Today I’m unveiling a new feature on my blog called Bedlam Brawl, where I (an OSU fan) trade barbs over hot sports topics with one of the biggest OU fans I know. That fan is Oklahoman reporter Michael Kimball, an OU grad and one-time football reporter at the OU school paper. Kimball is also a pretty serious Thunder fan, and a general sports enthusiast overall. I need to work on his beer selection abilities, but hey, you can’t expect an OU fan to be good at that many things at the same time, right? But don’t worry, this will be all in good fun. I’ve even put both of the school’s logos on here just to show how fair I can be.
Today’s topic is general thoughts on the Big 12 debacle and thoughts on the future of the conference.
The Thirsty Beagle: For me, the big winners are Texas, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. The losers: everyone else, but especially OU. The Sooners tried to pull off the biggest power play of the entire conference realignment saga, but in the end, it appears they really had no more power than anyone else, and certainly not as much power as the Longhorns. Or even A&M for that matter, which now looks like a winner because they’re the only school to escape Texas’ domination this go round.
Michael Kimball: The winners you listed definitely won financially. But the whole Big 12 is a loser. The conference is a laughingstock now in college sports — everyone knows that we can’t get along, and that a big chunk of schools would be elsewhere if they could. Three schools already ARE elsewhere. The old Big 12 North schools and Baylor now know just how easily the southern members would cast them aside, with little regard for their future. OU knows it can’t go anywhere but the SEC without Texas, OSU and Tech know they can’t go anywhere without OU or Texas and Texas found out that there’s only one time zone in which it can truly throw its weight around.
But the biggest loser, as you say, is OU. The news conference Thursday with David Boren was the second-most embarrassing athletic moment since Bob Stoops came to Norman, other than the 36-point beating at the hands of USC in the January 2005 Orange Bowl. Anybody who has been paying any kind of attention to conference realignment knows that OU was itching to get into the Pac-12 and bring Big 12 partners along. But Boren acted like the rest of America viewed OU as the belle of the ball during negotiations with multiple suitors, and it was just a magical, “simultaneous” decision that everyone made to stand pat for now. He talked about the benefits to student-athletes and fans who don’t have to travel as far, longstanding rivalries and connections — all things he would have ignored if Thursday marked OU’s triumphal acceptance into the Pac-12. He insisted on twisting words to say OU would be sacrificing for the Big 12 with revenue sharing when the question was phrased asking about making less money. He said way more about negotiations than Joe Castiglione would have preferred. Castiglione was clearly exasperated, commenting that it was “open mike” when Boren made it look like he was trying to defer to Castiglione after one question. And pre-empting by 15 minutes the news conference by Mizzou’s chancellor, the chairman of the conference board, was a clear attempt to be the first and foremost voice after the Big 12 presidents’ conference call. It was all spin.
TTB: As an OSU fan, I have to admit I take a little pleasure in watching the Sooners wallow in misery. In fact, I’d think Texas derailing OU’s journey west was really hilarious, if I didn’t have to remember that OSU pretty much solidified its role as little brother in this deal. Poor OU. When A&M first tried to bolt, OU threatened to really wield its power this time. Then Baylor pretty much beat them down by threatening to sue if anyone tried anything. Then OU issued the ultimatum about Beebe and heading west if not for reforms, only for everyone to discover the PAC-12 spurned them because of Texas’ stubbornness. Like you said, the spin machine was fired up to warp speed. So now, we’re left with three predominant thoughts: 1.) Texas runs the show. 2.) The conference might stay together. 3.) Texas wants the conference to stay together because it’s their best chance to keep all the power. Those three things really don’t bode well for anyone not named Texas. So suppose everyone agrees to sign off on the deal where their revenue is tied to the conference whether they stay or go — they’re talking about a six-year deal. Does the conference survive past those six years? Does it even survive the first six years?
MK: I don’t think we’ll ever be able to say with certainty that the conference is or isn’t going to last for a certain period of time. If the most binding of the possible “reforms” being discussed is eventually agreed to (every school signing over six years of Tier 1 and Tier 2 television rights even if they leave the conference), it would certainly seem to solidify things for most of that agreement. A school could probably stomach only giving away about a year’s worth (which is sort of what the more traditional exit fee is, in terms of worth). But what bothers me is the thought that, if the reforms that will likely be agreed to this month were agreed to in the spring of 2010, we would probably still have the Big 12 in its original form with Colorado and Nebraska. That was a lot better than whatever Frankenstein Big 12 we end up with. TCU is a natural fit, but there is no other natural fit that’s enticing even from only a competitive standpoint (because TCU is not enticing from a financial standpoint). But what kind of Big 12 will we end up with? One that has TCU and Air Force and BYU, or Louisville or West Virginia? Whatever form it takes, it won’t be as comfortable, familiar and competitive as one with Nebraska and Texas A&M.
TTB: I think everyone can agree — except for Fake Dan Beebe on Twitter — that having Nebraska and Texas A&M still in the fold would have been the top choice. Alas, say the league immediately expands to 10 teams; who do you want if you can only pick one? And let’s assume the Big 12 somehow held enough sway to get the team they wanted. My first choice is West Virginia. Geographically it’s a mess, but only slightly more messy than BYU in that regard. With the Mountaineers, you get good football and basketball, plus a bold move to expand the conference footprint. This to me is really the only move that smells more of power than it does of desperation, scrambling and settling.
