Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News has an excellent piece up about the level of dysfunction in the Big 12. Even if you don’t agree with where he ends up, he nails the “grass-is-greener” thinking that has come to dominate these conversations since schools started bed-hopping five or six years ago.
A part that particularly hit home:
“It’s possible to play in a league with a more coveted brand. The SEC is a virtual religion. The Big Ten has been around since 1896, 100 years longer than the Big 12. But it’s either someone else’s church or someone else’s tradition.”
That sums up a lot of the way I feel about Oklahoma leaving the Big 12.
Sure, games with Alabama, LSU and Florida sound like fun. Rekindling the Nebraska rivalry would be great, along with visits to the Big House or the Horseshoe.
Yet, when I think about OU jumping ship for the SEC or Big Ten, it reminds me of how I viewed the decisions of Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri and Colorado to exit the Big 12 earlier this decade.
I can’t say I blame any of them for wanting out. Each had a multitude of good reasons to do so – money, exposure, stability, getting away from Texas. Exhausting infighting is woven into the fabric of the Big 12. (OU done more than its fair share of contributing to the conference’s culture of bickering.)
Frankly, though, I have a hard time believing that their eagerness to immigrate didn’t have at least something to do with a track record of mid-tier finishes on the field of play. It seemed to me as though they were hoping to improve their lots in life by buying into the equity built over decades by the other conferences’ founding members. Drafting off the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes makes the ride a little easier than constantly fighting uphill against the Longhorns.
For their part, the leagues that acquired them picked up television markets, recruiting territory and name brands. Both sides executed the transactions with sincerity befitting a corporate merger.
None of that means those schools made a mistake by leaving. Contrary to what Bill Snyder would have you believe, I have no doubt that each institution on the whole is more than satisfied with their decisions.
But life in the Big 12 has been different for OU, which has proven to be the flagship program in a football-obsessed conference. While the Longhorns can boast the biggest bank account and the loudest voice in the boardroom, the Sooners have dominated come game time.
After a while, the suggestion that OU has to switch conferences or risk getting dusted by other programs starts to reek of insecurity. OU doesn’t need the Big Ten or SEC to cement its competitive standing any more than Kevin Durant needed Golden State.
Unfortunately, sharing a conference with Texas is proving to be about as frustrating for the Sooners as playing alongside Russell Westbrook. I can only imagine how irritating it must be for the rest of the league’s members to watch that power struggle play out.
Despite its demographic challenges, the Big 12 has the raw materials to remain among the power conferences. Its current membership has demonstrated the institutional will over the years necessary to field quality athletic programs. The idea that they would be treated as anything more than add-ons in other major conferences for decades is a pipe dream.
If the Red River rivals committed to leading a sustainable league, rather than fighting over a fiefdom, they would be happier in the long run.