Big boost for Baylor from Griffin’s Heisman Trophy

Baylor president Ken Starr proudly quotes Robert Griffin

III.

Considering the uncertain athletic future Baylor faced each of

the past two summers during speculation of potential super

conferences and the Big 12 teetering on the brink of collapse,

Starr may find no better way to express the impact of Griffin’s

Heisman Trophy in helping boost and change the perception of the

private school in central Texas.

”It’s unbelievably believable for the university,” said Starr,

the former independent prosecutor and orator borrowing a phrase

from Griffin’s memorable Heisman acceptance speech in New York.

The exciting dual-threat quarterback created a frenzy that led

to people paying several hundreds of dollars to get a pair of

Superman socks like the ones RG3 wore at the Heisman ceremony Dec.

10.

There was an appearance on David Letterman’s late night show.

Griffin gets asked for an autograph or to strike the pose for a

picture everywhere he goes, even when he was in Times Square.

Yes, all for the quarterback of Baylor, which had never even had

a winning season as a Big 12 team before Griffin got there.

”Short term, there’s a tremendous amount of brand energy

nationally without question,” coach Art Briles said. ”Recruiting,

without question. We’re getting phone calls every day that we

weren’t getting the last three years.”

There was an almost-immediate advertising campaign by Baylor,

with Internet ads and billboards featuring Griffin with the phrase,

”Building leaders … and Heisman Trophy winners.” The billboards

were placed in high-traffic areas, including one not far from the

University of Texas campus in Austin.

”Long term, they give one (Heisman) away a year. … The last

50 years, there’s been 49 winners. Archie Griffin won it twice,”

Briles said. ”People can name Heisman Trophy winners, casual fans.

So long term, it ain’t going anywhere. It’s Robert’s. It’s

Baylor’s.”

Griffin’s first game as the Heisman Trophy winner is Thursday in

the sold-out Alamo Bowl, where the 15th-ranked Bears (9-3) play

Washington less than three hours from their Waco campus.

Soon, visitors entering the lobby of Baylor’s athletic building

could be greeted by the school’s first Heisman Trophy. The most

prominent display so far has been the Ray Guy Award won twice by

Daniel Sepulveda that is given to the nation’s best punter.

One of the first issues Starr addressed publicly after taking

over the school’s presidency in June 2010 was the future of Baylor

athletics.

Before that, he was Pepperdine University’s law school dean, but

is best known for his investigation of the Clinton White House and

the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment

There was speculation again earlier this year about major shifts

with traditional football powers, this time with talk of possible

legal action to keep the Big 12 together and more worries about the

Bears being left out of the mix.

And there was the tragedy and scandal in the men’s basketball

program that rocked the world’s largest Baptist university in the

summer of 2003, when Patrick Dennehy was murdered by a teammate and

former coach Dave Bliss was then caught in a tangle of lies and

financial misdeeds that led to crippling NCAA penalties for new

coach Scott Drew.

Things have changed drastically for Baylor.

”It’s not just a new chapter, but there’s a brand new book

that’s being written,” Starr said. ”Baylor will now play an

increasingly visible part in the Big 12 by virtue of the

improvement of these athletic programs. … It’s an exciting

time.”

Not only does Baylor have the best player in college football,

and preliminary plans for a new campus stadium on the banks of the

Brazos River, it boasts two undefeated basketball teams.

Coach Kim Mulkey’s top-ranked Lady Bears (12-0) led by junior

phenom Brittney Griner have already defeated three top-10 teams

this season, including perennial power Connecticut before a record

crowd at home this month. They were national champions in 2005 and

last year made it to a regional final before losing to Texas

A&M, the eventual national champ they had already beaten three

times.

The No. 6 men’s team with Big 12 preseason player of the year

Perry Jones III, considered a potential NBA lottery pick before

returning for his sophomore season, has already matched its best

start ever with 12 consecutive wins. The Bears made it to an NCAA

regional final only two seasons ago.

And, despite the upcoming defections of Texas A&M and

Missouri to the SEC, the Big 12 has steadied itself with equal

revenue sharing, television rights and TCU and West Virginia as

incoming replacements.

”You can take all those sound bites from people talking bad

about us, and not that you can rub it in, but you can just laugh at

it now, because we rose up above that,” Griffin said. ”We made

history, and it’s fun to make history and be able to see it while

you’re in it.”

Griffin, an aspiring lawyer who arrived at Baylor nearly four

years ago as a 17-year-old kid after graduating high school early

near the top of his class, exceled while leading the Bears into the

national spotlight.

There is still the big question on whether Griffin will return

for a chance to become only the second multiple Heisman winner.

Robert Griffin, a fourth-year junior unrelated to the two-time

Heisman winner and already holding 46 school records, still has

another season of eligibility after the Alamo Bowl. But his NFL

draft stock has risen dramatically.

RG3 is the nation’s most efficient passer, throwing for 3,998

yards with a Big 12-leading 36 touchdowns (averaging more than 35

yards each) and only six interceptions. He also ran for 644 yards

and nine more scores.

Baylor has a five-game winning streak, its longest in 20 years,

and is trying to match the school record of 10 wins set during Mike

Singletary’s senior season in 1980, a decade before Griffin was

born in Japan to parents who are now both retired military.

”As a total brand, everybody always knew Baylor was a great

academic university,” Briles said. ”Now when you add top-ranked

athletic teams to it, I mean what you’re sitting on is a can-do,

everything university.”