In a year in which looking out for your own skin was the ultimate rallying cry off the field, 2011 produced many thrilling moments and memories on the field, as well, in Big 12 athletic competition.
If nothing else, 2011 will forever be remembered as the year the Big 12 Conference, whose roots date back to the early part of the previous century when universities from four neighboring Midwestern plains states banded together in 1907 to form what became known as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association and later, as new members joined and others dropped out, the Big Six, Big Seven and Big Eight Conference, came dangerously close to dissolution.
Nebraska and Colorado officially departed the Big 12 for the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences, respectively, the first of July after declaring their intentions almost a year earlier. Then in late summer, just prior to the start of 2011 fall football practice, officials at Texas A&M announced that they were fed up playing second fiddle to Texas and were exploring their options regarding conference affiliations and, shortly thereafter, made it known that A&M wanted to leave the Big 12 in favor of the football-dominant Southeastern Conference.
Not long after A&M through the Big 12 into a state of frenzy, Oklahoma declared that it wasn't going to be a wallflower while the Big 12 self-destructed and that the Sooners were seriously exploring breaking conference ties, as well, and departing for the Pac-12. Just days later, it was learned that it wasn't just OU that might leave. It was widely rumored that if the Sooners went to the Pac-12, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech were likely to follow.
Fortunately for Big 12 officials, the Pac-12 couldn't come to agreement with Texas on how to handle the new Longhorn Network, which launched in September, and the Pac-12 subsequently decided not to expand to 16 teams at this time, sending Oklahoma back to square one and suddenly recommitted to the future of the Big 12. But not before Oklahoma demanded the removal of Dan Beebe as Big 12 commissioner in return for OU's pledge to remain a loyal supporter of the Big 12.
By this time, Missouri apparently had had enough of all of this realignment mania and the resulting instability within the conference. MU Chancellor Brady Deaton resigned his position as head of the Big 12 Executive Committee, and not long thereafter, Missouri announced that it also was headed to the SEC after a 104-year affiliation with what is now the Big 12.
So as Texas A&M and Missouri are preparing to leave the Big 12, two new members are getting set to join the conference: Texas Christian University and West Virginia. Welcome to the new geographically boundary-less universe of college sports.
Conference realignment, for sure, was the top story in the Big 12 as well as in college sports in 2011, but the conference still managed to crown champions in 21 different sports categories during the year, including two new sports that debuted in 2010-11: equestrian and rowing. Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State participate in equestrian competition, and Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Kansas State have rowing teams.
The year began with the Kansas Jayhawks claiming their seventh consecutive regular-season conference title in men's basketball (four of them outright) and 11th overall in the 15 seasons the Big 12 has been in existence. The Jayhawks (35-3 and 14-2 in the league) also won their eighth postseason conference championship, defeating second-seeded Texas in the championship game. Five Big 12 men's teams received bids to the NCAA Tournament, with Kansas earning a No. 1 seed. The Jayhawks fell one win shy of making the Final Four, however, losing to 11-seed Virginia Commonwealth in the Southwest Region championship.
Reflecting his team's collective disappointment in losing to underdog VCU in the regional final, Kansas coach Bill Self sais, "It's a disappointing day. We're crushed. But also I think at the end of the day we tried real hard and just came up empty against a team that was better than us today."
The head coaches at Missouri (Mike Anderson) and Texas A&M (Mark Turgeon) left after the season to take jobs at other Arkiansas and Maryland, respectively. In other coaching changes, Oklahoma fired Jeff Capel and Texas Tech dismissed Pat Knight.
Seven conference teams were selected for the NCAA Women's Championship. Baylor (34-3 and 15-1 in conference play), the 2011 Big 12 champion, entered March Madness as the overall top seed in the tournament, but fell victim to conference-rival Texas A&M in Dallas Regional final. The Lady Aggies advanced to the Women's Final Four, where they defeated Stanford and Notre Dame to capture their first national championship. The Aggies were led by their All-American Danielle Adams. Adams, who played her high school basketball in the Greater Kansas City area at Lee's Summit, scored 30 points in the championship final.
Oklahoma, fresh off a College World Series appearance the year before, entered the 2011 baseball season as the Big 12 preseason favorite, but the season was dominated by perennial contenders Texas (49-19, 19-8) and Texas A&M (47-22, 19-8) who tied for the conference title in the regular season. A&M won the postseason championship, downing Missouri 10-9 on a dramatic walk-off 10th-inning home run. Both Texas teams won their super regionals and went on to the College World Series, where they were eliminated in the early rounds.
Eight Big 12 teams, headed by conference champion Missouri (53-10, 15-3), earned trips to the NCAA Softball Tournament. Four teams (Missouri, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma) made it all the way to the Women's College World Series, where Missouri eliminated Oklahoma and Baylor knocked out Missouri before losing to Arizona State one game short of the championship round.
The 2011 Big 12 football season also brought its usual share of thrilling moments and surprises, with Oklahoma State winning its first Big 12 pigskin championship and becoming the first team in seven seasons not named Texas or Oklahoma to take home the league trophy.
Kansas State, predicted in the preseason coaches' poll to finish eighth, ended up winning ten regular-season games, losing only to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and finished second behind the champion Cowboys and No. 8 in the final BCS standings, which earned coach Bill Snyder and his troops a Jan. 6 date in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, against sixth-ranked Arkansas from the SEC. Missouri played its last football game as a member of the Big 12 in the Independence Bowl the day after Christmas, crushing North Carolina 41-24.
Following the regular season, Turner Gill was let go at Kansas (replaced by Charlie Weis) and Mike Sherman was fired at Texas A&M. Kevin Sumlin, formerly the head coach at Houston and a former assistant at Oklahoma will take over at SEC-bound A&M in 2012.
For the fourth time in the past decade a Big 12 quarterback was named the winner of the Heisman Trophy, college football's highest honor. The 2011 recipient was Robert Griffin III of Baylor, the first Baylor player ever to win the Heisman.
"This is unbelievably believable," Griffin said after hearing his name called as the 77th recipient of football's top individual honor. "It's unbelievable because in the moment we're all amazed when great things happen. But its believable because great things don't happen without hard work."
Team champions crowned in 16 other Big 12 sports in 2011:
Men's cross country: Oklahoma State
Women's cross country: Iowa State
Equestrian: Texas A&M
Men's golf: Oklahoma State
Women's golf: Texas
Women's gymnastics: Nebraska
Women's soccer: Oklahoma State (Tournament: Texas A&M)
Men's swimming/diving: Texas (15th consecutive year)
Women's swimming/diving: Texas
Men's tennis: Baylor (Tournament: Texas A&M)
Women's tennis: Baylor
Men's track & field: Texas A&M
Women's track & field: Texas A&M
Wrestling: Oklahoma State
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