On the eve of the 2016 election cycle’s final presidential debate, let’s dispel a fiction about the Big 12 and psychological disadvantages.
Contrary to some of the opinions that I’ve come across in the last couple days (for example), OU president David Boren’s latest Big 12 gambit wasn’t a solution in search of a problem. Thanks in large measure to the fallout from conference realignment during the earlier part of this decade, the Big 12 turned into the butt of jokes long before Boren started running his mouth about “psychological disadvantages.”
- Four major programs acrimoniously left the conference for greener pastures, replaced by two schools with decidedly less national cache.
- While the other conferences were forming their own television networks, ESPN and Texas were shooting first and asking questions later to get the Longhorn Network up and running.
- Boren himself engineered an embarrassing attempt to get OU out of the league and into the Pac-12.
- From the start, the conference commissioner has come off as though his copy of the league handbook is about four versions behind.
And all of the shenanigans on the administrative levels don’t even begin to address the realities developing on the ground in football:
- Texas football, the supposed cornerstone of the conference, has devolved into a fatuous lump of disappointment, self-sabotage and empty promises that next year will be the one where the Longhorns return to glory. (Shockingly, the LHN’s seemingly endless loop of the 2006 Rose Bowl has done little to move the needle nationally.)
- The Sooners have served up a few flops of their own on big stages.
- The least shameful thing about 2013 and 2014 conference champ Baylor right now is its marshmallow scheduling.
- The SEC has invaded the conference’s recruiting breadbasket.
- National signing day and the NFL draft offer annual reminders of the overall paucity of talent entering and coming out of the league--and an opportunity for members of the media to dump on the conference again.
You could rightfully take issue with Boren going about this gambit in public. It would be an understatement to say that the size of his ego and his fondness for microphones can be counterproductive. I can certainly sympathize with the idea that the Big 12’s eventual vetting process was an unnecessary tease to potential expansion candidates, and it was made more unseemly by the impression that those schools were just used for leverage against ESPN and FOX.
Even so, these aren’t imaginary issues in the minds of the people to whom Boren ultimately answers, and the problems with the Big 12 run a lot deeper than the conference not having a representative in the College Football Playoff one year.
In the end, Boren's blustering didn't produce much for the Big 12 besides a championship game of questionable necessity and the likelihood of more TV money. However, it did force the lackadaisical conference to evaluate a strategy beyond its increasingly ill-fated plan of hoping that its two headliners will keep pulling the league along.
If that alone threatened to the conference's stability, it just proves how fragile and dysfunctional the Big 12 really is.