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Believing at Baylor: Winning Bears give fans hope

Oct. 31, 2010

In case you missed on Friday, Associated Press writer (Dallas bureau) Schuyler Dixon wrote an excellent piece about Baylor athletics titled, "Believing at Baylor: Winning Bears give fans hope". With football bowl-eligible for the first time in 15 years and both men's and women's basketball ranked in both the AP and coaches' top 25 polls, these are exciting times in Baylor athletics.

So, take a moment and read Dixon's article from Friday. Sic 'em.

WACO, Texas -- Grant Teaff always seethed when people told him Baylor couldn't compete in the Big 12 and said it should consider leaving the conference.

The coach who built Baylor football in the 1970s was angered partly because he started with practically nothing. Now 18 years removed from the sideline, Teaff runs a coaches organization from an office that shares a bank of the Brazos River with a new football practice facility and a recently upgraded basketball arena at the school.

The Bears keep trying to show they belong, and the signs of progress are unmistakable seven years after what Teaff called the lowest point in Baylor athletics: a men's basketball program destroyed by scandal and a football program decimated by losing on a staggering scale.

"I know beyond the shadow of a doubt, without any question, no hesitation, that you can win at Baylor and in many ways it's a bird's nest on the ground because it's different," Teaff said. "You take the assets you have and you magnify that, this is a dream place."

Had he said such a thing in 2003, Teaff would have been branded a delusional Baylor lifer. Now he doesn't sound so crazy.

A rebirth in men's basketball led the Bears to within a victory of the Final Four last season, while a women's program that seven years ago played in the shadow of other Big 12 schools from Texas has a national championship and a loaded roster looking for the school's third trip to the Final Four since 2005.

Those basketball fans might be distracted in December, though -- maybe even January. The football team is bowl eligible for the first time in the 14-year history of the Big 12. The last time Baylor played Texas when it was ranked and the Longhorns weren't, Teaff had the Bears on par with the powers of the old Southwest Conference in the 1980s. No. 25 Baylor is visiting Austin this weekend.

"It's a good time at Baylor," said women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey, whose team provided light in a dark time by winning an NCAA title in 2005.

Teaff sees Baylor as unique because it has national appeal as the world's largest Baptist university. He used the sales pitch of the faculty and students nearly 40 years ago, when all he could show recruits was a stadium that didn't have "a blade of grass" and a weight room with one lifting station.

"They never saw any facilities. They'd get here and they'd say, 'Coach, my high school facility is better than this,'" Teaff said. "They'd say, 'I never saw this.' And I'd say, 'You never asked.'"

The push for most major upgrades didn't start until several years after Baylor joined Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M in the jump to the Big 12, Teaff said. By then, the Baylor budget was at the bottom of the Big 12, something that athletic director Ian McCaw wanted to change when he was hired after the basketball scandal.

Even though the football team was still losing, McCaw said Baylor has doubled its budget to about $50 million since he arrived, and a five-year fundraising campaign called "Victory with Integrity" raised $95 million, $5 million more than the goal.

Most of that money was used for capital spending, so now a basketball arena built when Teaff was still coaching has a practice facility attached, and a modest baseball field has morphed into a stately stadium considered among the best in the baseball-rich Big 12. New softball and tennis stadiums are nearby, and McCaw said there is talk of building an on-campus football stadium. Baylor plays a few miles from the Waco campus.

"We've put ourselves in position where we can be much more competitive," McCaw said. "Coupled with the competitive success of our teams, we're in a much better spot today."

Scott Drew's basketball team got everyone's attention early in Big 12 play last season with an overtime a win at Texas not long after the Longhorns had fallen from No. 1. By the end of the regular season, the Bears were close to selling out all their home games, and that was before a run to the regional finals.

The women have consistently drawn around 8,000 in the 10,000-seat Ferrell Center, and they might be the best team not named Connecticut with sophomore dunking sensation Brittney Griner and a pair of potential stars in transfers Brooklyn Pope and Destiny Williams. A Nov. 16 game at UConn, which beat Baylor in the semifinals last season, will generate plenty of early season buzz.

Hopeful that dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III could deliver a winning season, more than 40,000 fans showed up at Baylor's first two home games for the first time since 1995. The Bears have a good chance to sell out their remaining home games against Oklahoma and Texas A&M, and McCaw says season-ticket sales are trending upward after years of losing seasons eroded that base.

"We've been selling hope and vision and faith, and now we can sell reality," football coach Art Briles said. "It's hard to believe without seeing."

Grant Teaff believed it a long time ago.

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