National college football writer extraordinaire Wendell Barnhouse, appearing on Thursday night’s "Sportsline with Tony Caridi" show, could hardly fathom how the Big 12 has recovered from its near-death experience.
"A year ago at this time, the Big 12 could have died and everybody thought it would die," said Barnhouse, the longtime Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist who now reports for Big12sports.com. "And on a personal level, I thought I might be working at Wal-Mart as a greeter."
Of course, the league survived — despite the departures of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, and despite the flirtations of Texas and Oklahoma with the Pac 12 — and Barnhouse didn’t have to don the blue apron. As the 2012 season prepares to launch, Barnhouse proclaimed the Big 12 "is as strong as it’s ever been." That may be a stretch, at least until the number of league members actually matches the total in the league logo, but certainly stability has been restored.
"A year ago everyone was eyeing each other, and it was kind of like an Old West poker game where everyone had to put their guns on the table because no one trusted anybody," Barnhouse said. "Now it’s a totally different deal because TCU and West Virginia are happy to be in the conference, and that’s a lot better than having some teams who weren’t happy to be in the conference."
Barnhouse recently finished his annual preseason tour of all the league campuses, including a first-ever trip to Morgantown. He plans to return for the Mountaineers’ first Big 12 football game against Baylor on Sept. 29.
"I think you could pick up Morgantown, stick it in the middle of Big 12 country and — as far as facilities and campus and the whole thing— it fits in well," he said. "It’s not like you’re on the other side of the world and you’re in a foreign country."
Barnhouse was particularly impressed with the Mountaineers’ new basketball practice facility and already knew the WVU Coliseum’s reputation as a raucous joint.
"There is going to be a continual debate between Kansas and West Virginia fans as to who has the best home court," he said.