FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Frank Broyles always seemed like a college administrator ahead of his time, and now we can quantify it.
Twenty years, to be exact.
He helped alter the landscape of college athletics in 1990, when he revealed that Arkansas would be leaving the SWC for the SEC.
"We were worried about Texas and Texas A&M pulling out and leaving us for the Pac-10," he said.
"Where would we have been if they'd done that? What kind of athletic prestige could we have without those two?"
Nebraska knows just how Broyles felt. Neither school could afford to wait.
Next thing you know, a member defects and a conference bellies up.
But as far as historical similarities between the demise of the old SWC and the apparently lame-duck Big 12, the latest coast-to-coast rumblings have no parallels.
"What's going on now," said Broyles, who ruled a half-century as football coach or athletic director or both at Arkansas, "is like nothing I've ever seen in college athletics."
The Pac-10 and Big Ten expand while the Big 12 contracts.
Alignments wither and rivalries die.
But the money's good, right?
"Business people tell me if you make decisions just for the money, it's wrong," Broyles said. "Build relationships and success will follow."
The sentiments might seem disingenuous coming from Broyles, who started the clock ticking on the old SWC. But he had good reasons then, and his perspective is valuable now.
Now 85 and retired, though he keeps an office with the Razorback Foundation, he's not surprised that the Big 12 didn't make it. He offers "great praise" for its accomplishments, notably two BCS national titles and an appearance in the championship game on average every other year.
But those successes weren't enough to overcome the league's differences.
"The Big 12 was a misfit from the beginning," he said.
He cited disproportionate population bases in the Big 8 and Texas, giving the Southern half of the league a bigger stick. The emphasis was different, too. Some were football powers. Some, basketball. Only a couple could claim proficiency in both.
Tom Osborne wasn't kidding when he said in 1996 that the Big 12 merged "two cultures." He predicted growing pains. The league simply never outgrew them.
Broyles knew it would be difficult to leave the SWC for the bigger, more potent SEC. But he was worried about his league's future. Pro sports had decimated its fan base in urban areas, particularly among the private schools. SEC crowds doubled what a team could pull for a SWC game.
And then there was the prospect that the SWC might fall out from under him.
"I knew there were going to be changes," he said. "We had to protect our status, our reputation."
With his president's blessings, Broyles said he discussed his plans with Texas and A&M, which both showed "great interest," then initiated talks with the SEC in 1987 or '88.
Only Texas and A&M didn't follow his lead. Broyles was told that political pressures kept both from leaving without Baylor, which seems likely.
But what if Arkansas had remained in the SWC and become part of the Big 12?
"I was told by people in the Big 12 after the fact that we would not have been included," he said. "Baylor and Texas Tech had political power. We didn't. The Big 8 was only going to take four teams from the SWC.
"I was told there was no way they'd have taken us."
The SEC proved to be a pretty nice consolation prize for Arkansas, which joined along with South Carolina in 1992. The league is made up of mostly neighbors and like-minded institutions.
Translation: They're all football crazy.
The driving force in the new Pac-16, on the other hand, is money, with projections of $20 million apiece per year when the league's new TV deal comes up.
But it comes at a steep price.
"College football is the loser," Broyles said. "Where are the rivalries and the neighbors that make college athletics so great? What are they doing for their fans?
"When you spread it out like that, you might as well be pro teams."
Of course, nothing's perfect. Not even in the SEC. Eighteen years after leaving the SWC, one thing hasn't changed.
"We don't have a rivalry," Broyles said.
Not like you had with Texas, anyway.
"Oh," he said, smiling, "did we ever."