MK: I still prefer TCU, and I have no shame in admitting that the fact Texas supposedly doesn’t want TCU is part of the reason. I read a story recently about British diplomats in the European Union having a just-for-fun internal contest to come up with a slogan for their EU efforts. One submission was, “Sticking it to the French. Every day.” Replace “the French” with “Texas” and that describes my current mood when it comes to the Big 12′s revenue, network and expansion efforts. The trouble, obviously, is that there’s little leverage left to use in negotiating with Texas. The other reason I would like to see TCU instead of another school is that, if the schools are going to be selfish with their money and rights, I’m going to be selfish in my desires. I don’t care if Iowa State (or OU for that matter) would make more money with BYU or WVU in the conference instead of TCU. I care about watching the games, and I’d rather watch Big 12 conference games with the Frogs than the other schools. Of course, I’d like unrealistic choices like Notre Dame and Arkansas even more, but that’s not happening. That would also give Boren a chance to talk about how it’s great for the student-athletes to have another close league partner. Because he’s talked about that a lot. I guess accepting WVU would be like saying, “We care about OU’s student-athletes. But not West Virginia’s. So what if Ames, several hundred miles away, is the closest conference opponents for those kids, who also have finals to study for?”
TTB: OK, so you’ve got TCU as number 10. Suppose the Big 12 as a league has at least something resembling a brain — remember, it’s just an exercise, so we can pretend things — then where do you go for 11 and 12? Or do you even go for 11 and 12? And suppose we get back to 12, factor in what your divisions would look like. My take: Bring in West Virginia, TCU and BYU. TCU replaces A&M in the south, WVU and BYU replace Colorado and Nebraska in the north. Personally, I think we throw out geography and academics. I’m not going to pretend to care about that. After all, nobody in charge of any of the schools really cared about that until they were looking for a reason to save face.
MK: I support 12, which jives with my “stick it to Texas” policy since DeLoss Dodds says Texas favors 10 and also with my desire for fun games to watch. The Big 12 Championship is as fun as any bowl game. (OSU fans like you might one day experience this, with a little luck and a disastrous Sooner season in the same calendar year. Trust us OU fans, though. It’s fun.) The OU-Nebraska matchup last year was among the most fun games I’ve ever attended. It’s something worth fighting for (even if some years, like 2004 and 2005 when Texas and OU combined to outscore Colorado 112-6, produce duds). It also keeps the conference in the spotlight during the last week of the season no matter what, which helps in the PR battle to stay atop the polls in national championship races. But I like the idea of taking TCU to replace A&M in the old South, and BYU and another to go into the North. I’m torn between West Virginia and Air Force. Air Force isn’t as big competitively, but it would keep the Big 12 in two time zones, and it’s just cool to play the service academies. Also, I’d feel bad if the Big 12 basically put the last knife in the Big East’s back.
TTB: Ha, ha, Mr. Funny Guy. One day OSU will have its time in the sun. And I will bring down taunts and insults with great fury. In terms of football relevance, I think the Big East is pretty much dead already. But the Big 12 could really do the trick by grabbing West Virginia and Louisville (Louisville’s in my top five for schools to get, along with Air Force). OK, let’s wrap this sucker up. Name me the most annoying thing about this entire conference realignment drama. For me, it’s the 4,000 “exclusive scoops” and “inside sources” we were subjected to along the way. Almost every day, someone reported exactly what was going to happen, except everyone was wrong, because no one said the Big 12 would survive. I think this is perhaps one of the biggest flaws of 2011 journalism — everyone reports everything as fact right away; it doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, because you can update your online report as soon as you learn something different. That’s why you gotta love newspapers: we stick by our bad rumors for 24 hours.
MK: The most annoying thing, to me, is all of the false attention paid to the student-athlete’s well-being — on all sides. Obviously, it’s a farce that Boren and anyone else at the schools would even try to claim that travel-related study problems for athletes is a primary reason for why the Big 12 survived. The Pac-16 isn’t a reality today because, and only because, Texas wouldn’t bend on the Longhorn Network and neither would the Pac-12. But it’s also ridiculous for any holier-than-thou columnist or message board commenter to claim that moving to superconferences would be any more of a sin against the student-athlete than several other developments over the last few decades. So some volleyball players would have some awful travel days when getting between Pullman, Wash., and Lubbock, Texas, for a Wednesday game. The massive dollars generated by football television revenue has also paid for more tutors, dieticians, doctors for those volleyball players than wrestlers in the 1930s who rode a bus between Ames and Norman. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be a drag for athletes in geographically ridiculous superconferences, or that we shouldn’t be concerned for their well-being. But we’ve been asking more of them, and giving more to them in return, for years. I’ve had enough of it all. So really, maybe the most annoying thing is that we’re talking about this at all, and not focusing on what could be a truly special college football season, particularly in Oklahoma. OU just showed it’s a national title contender against Florida State, and OSU has the chance to do the same in College Station this weekend (if you Pokes don’t screw it up, anyway). But I’ve spent more time thinking about Oregon and USC the last two weeks than Mizzou, the Sooners’ opponent on Saturday. It will be nice to get back to football, no matter where it’s played.
TTB: Well said. I do believe it’s time to put our attention squarely on what’s happening inside the white lines. Next week’s topic: Why the Raptors are better than the Thunder.