Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops
The Big 12 Conference is now down to nine members, and Oklahoma is the new center point in determining the future of the conference. The Sooners are expected to declare their future plans sometime before the end of the month.
The Southeastern Conference on Monday night unanimously accepted Texas A&M as the 13th member of that conference. The approval did come with some contingencies, like the provision of no legal entanglements (e.g., impending lawsuits) and, of course, the approval of the nine remaining Big 12 member schools. But it's now a done deal, and everyone can forget about Texas A&M.
All of this comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following college sports - particularly the major conference realignment free-for-all - over the past 12 months.
There is growing sentiment around the country that this is just the beginning of a new cascade of teams that will soon be announcing similar moves to transfer their memberships to different conference affiliations with little or no consideration for geographic symmetry.
When the issue of breaking longtime conference ties and traditions first surfaced as serious conversation in the Big 12 a little over a year ago, resulting in Nebraska and Colorado leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten and then-Pac-10 conferences, respectively, some of us mistakenly believed that the remaining ten teams in the conference would band together, at least in the short term, to, first, stop the bleeding. Then, of course, work with Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to properly assess the new landscape in college athletics and the movement to so-called super conferences to determine the best course of action to protect the future stability of the Big 12.
We were informed at the time that the remaining ten teams had pledged their commitment to keep the conference together and keep it strong, with no immediate need or interest in replacing the two departed institutional members. In retrospect, this kumbaya-like posturing might as well have been called kumba-bye-bye.
It is fairly apparent now that Texas A&M still harbored ill feelings and really didn't have much interest, even then, in remaining a member of the Big 12 as long as Big Brother Texas was running the show and getting whatever it wanted in the process. At least, that's how the folks in College Station viewed the situation through their set of blinders. Meanwhile, Oklahoma remained surprisingly, or perhaps strategically, quiet about the whole state of affairs in the Big 12. Many people read this silence to mean the Sooners were tied at the hip to whatever Texas was going to do because of the century-old rivalry between the two schools, which endured long before they were members of the same college athletic conference.
That all changed last Friday, when Oklahoma President David Boren broke OU's long silence on the subject, stating, "We are carefully looking over all the options. I'll put it this way," he said, "I don't think OU is going to be a wallflower when all is said and done."
At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, OU coach Bob Stoops responded to the question of how important it is for Oklahoma and Texas to be in the same conference and play each other every year in football, basketball, etc. The Oklahoma coach is of the opinion that things sometimes change and you have to be flexible and be able to adjust to the changing environment. Even if that means breaking up old traditions.
"No one wants to hear that, but life changes," Stoops said. "If it changes, you've got to change with it to whatever degree. If it works, great. I love the (OU-Texas) game. But if it doesn't, it doesn't. Sometimes that the way it goes."
Stoops quickly noted the time when Oklahoma played Nebraska every year, which ended shortly after the Big 12 was formed. "All of a sudden, we weren't playing Nebraska every year," he said. And now we're still here."
The Sooners' coach of 12 years agreed that playing teams in Texas has helped with recruiting, but not as much, he says, as Oklahoma's geographical proximity to the Lone Star State.
Stoops' point is well taken. Things do change in life, and we have to be able to roll with the tide. But just because times are different doesn't necessarily make them better.
There are multiple reasons why the whole bigger-is-better movement in the world of college athletic conferences may not be best for the greater good and why there is a place and value in maintaining solid 12-member conferences such as the former Big 12. But as long as power and money are driving the issue, it's safe to say that the super-conference train has already left the station.
When the choosing of sides all ends, we are likely to have a college landscape that consists of just two or three mega conferences. The way things seem to be going, we could end up seeing something like the SEC 48, the Pac-36 and the Big 32. However it all shakes out, the college landscape is not going to be as it is today. And the tomorrow we speak of is coming very rapidly.
Getting back to the state of disrepair in the Big 12, we seem to be at the tipping point regarding the conference's chances of holding together. Speaking about how things can change, when the subject of conference realignment was front and center a year ago and Texas was reported to have been considering offers to join the Pac-10 or Big Ten, the Longhorns were looked at as the driving force, the prime decision maker in discussions about whether or not to leave or stay committed to the Big 12. Now with the rekindling of talk about what could become a Pac-16 Conference, the once silent school, Oklahoma, appears to be leading the charge, and Texas is in the perceived role of follower.
Berry Tramel, popular sports columnist for the Daily Oklahoman, wrote this week, "Part of the (role reversal) is because of circumstances. Part is because of politics. But part is because Sooner leaders did not like how their school was perceived last summer. That OU was just one of the nine followers of Texas."
So the ball now appears to be in Oklahoma's court, so to speak. If the Sooners elect to move their act somewhere else, presumably to the now Pac-12, the likelihood is high that it will be in concert with at least Oklahoma State and possibly also Texas and Texas Tech to form an Eastern Division of the Pac-16 with Arizona and Arizona State. If those four teams go - or even if it were just Oklahoma to leave - the probability of the Big 12 staying in tact as the Big Eight or, worse, the Big Five seem slim to none, from where I sit.
Oklahoma could, of course, decide to stay the course, which would be good news for those who want to see the Big 12 stay intact and go forward with new expansion partners. The prevailing winds appear to be blowing in a different direction, however.
Missouri would surely be next, to the SEC or, more practically, to the new Big 12 (formerly the Big Ten. Kansas would be right behind or even beside the Tigers, most likely ending up in the Big Ten or Big East. Left out of this last-gasp mad scramble would be Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor, all of whom most likely would end up in non-BCS conferences.
So much for the doomsday scenario of the Big 12 Conference. Hang on, the fun is just beginning.