Friday, June 11, 2010

Time running out on the Big 12?

As someone who's invested years of his life in Big 12 country, this is somewhat heartbreaking. It's the stupid idealist in me, but moreso it's very shocking how quickly we got to this point.

I don't think anyone saw the seismic change that's about to occur coming...even a month ago.

Through the years I've had many off-the-record conversations with Big 12 conference and school administrators, and writers and broadcasters, and the changes discussed were always incremental.

From Ames, IA to Columbia, MO to OKC, salt and pepper shakers were moved around and there were scrawlings on cocktail napkins, but it was merely about pieces moved on a chessboard, not one domino creating complete chaos.

And this is how it got started:

I. The Big Ten needs a 12th team so they can have a football Championship game. Who do they take, Missouri? It's a natural fit geographically. And it's a big state school with a ton of competitive athletic platforms.

II. Who replaces Missouri in the Big 12? Arkansas seems like the right fit. Geographically, they're closer to the Big 12 schools than to the SEC ones anyway. And they've only been in the SEC since 1992, so it's not like they have great history there.

III. So who does the SEC take to replace Arkansas? Whomever they damn well choose. Florida State? Georgia Tech? Clemson? Virginia Tech is another football powerhouse and in the DC TV market. Or they can go after North Carolina and put them in the same hoop league as Kentucky.

But this was all speculation among low-level people who thought they knew something, myself included.

This week, Nebraska (not Missouri) moved to the Big Ten and Colorado went to the Pac-10. So now the Big Ten has 12 teams and the Big XII has 10 teams.

On Tuesday we will learn if Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and a reluctant Texas A&M join the soon-to-be newly-minted Pacific-16 Conference, whose league mission is not to gain the financial windfall of a conference championship, but rather 2 BCS bids, and a possible BCS title game between the two divisional champs.

What we learned this week is that there's College Football, and there's College Everything-Else. How else would a storied, transcendent program like Kansas basketball be left holding the bag in a remaining shell of a Big 12 conference with Iowa State, Kansas State, Missouri, and Baylor?

It's because while March Madness is a phenomenon, college basketball (and countless other collegiate sports) all amount to a pimple on the ass of college football.

But there is a loophole in all of this. The Big 12, so long as they maintain an 8-or-more team league, is still in the BCS - at least until the ruling class votes them out. They could add TCU, Utah, and Boise (maybe they should have waited a week before joining the Mountain West) and still remain viable in football.

It would be a similar situation to what the Big East was in a few years ago. After the defections of Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami to the ACC, the Big East was decimated - the stepchild of the BCS.

Then a funny thing happened, West Virginia beat Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl. Mike Tranghese, the Big East commissioner for 19 years, called that game the highlight of his career.

It was a two-decade regime that saw his conference take 3 men's basketball titles, and saw the UConn women's program become a dynasty. But it was that Sugar Bowl, when the Big East was so maligned in football, and the Mountaineers were such heavy underdogs to Georgia, that gave Tranghese the satisfaction that no national title in any other sport could have delivered.

So maybe the Big 12 has its head on the chopping block. But maybe it's just an opportunity to reinvent itself. The one thing we don't know is what the future holds...even if it appears to unfold in front of us.

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