also, the Big 12 evolution. Wefald was Chairman of the Association of Big Eight schools in 1990, when the college sports landscape started trembling. Over the next couple of years, the Big Ten, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences expanded. The Southwest Conference was wobbling and the Big Eight needed to change or would be left behind.

Initially, Wefald talked about a merger of the 16 schools. But on a conference call in February 1994, Wefald recalled then-Texas president Bob Berdahl shaping the league. “’Here is what we decided,’” Wefald quoted Berdahl. “’We encourage the Big 8 Conference to invite Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas to form a new conference.’”

Wefald: “For four years, I had hoped we could convince Texas to join the Big 8. I did not want to ask Bob Berdahl any questions about the fate of Rice, Houston, SMU and TCU. I knew there was only one difference between K-State and them: we were in the Big 8.”

On picking the first Big 12 commissioner, a choice between Southwest Conference commissioner Steve Hatchell and Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick: “I liked them both. I had known Bob for years. He was an outstanding AD and a classy person … But I was shocked to find out that Charles Kiesler, the Missouri Chancellor, would not vote for any KU candidate. If Kiesler had set aside his pettiness, Bob Frederick would have been the new Big 12 Commissioner.”

On the academic rule that limited the number of Proposition 48 qualifiers — the SWC didn’t allow them, the Big Eight did and new league settled on one such qualifier for football and men’s basketball: “It was aimed directly at (Nebraska) Cornhusker football. By the late 1990s, this new Big 12 rule has seriously damaged the quality of Nebraska football. In fact, you could say it brought the era of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne to a close.”

Wefald recalled Berdahl harmed Nebraska after leaving Texas. Berdahl was the president of the Association of American Universities (AAU) in 2011 when Nebraska was voted out of the prestigious group. Wefald said Berdahl could have used his influence to sway a close vote.

“The truth is,” Wefald wrote, “no outside academic leader has dented Nebraska’s athletic and academic standing over the years more than Bob Berdahl.

“In another irony, if Nebraska had not been a member of the AAU in 2010 when the Big 10 was adding a new school, the University of Missouri, an AAU school, would likely be a member of the Big 10 today.”

On Kansas State’s victory over top-ranked Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 football championship game at Arrowhead Stadium: “Bill Snyder was in a better mood before the game. After his win over OU, Snyder was unable to forget about the three losses to Marshall, Texas and OSU. He knew this 2003 team might have won the National Championship if they had come together a month earlier.”

On losing men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins to West Virginia after one season: “Huggs came over to see Tim Weiser and me in my office that morning. Weiser and I were dejected. It was one of my greatest disappointments in sports.”

On searching for Snyder’s replacement: “In late November, 2005, Tim had lined up a Sunday trip to interview three candidates: Jim Leavitt in Tampa, Randy Shannon, Miami’s defensive coordinator, and Gary Patterson in Dallas.”

(Shannon dropped out before the plane left Kansas, and Patterson later said he was remaining at TCU. Leavitt was interested but had one more game plus a bowl and K-Stated wanted to move sooner, Wefald said.)

On learning that athletic director Bob Krause had negotiated a separate and secret contract with football coach Ron Prince for $3.2 million to be made in three deferred payments: “I was heartsick. It became the longest day of my life. It hurt even more because athletic director Bob Krause had been my best friend and ally for over thirty years … I never dreamed something like this could happen on my watch.”

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff