The departures of Nebraska and Colorado leaves the Big 12, which previously made the decision to retain its current name, with a new 10-team structure.
After a 101-year affiliation with what started as the Big Six Conference and over time became a combination of the Big Eight and four teams from the former Southwest Conference, on Friday the University of Nebraska became a full-fledged member of the Big Ten Conference, considered to be the country's oldest intercollegiate conference. Meanwhile, similar celebrations were occurring in Boulder, Colo., and outside of San Francisco in Walnut Creek, Calif., welcoming the University of Colorado to the newly named Pac-12 Conference.
There has been much debate over the past year in sports media in and around Big 12 cities about who would be better or worse off - the remaining Big 12 schools or Nebraska/Colorado - as a result of the two schools breaking off from the conference. While there were pros and cons on both sides of the argument, the general speculation seems to be that everyone stands to benefit by Nebraska and Colorado leaving the Big 12.
From a financial standpoint, which is always the prime concern, the Big 12 Conference itself and its remaining 10 member institutions will receive higher revenue 1) because of a new 13-year cable-TV agreement with FOX Sports that will pay the conference $90 million annually, beginning in 2012, and 2) the pot is being divided up by fewer numbers (10 instead of 12) going forward. Nebraska and Colorado officials were never really all that happy as members of the Big 12 because they felt that Texas, especially, and Oklahoma received too much attention, had bigger athletic budgets than everybody else and wielded too much power for their liking.
As we all know, the grass is not always as green as it appears on the other side. We'll just have to wait and see how things ultimately work out for the Huskers and Buffaloes in their new conferences, but there is a broad feeling in the Big 12 community that they will probably be better off because that is where they really want to be at this point in time.
Big 12 commissioner Dan Bebee reported following the spring Big 12 meetings that the general mood and tenor of the discussion among school representatives has been more productive and less confrontational since Nebraska's future plans became known.
"From the first meetings of Big administrators, the conference quickly became a Texas vs. Nebraska, North vs. South hissing contest," writes Wendell Barnhouse of Big12sports.com. "Nebraska wound up in the North Division, Oklahoma in the South - thus ending the yearly meeting of a storied rivalry. Nebraskaq wanted the Big 12 ofice in Kansas City; it wound up in Dallas. Nebraska backed then-Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick for commissioner; Steve Hatchell, the SWC boss, got the job. Those wounds never healed," Barnhouse says.
Said Beebe: "From the very first day I met (Nebraska athletic director) Tom Osborne, he had concerns about the conference came together. What Tom represented was a lot of angst about the Big 12, its formation and the things Nebraska was no longer able to do that they had done previously. Even though that was 13, 14 years earlier, it still was obviously in his craw," he said.
Nebraska won 71 conference championships in the Big 12 era (1997-2011), including two in football and three in baseball. The Cornhuskers won 46 conference championships and five national championships in football as members of the Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight and Big 12 conferences. Colorado became a member of the Big Seven Conference in 1947. The Buffs were national champions in football in 1990, as a member of the Big Eight Conference, and won 27 conference championships, primarily in skiing and cross country, in the Big 12.
The Cornhuskers will be part of the new Legends Division in the Big Ten along with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Penn State, Indiana and Illinois make up the other Big Ten division, which will be known as the Leaders Division. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said on Friday that Nebraska's first official athletic event as a member of the Big Ten will be 2011 Football Media Days and the Kickoff Luncheon on July 28 and 29, which will feature all 12 head coaches and some of the top returning players in the conference. The Huskers first Big Ten competition will be Sept. 19 when the women's soccer team hosts Northwestern. Their first conference game in football will be at Wisconsin on Oct. 1, followed up by Ohio State at home a week later.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper declared Friday "Pac-12 Day in the State of Colorado. The Buffaloes and the University of Utah from the Mountain West Conference are new members of the Pac-12 Conference. Both schools will compete along with Southern California, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State in the conference's South Division. The Buffaloes will encounter their first Pac-12 competition in football on Sept. 10 in Boulder against California.
And so the new era of the Big 12 begins. What began over 100 years ago as six teams, then grew to seven and eight teams before expanding to 12 is now, for the first time in its history, a conference of ten teams. Many, including yours truly, are viewing the new conference realignment as a matter of addition by subtraction. Welcome, the Big 12 sans two.