This is the second part of a two-part post. Read the first here.
Remember the summer of 2010, when Nebraska and Colorado announced their decisions to leave the Big 12 for the Big 10 and Pac-10? And when, in the summer and fall of 2011, Texas A&M and Mizzou exited stage SEC? When the Big 12 and much of college football started cannibalizing itself?
In the span of just over a year, some of the oldest rivalries in all of American sports were over: Kansas-Mizzou, A&M-Texas, OU-Nebraska, to name a few. More recently, other rivalries outside the Big 12 bit the dust, too, with the end of WVU-Pitt and Michigan-Notre Dame.
The reasoning behind all this madness? You know it well enough–TV money, and ego. Lots of ego.
The Big 12, which once had a handsome, contiguous geographic footprint that looked like this, was left with this, and a new member in West Virginia whose nearest neighbor is 869 miles to its west.
The only way to repair the broken rivalries will be an unlikely step toward sanity, which would include universities actually listening to their fan bases and scheduling non-conference games that not only matter, but are nourishing to the sport as a whole–how much better would it be for OU to play Nebraska, as opposed to Tennessee, or for Kansas to play Mizzou instead of Southeast Missouri State?
I can tell you this: the Big 12 has to expand, and will. And adding more geographic anomalies (here’s looking at you, WVU) like the much-discussed UConn, Cincinnati or even, god-forbid, UCF, is not the answer. (When conferences get too spread out geographically, they tend to keep fracturing, over and over–take one look at the history of the Western Athletic Conference, which boasts 9 current members against 27 former members.)
So what’s the solution for the Big 12?
Remember our doomsday scenario, where, essentially for lack of a championship game, the the Big 12 misses the CFP? What, then, is the next step?
Look west, not east. BYU is answer no. 1. The Cougars have made no bones about their desire to join the Big 12. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has continued stoking the fire for the past few months, despite the Big 12’s seeming ambivalence.
BYU would bring a huge fan base, quality academics, and a football team that not only traditional success, but has beaten the piss out of Big 12’s most prestigious members with regularity in recent years–here’s looking at you 2012-13 Texas, and 2009 OU.
And, as Allan Taylor of the WV Metro News puts it, BYU “arguably would represent the league’s No. 3 most recognizable football brand (behind UT and Oklahoma) and their 2013 home attendance of 61,225 would have ranked third” in the conference. That’s ahead of everyone but Texas and OU.
But hey, you might be thinking now, aren’t you contradicting yourself, Nate? Utah isn’t contiguous to any current Big 12 member states.
And, wouldn’t BYU’s nearest Big 12 partner, Texas Tech, be–somewhat eerily–868 miles away?
Here’s your answer: Colorado State University.
CSU just finished up its season at 10-2, up until the Rams’ defeat against Air Force, had spent a couple consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25. CSU certainly does not have a high profile in as far as football goes, but they are building a new stadium, have a fantastic coach in Jim McElwain (though he appears to be on his way out), and are exhibiting all the signs of an athletic department on its way up in the world.
Also, CSU is a land grant institution with a very good academic reputation, and its basketball program has made two consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament. As a bonus for fellow new-member Brigham Young, both additions have a long history with one another in the Mountain West and WAC.
To those who might say Colorado State’s lack of football power makes them a terrible choice, I’d say well, did anyone in 2006 think Baylor would ever compete to win the conference two years in a row? Or did anyone in 2000 think OSU would have the kind of run it had from 2010-2013?
CSU would be a grower of a choice, not a show-er.
Here’s what your divisions would look like, should all this come to pass:
Big 12 West: BYU, Colorado State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State.
Big 12 East: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, West Virginia.
In terms of cross-division rivals, OSU-OU would, of course, remain a yearly affair.
The only trouble with all this would, of course be West Virginia, which certainly not be pleased with the Big 12 looking west for its newest members. Like I already said, WVU is already nearly 900 miles from its nearest neighbor.
Oliver Luck, WVU’s Athletic Director, has variously described the league’s current 10-team, round robin format as “quite perfect,” and “ideal,” and that there are “no available teams” that the Big 12 would be able to justify adding. Which, it should be clear by now, just ain’t true.
As much as I love the Mountaineers, I don’t think West Virginia would last long in the newly-accurate-in-nomenclature version of the Big 12, just as I don’t think WVU is going to remain in the conference long-term even if it stays at 10 members.
The travel is just too damn far, and, either way, at some point WVU is going to get tired of traveling to Lubbock, Texas for track meets, volleyball games, and soccer matches.
So at some point in the next three-six years, WVU is gone. So who do you add?
Here’s the real long shot.
Much has been written about how Texas caused Nebraska to leave the conference, and about how Nebraska felt marooned by having their annual rivalry with OU cut in half, and how excited the University of Nebraska academic-types were to join a more prestigious academic conference in the Big 10, and how excited Nebraska fans were for regular dates against the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, and how much better off they thought they’d be.
Yet Nebraska’s move to the Big 10 got a whole hell of a lot less sweeter when Rutgers and Maryland were invited. Just take a look at their home schedule—and the rest of the Big 10’s! Additionally, the Cornhuskers’ recruiting has taken a major hit now that it no longer regularly plays games in Texas.
Also, many of the factors that caused Nebraska to leave the conference are now either much reduced or complete non-factors. DeLoss Dodds is out at Texas, and the Longhorn Network, which many at first worried would be a huge game-changer to UT athletics, has been nothing if not a giant flop. Plus, with the re-entry of Nebraska (and exit of WVU), your divisions would look like this:
Big 12 West: BYU, Colorado State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Nebraska
Big 12 East: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU
Which, if you decided to keep a nine game conference schedule and renew OU-NU as an annual rivalry, could be very attractive.
But Big 12 execs would have to do much, much more to sweeten the deal enough to bring Nebraska back into the fold. As the most unstable Power5 conferences, it’s long been thought that the Big 12 has no chance of luring a school from one of the other P5’s. However, if the Big 12 were to start sharing its third-tier rights equally, and begin its own network, then I think you’d be looking at a conference able to, perhaps, get one of its own back.
Unless by some insane stroke of luck both TCU and Baylor make it into the CFP, it’s only a matter of time before the Big 12 has to expand.
While much has been made of adding schools like Cincinnati or UConn to provide WVU travel buddies, or South Florida and UCF so that the Big 12 can gain a recruiting foothold in Florida, such additions would simply fragment the conference further. A conference with teams in West Virginia, Florida, Iowa, and Texas, just ain’t built to last.
A Big 12 that looks west, adding BYU and CSU, and gets itself a network, fixing its third-tier rights, and then makes overtures toward Nebraska, and guarantees them a game against OU every year, would be as formidable as any in the country. Both form a brand perspective and from a football strength perspective.
And that, in my opinion, is how to go about fixing this thing.