So Oklahoma may leave for the Pac-12 and take Oklahoma State with it. Texas A&M is arranging to join the SEC. Texas will loft into orbit and form its own planet, which will be shaped like a television satellite.
I'm just wondering:
Has everybody in the Big 12 lost their minds?
This is all so ridiculous, and it is fueled by fear and mistrust instead of anything resembling logic. This isn't about right and wrong. It is, like virtually everything else in college athletics, about winning and losing.
Well if the Big 12 blows up, everybody loses.
There has been so much hand-wringing and talk about the loss of tradition that we're missing the big picture here. Everybody in the Big 12 is better off staying in the Big 12. On a pragmatic level, that is what makes sense.
If the Big 12 stays together, Texas and Oklahoma would get to print money and be the bullies in a league of familiar rivals. Kansas would be a basketball power in a legitimate big-time conference. The other schools would get Big 12 money and the possibility of rising up to compete for a title once in a while (Missouri did it with Chase Daniel, and Kansas State has done it). It won't happen a lot, but it can happen.
Texas A&M's ship may have sailed onto the back of a pickup truck headed for the SEC, which is too bad; the Aggies are also better off in a well-structured Big 12. When you are one of the two biggest rivals for the dominant team in the league, you are extremely relevant. In the SEC, A&M is counting on TV money (which is higher than people realize, because of various contracts that the SEC does not over-publicize), and the vague notion that being in the best conference will improve recruiting. Maybe it will. But A&M had a much better chance of contending in the Big 12.
This starts with Texas. The Longhorns thought they were the smartest kids in the room when they dangled the Big 12 over a cliff and got approval to start The Longhorn Network. Again: I'm not saying Texas is the villain here. I am sure that if Kansas State could have started The Wildcat Network (motto: "No, the OTHER Wildcats ... no, not those either ... try again ... YES, that's us!") then Kansas State would have done that.
But the other schools are furious. They think the playing field is unfair, even by the standards of college sports, and they're right. And now Texas is in a tough spot. The 'Horns can't go to the Pac-12 or Big 10 or SEC and keep their network. They could go independent and keep the network, but what is the point of holding all the cards if you're playing by yourself? Going independent creates scheduling problems for every sport, and it makes it difficult to secure bowl bids.
Texas could compromise on its network and join another league, but if the Longhorns are going to do that, why not compromise on the network and stay in their league?
There has to be a way to figure this out. Maybe Texas can share its Longhorn Network the way many teams in many college and pro leagues share revenue: The team that generates it gets the biggest chunk, but everybody gets some.
The reality for Texas is that the sweetheart deal the Longhorns thought they had no longer exists. They can't have the Longhorn Network, keep all the revenue and be the dominant force, politically and competitively, in a Big 12 that features Oklahoma and Texas A&M. A&M has already decided to leave, and from all indications, Oklahoma would rather be in the Pac-12 than stay in the Big 12 under current conditions.
The Sooners can drag Oklahoma State with them to the Pac-12, because Oklahoma legislators insist upon it, and because the Pac-12 can add one more team and nobody will notice anyway.
But what the heck does Oklahoma get out of being in the Pac-24, or whatever it will be called? More money, maybe. But in the long-term, this could be a disaster. If Nebraska felt out of place when the Big Eight became the Big 12, how would Oklahoma feel in a league full of teams from California, Oregon, Arizona and Washington?
The Big 12 does not evoke nostalgic affection. This is the league that diminished and ultimately destroyed Oklahoma-Nebraska, which was one of the top five rivalries in college football. It killed the old Southwestern Conference, which made cheating almost seem charming.
But in a world where TCU can play South Florida in a Big East game, regional affiliations don't seem to matter. But they do. In time, people will see that. Heck, in a weird way, all this realignment actually reflects the regional biases of this country. The Big 10 is located in manufacturing states, which are union territory, and so the Big 10 has a one-for-all, equal-pay-for-equal-work feel to it. Texas is all about small government and letting the rich get richer if they are smart enough to do so. The South thinks it is the real America and wouldn't mind seceding again. The West Coast doesn't mind being grossly overpopulated as long as the sun is out and there is money to be made.
You can't tell me Texas and Oklahoma would be happier or more prosperous in separate leagues -- not unless Oklahoma can rejoin Nebraska and Texas can bring the old SWC back together.
This isn't about going backward. It's about going forward. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told my friend and colleague Andy Staples that "We're not villains here." Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com, who has broken numerous stories since realignment-mania started, listed five reasons why Texas might be better off in the ACC than the Pac-12.
On the topic of villains: This isn't a John Wayne movie. Ten years from now, it won't matter who the villains are. If we sent people to jail for doing idiotic things in college athletics, we'd start with the clown who designed those Maryland uniforms. This isn't about villains or heroes.
Texas is acting purely out of self-interest. So is Texas A&M. So is Oklahoma. So did Nebraska and Colorado when they left the league. Even Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is acting out of self-interest -- he can't be a commissioner if he doesn't have a league. Iowa State and the Kansas schools would act out of self-interest, too, if they were allowed to act. Instead they are desperately putting frosting on cupcakes for their annual athletic department bake sales.
Yes, everybody is trying to get what they want -- and as a result, it is highly possible that nobody will get what they really want.
All of these schools would be better off finding an amicable, workable, long-term structure to save the Big 12. Swallow your egos. Put fear aside. There is a deal to be made there, but only if everybody wants to make it.