Just Let the Big 12 Die
10:35 AM EDT on September 21, 2011
With news that the Pac-12 conference is not going to expand to sixteen team, it appears that the Big "12" has been granted another reprieve. While most may remember that the death knell was sounded fifteen months ago (Royce even did a retrospective for the league), many still seem to still think the conference is a feasible long-term entity. The Tramels (Jimmy at the Tulsa World, and Berry at The Oklahoman) have been welcoming the likelihood of another year of dysfunctional allegiance that is very likely to end with another Summer of speculation about how the members of the conference will align themselves in twelve months.
I understand that people fear change and that people still consider the Big "12" as the successor of the Big 8 that most people grew up watching, but any desire to see this organization continue is akin to wanting your elderly, cancer ravaged grandparent to undergo aggressive treatment. It will only prolong the suffering.
There is no magic bullet that is going to save this middle-of-the-country superconference. When the Big "10" poached Nebraska and Colorado left for the Pac-12, there was too much blood in the water for the competing conferences that bordered Big "12" markets not to invade like pirate-shark hybrids.
Making them even more succeptible was the agreement reached last Summer that "saved" the conference. The University of Texas, with ESPN's backing, magnanimously chose not to defect to the SEC in return for the other Big "12" members signing off on "The Longhorn Network." OU gave up their overtures to the Pac-12 (meaning OSU did, as well) because they, naively, assumed ESPN would give them a similar network. The toy soliders in College Station, delusionally, agreed for the same reason.
When ESPN instead chose to create a Sooner themed website that was basically a higher profile version of Sooner Illustrated, and aTm got a heaping helping of nothing, jealousy kicked in. As UT's network kicked off, the administrations of the two spurned schools pretended that the creation of The Longhorn Network caught them by surprise and that it was not exactly what the one thing that kept the conference from falling apart a year earlier.
The Aggies threw a tantrum and somehow got the SEC to give them an invitation, which they snatched up as quickly as Patrick being offered a free beer. Then, seeing the writing on the wall, Missouri has reportedly done the same (though they are waiting to make an announcement in hopes they won't have to pay an exit fee).
So, while the trend has been to expand into super conferences that could eventually make the NCAA affiliation obsolete, the Big "12" has dropped from twelve, to ten, to nine, and now probably eight schools. Meanwhile, prospects for expanding have evaporated. Last year, I suggested going after TCU--who had shown prolonged success as a mid-major--to fill one of the vacancies left by Nebraska and Colorado. That was met with scorn, but now the league would actually beg them to take over for A&M, but TCU had already signed an agreement with the Big East.
While the conference has actually pursued independents like Notre Dame and Brigham Young (who, as independents, have television contracts that would only add to the hard feelings), they have no interest in giving up their freedom to join an alliance held together by a lack of an invitation to a more stable situation. That instability also makes plays at stealing from other superconferences (namely Arkansas in the SEC) fruitless. In the end, the only way of getting enough membership to keep the band together weakens the Big 12 by bringing in the kind of schools that are petitioning to join (Southern Methodist, Tulsa).
So what to do? Big 8 nostalgists would like nothing more than to leave the conference as it will stand after Missouri's defection. Of course, that is extremely naive of how college football works these days. With the money brought in from television, the value of the contracts would drop significantly when only four games are available each week during conference play and two of those will involve Baylor and Iowa State. When the money declines, none of the remaining eight (except for Baylor and Iowa State who are destined to drop to mid-major) will want to hang around.
The best thing to do is pull the plug. While the Pac-12 insists they are not going to expand, that is entirely due to Texas still feeling they have leverage to set terms. If/when Kansas gets their Big East overtures (which is going to happen in hopes of saving their elite basketball conference stature), Texas will have to relent...and they should do it now or else prepare to go independant (something I doubt ESPN desires).
The Pac-12 is actually a strong conference that lags in prestige because their elite teams play their games on Pacific Coast time. Major media outlets generally gloss over them simply because the results happen after their deadlines. Moving east into the central time zone, while also adding two powerhouse programs and two very strong programs, puts them on par with the SEC and Big "10." When UT and OU stop making them beg, they will be plenty happy to welcome the schools from Texas and Oklahoma.
Next Summer, maybe it will happen.
Clark Matthews is a world-class checkers champion, co-founder, and basketball editor-emeritus of The Lost Ogle
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