The Big 12 owes a lot of people an apology
Conference realignment’s strangest saga yet came to an anticlimactic end Monday in Dallas. For that, the Big 12 owes a whole lot of people an apology.
It should apologize to the leaders at BYU, Houston and Cincinnati for dangling a coveted Power 5 golden ticket and inspiring them to publicly grovel for it. It should apologize to fans of Connecticut, UCF, USF and Colorado State for giving them months of false hope. It should apologize to administrators at SMU, Tulane, Air Force and Rice for putting time and effort into delivering needless presentations last month for invitations the league surely knew were never coming.
And it should apologize to American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco for treating it as a farm league team where the star players could get called up at any moment.
The Big 12 was never under any obligation to expand, so it’s not like it made a right or wrong call Monday when it “unanimously” elected to remain at 10 members. But imagine being a supporter of one of the supposed finalists when board chairman David Boren said at a press conference Monday that he and his colleagues did not even discuss individual candidates at their meeting.
The weakest of the Power 5 conferences spent the past 18 months standing in judgment of all those purportedly inferior programs. The 10-team league hadn’t added new members since 2012 because it didn’t think any of the available candidates were attractive enough. And after compelling presidents and ADs of those schools to desperately court its favor, the conference came to the conclusion that … nope, still not good enough.
The whole thing was like a twisted beauty pageant where nobody gets to wear the crown.
“It was a little more of a sweepstakes than we thought it would be at the beginning,” said commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
How brazen. How snobbish. And how easily avoidable it could have been.
Ten presidents and chancellors made the decision in that room Monday, but one of them is far more responsible than the others that this whole silly charade ever happened. Oklahoma president Boren psychologically disadvantaged his own conference when, in June 2015, he called it “psychologically disadvantaged.” It touched off a perception of dysfunction and instability that the league then spent more than a year studying how to correct.
On Monday, Boren said he changed his view on expansion when it became clear there was no market for a conference network. But he also said that in June. He still signed off on the three-month audition process that followed.
“We all feel deep gratitude to those colleges and universities that indicated interest in being part of the Big 12,” he said Monday, insisting their pursuit was “time and effort not wasted.”
“I learned a lot about some very fine universities,” said Bowlsby.
I’m sure they’re thrilled to hear that.
All this drama initially ensued in 2014 when the Big 12 became the first-ever odd man out of the College Football Playoff. The existential crisis that followed managed to obscure the fact that 2015 league champ Oklahoma was the first one in a year later, benefitting from playing a 12-game round-robin schedule just as much as Baylor and TCU may have suffered from it a year later.
But the process ultimately dragged on so long that Monday’s announcement came amidst a thus far embarrassing 2016 season. Realignment decisions should never be tied to a half-completed season, but the juxtaposition makes a mockery of any notion that adding Houston – which beat Big 12 heavyweight Oklahoma to start the season – would in any way “devalue” the Big 12’s brand.
In order to devalue something, it must have value in the first place. The Big 12’s must be pretty shaky if, as many believe, the whole thing will come crumbling down when its current TV deals end in 2025.
No one knows what the sport will look like then. Any pronouncements that Texas and Oklahoma will inevitably go elsewhere are based on an assumption that the landscape will look similar to the current one.
It may be that adding a current Group of 5 school would not have prevented the league’s eventual implosion. But it’s not like this whole anticlimactic soap opera put the league on more solid footing.
Obviously, staying at 10 teams does nothing to improve the Big 12’s on-field product. Which could really stand to use some improving.
Adding a championship game next season, as the league previously announced, will only improve its annual playoff chances by a modest 4 percent, according to data from the league’s consultant, Navigate Research. Expanding to 12 teams and playing one fewer conference game would have upped it by 13 percent.
And while the existing schools will add some money to their coffers when its TV partners (who did not want to have to pay for the league’s expansion) renegotiate their current deals, that still won’t put the Big 12's revenue considerably closer to the SEC’s and Big Ten’s, as its presidents surely crave.
So what exactly did Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Boren and the other nine presidents accomplish these past few months?
Well, for one, they blew off a whole bunch of earnest people who just wanted to associate with them. They ticked off their TV partners. And they subjected themselves to a new level of mockery. When the SEC seemingly bumbled its recent handling of the LSU-Florida postponement, many referred to it as “Big 12-esque.”
Maybe, finally, all will go quiet on the Big 12 front. But that will depend in large part on whether Boren can go more than a month without popping off about something.
Whatever the next great Big 12 controversy, hopefully it doesn’t involve so much collateral damage.