The Rise and Fall of the Big XII
I find myself checking the internet sports news each day to see which way the Conference Winds are now blowing. East then West then in circles that an Oklahoma meteorologist would call a "Hook Echo" and then warn listeners to 'head for shelter'. The sudden rush of a cold front of vitriole on one hand clashing with the bluster of hot air towering upwards into massive thunderheads of collegiate presidents ready to unleash their lightning on the landscape of college football. This is the climatic upheaval we are now witnessing in amateur sports where any minute devastation might descend from the sky and instantaneously cut a swath of destruction upon the land of the amateur athlete.
Can anyone truly say that football is not the fundamental driving force in collegiate sports? Were it otherwise, Kansas would be one of the mightiest forces in this deluge of upheaval. The Big XII was a GOOD conference all around. It was birthed out of two brother conferences with shades of Romulus and Remus. When the Big 8 paired with the former Southwest Conference schools a power was born that ruled the collegiate world to an extent that recalled the glories of Empire. Tommy Frazier's Cornhuskers, Heupel's Sooners and Vince Young's Longhorns each won National Championships in Football. OU won the 2000 Softball title. Oklahoma State owns FOUR straight titles (2003-2006) in Wrestling. Kansas took the 2008 Men's Basketball title while both Baylor and Texas A&M won in Women's Basketball (2005 & 2011 respectively). The Longhorns won the 2002 & 2005 Baseball CWS. If you add in the Cross Country, Indoor/Outdoor Track, Golf, & Tennis titles you have the Big XII winning 42 TEAM National Titles since 1996. That's an average of 2.8 Titles PER YEAR. In this same time frame, the conference has produced 492 INDIVIDUAL Champions for an average of 32.8 per year. That is not the sign of a conference lacking in ability to compete all around. Yet at the heart of these institutions is the gladiatorial realm of the gridiron which has been the hot blood coursing through this conference's collective veins. It is Football that has been at the forefront of the Big 12 image and the high mark of success. And now sadly Remus has mocked Romulus' foundations.
Pride and Jealousy has reared their ugly heads and brother now turns against brother even as the barbarians howl at the gates. Already this band of brothers has been sundered of two valiant soldiers in Nebraska and Colorado. Now a third in Texas A&M has chosen to depart for the lures of baubles beyond the wildest imaginations of avarice. The shimmering mirage of respectability in the SEC while also removing themselves from the megalomaniacal shadow of the University of Texas has led the Aggies to a spiteful decision. Their choice has now crumbled the cornerstone of this mighty conference which now teeters upon collapse. Their Pride will bring them great hurt in the years to come. But it was not THEIR pride that led to this moment. It was their jealousy of Texas and the Longhorns overbearing PRIDE that has driven this conference to its appointed doom. Colorado left knowing that it could not compete with the Oligarchy that was forming in the South. Nebraska realized that it was becoming a second class citizen in all respects to their Southern rivals. In the end, they were given the choice of becoming an "Also Ran" or relocating to a place where they could once again be an equal. Oklahoma had risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of the Gibbs/Shnellenberger/Blake era to the point of dominance again. Texas was using its vast financial resources to dictate the direction of the conference. With OU and Texas having a stranglehold on Big 12 South football, could anyone honestly expect them to just sit and take the situation?
The Big 12 became a victim of its own success. OU has dominated the Football scene winning 7 of the 15 championships. Texas is second with 3 followed by Nebraska with 2 then A&M, K-state, & Colorado each with one. The last time a school not named OU or Texas won a title was 2003. That is a long time to have TWO teams dominate a conference and a prime recipe for dissension within the ranks. Given the current state of both programs, that scenario does not appear that it would alter in the near future despite the rise of the Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Baylor programs. Then to have one of the dominant programs announce a plan that would provide it with even MORE edge in recruiting your back yard coupled with the Longhorns sheer arrogance was just too much for the Aggies to stomach any longer. There was too much success but it was not being shared among all the participants. I know of nobody that is competitive that wants to stay in a situation where they are unable to grow and compete and that is exactly what the Big 12 has become in football. Yes, they Big TWO can be shocked by anyone, but they always seem to bounce back and the giant-killers have never been able to sustain their success against their immediate equals and get over the Big TWO obstacle.
The sad thing is that this will actually hurt EVERYONE. Not just in football but in all sports and ALL FANS. Having top teams in other sports has been GOOD for the conference and its top teams. Look at the success in Basketball by Kansas and the women's programs at Baylor and Texas A&M. The dissolution of the Big 12 will remove a number of marqee matchups on the national stage in other sports and traditional rivalries that once rightfully drew national attention will fade into memories. We have already lost the great OU vs. Nebraska football matchup that for decades was one of the greatest games to see each year. No longer will we likely see a #1 Kansas team come to the Lloyd Noble to face the Sooners. The traditions of Autumns past are withering into this homogenous super-sized nursery of the Mega-Conference. Fans will no longer be just a couple hours drive from watching their favorite team play a rival, now it could be a three day drive and maybe you only play them every other year. Attendance in football is one thing but can anyone honestly say they would drive three days or pay to fly to watch every game in Basketball or Baseball or Track? No, the fan base will remain close and television will become the primary manner of support. When the ticket sales wane, then once again the programs that are powers will dominate and then dictate revenue. Then who knows what form the spector of Conference Armageddon will once again arise.