Hlas column: Last spring's fears of being an orphan are all in the past for Iowa State

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Video of Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads talking about his 2011 team is at the end of this post.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Eleven months ago, the Big 12 Conference was crumbling in a landslide.

Nebraska made a move east to the Big Ten. Colorado made a move west to the Pac-10. And the middle was no longer terra firma, not with at least five of the six South Division members getting romanced intensely by the Pac-10.

Iowa State appeared to be headed to college athletics limbo, in danger of needing a lesser conference with lesser means for shelter, but not a whole lot more.

But here we are in May 2011. Texas decided it was better to be the kings of the Big 12 than an equal partner in the Pac-16, and the rest of the Big 12’s southwest membership stayed put, too.

Somehow, Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe not only kept the 10 holdovers together, but got the big-money television contract he promised he’d get when he convinced Texas and friends the grass was plenty green right where they were.

Last month, the Big 12 signed a 13-year deal with Fox Sports Media Group that’s worth $90 million annually, up from the $20 million the league had with the company. That’s accompanied by the $60 million annual revenue the conference was already getting from ESPN for first-tier football rights.

Remember those dark days of worrying about going to the Mountain West or worse, Cyclone fans? It was like Y2K. A lot of noisy fears suddenly were stilled when nothing bad actually happened.

“You could have argued that maybe things were on life-support and there were people worrying about what the future held,” Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard said Wednesday night at the Cyclone Tailgate Tour stop at the U.S. Cellular Center. “Here we are a year later and we’re in the Big 12, the Big 12 is still called the Big 12.

“We have a television deal that is monumental and really solidifies not only the togetherness of the 10 institutions, but our financial future. So I would say things are really, really good.”

Pollard said the Fox deal will mean at least another $4 million a year in television revenue for Iowa State. “Which is significant,” he said, “especially given the fact that we’ve weaned ourselves from state support.”

The TV deal isn’t charity, however. The Cyclones and fellow league members will march to the networks’ orders. ISU’s football schedule this season is proof.

Iowa State has a pair of Friday night ESPN games, Sept. 16 at Connecticut, and Nov. 18 in Ames against Oklahoma State. Instead of playing 12 games in 12 weeks, the Cyclones will have two bye weeks. They will play Nov. 26 at Oklahoma and Dec. 3 at Kansas State.

“You can’t do anything about it,” said ISU football coach Paul Rhoads. “There’s just so much money involved there, television contracts and the exposure that goes along with them. Television’s going to dictate the length of the schedule and, at certain times, when we’re going to play.”

The Friday night games might not be part of a perfect world, but Pollard said “To know going in that we’re already on (ESPN) two times, that’s twice as much as we’ve been on in the last five years. And we know we’ll be on some other national telecasts because of our agreement with Fox, on FX.”

No, losing Nebraska and Colorado as partners wasn’t great. But staying in your old league and getting a lot more TV money is pretty good salve for those wounds.

“I don’t think anybody could have predicted a year ago we’d be where we are today,” Pollard said.

On Oct. 1, it won’t be New Mexico or Wyoming or UNLV of the Mountain West bringing its football team to Jack Trice Stadium for Iowa State’s conference-opener. That will be Texas. You know, a team Cyclone fans actually want to see in the league that wouldn’t die.

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