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Merger Creates Dynamite Dozen

College football: Powerhouse Big Eight has picked up four best teams from the old SWC.


Texas Tech Coach Spike Dykes, son of a cotton ginner, was born in Lubbock. He watched oil make the town rich and rocker Buddy Holly make it famous.

At 57, he has seen passing fads, the Edsel come and go, the Cold War, twisters, John David Crow.

So, when his Red Raiders were thrown into the teeth of the new Big 12 conference, a mega-merger of the Big Eight and half of the defunct Southwest, Dykes tried to be philosophical.

"I don't guess you can stand in the way of progress," he said over the phone.

Progress, in this case, was a bulldozer coming in to level the landscape.

In college football's answer to the Time Warner-Turner merger, two of the nation's most celebrated conferences have joined forces, for better or worse, depending on what side of the score you end up on.

The coalition was formed after the demise of the scandal-torn Southwest Conference, which disbanded last season after 82 seasons of pomp and payoffs.

The best teams in the SWC--Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor--were absorbed by the Big Eight, producing an instant super conference.

The leagues' combined histories is flat-out chest-thumping: 130 NCAA titles, 15 wire-service football champions, nine Heisman Trophy winners.

This year's Big 12 includes seven teams that finished in the top 25 last season. Big 12 teams were 6-1 in bowl games and produced Nebraska, the consensus national champion.

Eight Big 12 players were named first team All-Americans.

The conference has been divided into two divisions. The North includes Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State. In the South are Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor.

The league wasted little time rolling up its sleeves. At a time when conferences have wrested television clout from the NCAA and the lame-duck College Football Assn., the Big 12 struck the largest television pact ever signed by a conference, an eight-year, $126-million deal with ABC and Fox Sports Net.

Last year, the Southeastern Conference, the consortium by which all others had been measured, brought in $45.5 million in television revenue. This year the Big 12 is projecting a gross of at least $47 million.

"This conference has all the clout to be a leader with all the other conferences in the country," Big 12 Commissioner Steve Hatchell said. "Whether it's success on the field, enrollment, alumni groups, TV contracts, TV sets, this is a major player."

Few would argue.

The stakes have been raised dramatically.

Take Texas Tech. Dykes spent years rebuilding the Red Raiders to respectability and has led the team to bowl games the last three seasons.

But matching last year's 9-3 record this year will be difficult.

Last season, Tech played three SWC opponents--Southern Methodist, Rice and Houston--that finished with a combined record of 5-27-1. This season, the Red Raiders sub in three Big 12 opponents--Kansas, Kansas State and Nebraska--which finished 32-4.

"This is a great opportunity," Dykes said cautiously. "People like us, we're like Avis, No. 2 and trying harder. This is going to force our hand, make us upgrade some things and push hard to hang in with the rest of those guys."

For those less talented than Texas Tech, the task is more daunting. Iowa State, though it had a 2,000-yard rusher in Troy Davis, finished 3-8 in the Big Eight.

"I spent 24 years in the Big Ten [at Iowa and Wisconsin] and I believe that the Big 12 will be the premier football conference in the country," Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney said. "The talent, the programs, the tradition, the coaching staffs--it is a really amazing league. It's going to be real competitive and I don't want Iowa State to be a weak link."

Even the strong links will be tested. Colorado, a top-five team, will probably have to defeat division mate Nebraska to even get a shot at the Big 12 title game.

"It'll be a heightened competition situation," Buffaloes' Coach Rick Neuheisel says. "It'll tax teams' depth. That'll be a major issue in this conference."

The rise of the Big 12 will be watched with great interest, although not everyone is convinced that the new alliance will leave others in its wake.

"I'm not sure the Big 12 is any more stable," one Division I-A commissioner said.

He noted the infighting that went on in piecing together the alliance.

Conflicts broke cleanly between old Big Eight members and the incoming block of Texas schools.

Texas, for example, threatened to pull out and take a standing offer from the Pac-10 if stronger academic requirements were not imposed.

Texas won out.

In fact, the old Big Eight guard would argue that the Texas bloc pushed through much of its mandate.

The Texas schools prevailed in the battle for commissioner, former SWC commissioner Hatchell over Kansas Athletic Director Bob Frederick; the site of the new Big 12 headquarters, Dallas over Kansas City, where the Big Eight had been headquartered since 1907, and the issue of admitting non-qualifiers.

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