Big 12 owes thanks to Tigers, Aggies
It should be recorded that the final act of Texas A&M and Missouri in the Big 12 is to take one for the team.
As the parting of ways with Tigers and Aggies comes closer to being official, some conference fans will curse them as turncoats and traitors.
They should be thanking them.
Understanding the IRS tax code may be easier than finding the true roots of instability in the Big 12 that perhaps began in December of 2009, and might be explained in fewer pages.
All we fairly know is that what followed the departure of Texas A&M and Missouri eventually came true stability for those schools and the Big 12. A stability that can be measured with TV contracts, grant of rights, and a postseason football future that at the moment has more clarity than what can be provided on a national scale.
It's not that it wasn't going to happen because of Missouri and Texas A&M, it just wasn't going to happen. Not because of either schools’ student-athletes, alumni, coaches, fans, mascots or school janitors. This entire ordeal basically boils down to a collection of a few suits who couldn't see eye to eye.
Leadership from four institutions to date, either unhappy or indifferent, leave the Big 12. Continuity and stability and enthusiasm follows for all parties. At this point, it's beyond coincidental.
Heck, what did it take, a few months before the Big 12 and SEC were back in business together, pitting football champions against one another?
It’s getting harder to find victims in any of this.
Texas A&M and Missouri, as well as Colorado and Nebraska before them, made what they consider to be a bold, gutsy decision to break ties and part from a conference they believed to be imbalanced, disorganized, and on uncertain footing.
Forward-moving Big 12 members feel like the schools who loudly and publically complained of a foul stench in the conference are taking the odor with them out the door.
Hindsight hasn't provided vivid 20/20 vision just yet. But the haze and blur is dissipating, allowing certain truths to become more clear.
What were eyed as the key suspects of instability over the last year are either gone or leaving. Seen in a rearview mirror, their records provide a lot of answers, but still some nagging questions:
Dan Beebe: Defections from the Big 12 occurred on Beebe’s watch as commissioner and calm was restored only after he left. The devil is in the details, but those are two inescapable truths hung around Beebe's neck. He had been a right-hand man to former commissioner Kevin Weiberg before taking the reins himself in 2007. There are more than a few rumblings that when it came to the University of Texas, Beebe's scales of justice were routinely imbalanced. The performance of Chuck Neinas in recent months has only magnified what can be accomplished from the commissioner’s chair. But, how could it all fall on Beebe less than two years after receiving a rousing vote of confidence among the league of 12 and a hearty raise to an annual salary of $1.7 million?
Brady Deaton: In December of 2009, the Big Ten Conference announced plans to form a committee to explore expansion. In an interview with the "Kansas City Star", Deaton, the Missouri chancellor, said that if there were an official inquiry or invitation from the Big Ten, the school would "evaluate it based upon what was in the best interest of MU athletically and academically." To many in the Big 12 region, Mizzou hadn’t cheated but had slipped off its wedding band. Instability in the Big 12, in a very public and headline-making forum, is a chicken and egg issue that largely hinges upon what was, or wasn't, happening in the mind of Deaton when he made it known that leaving the conference was a debatable option, not an eye-rolling assertion. And while Mizzou was internally churning its gears toward the SEC last year, Deaton was still chairing the Big 12 Board of Directors. Unstable? He ultimately stepped down, voluntarily. Missouri, notable alums and even the state’s Governor, had already tipped its hand that it fancied itself as a Big Ten school. But the invite never came. At that point, it appeared that Deaton had two options: A) swallow a horse pill of humility and take a long drag off a peace pipe in the Big 12, or B) go strike a deal with the SEC for the sake of his job. Or was “A” never even an option?
R. Bowen Loftin: He became the president of Aggieland beginning with an interim tenure in a 2009 promotion from the Texas A&M-Galveston campus, a system school with no athletics department. Upon arrival in College Station, he got himself involved in Aggie athletics. So much so, many believe Loftin quickly embraced a veto power over his athletics director, the very credible and respected Bill Byrne. In case you missed it, Byrne suddenly decided last month that the business of watching his grandkids' T-ball games was more pressing than his Aggie AD duties and he retired. Last year, while Byrne had the back of his Aggie coaches who largely favored staying in the Big 12, Loftin had the back of Regents and high-profile alums like Texas governor Rick Perry, who quietly pushed for the move to the SEC. The Texas A&M community seems just as divided over the Big 12/SEC issue as Texas Tech still is over the Mike Leach firing. Loftin is a cause and effect enigma. Is instability a shadow that follows him, or is it the other way around?
We can only presume that new commissioner Bob Bowlsby asked the same questions during his interview process and found plausible answers.
A representative from Colorado and Nebraska are noticeably missing from that lineup. That’s because stability was supposed to be in order after they left last year.
This past season, Colorado and Nebraska were true Pac-12 and Big Ten institutions in that they were just as lost in the sports conversation here in the Southwest as Cal or Michigan State. Colleagues and local sports nuts who used to be able to recite half the starting lineup of the Cornhuskers football team struggled this year to recall the name of quarterback Taylor Martinez. My favorite Stump The Sports Expert question this past season was to ask who is the head coach of Colorado's football team. No Googling. And it’s not Dan Hawkins.
Never did I sense an anti-Husker or anti-Buff sentiment. The two schools simply relocated out of the local mainstream sports consciousness. Surely some Aggie and Tiger fans can relate.
And it's hard to see how Missouri can avoid being similarly dropped from the conversation in Texas and the Southwest, as well as Texas A&M from the Midwest. Those will be the tough realities that MU and A&M communities will need to adjust to, not just how the Aggies line up with LSU or how the Tigers' press fares against Arkansas.
Without bitterness or contempt, there will be several pockets of the Big 12 that will quickly and easily forget about Texas A&M and Missouri.
Texas A&M may not have had an anti-SEC movement over the past year, but the Aggies obviously had a pro-Big 12 movement, hoping the school's leadership could find peace and stay put. If you haven't noticed, Aggies like doing a lot things the same way - decade after decade, one generation to the next. It's kinda their thing.
What's coming is whole bunch of new. And a whole bunch of disconnect with the old. Loftin proudly touts "new traditions" coming to Aggieland. Traditions used to be rituals grown organically. Now they appear to be short orders whipped up in the kitchen by school leaders then slung in a window with the ding of a bell for pickup. If you take away the name of the school and disconnect it from college athletics, it looks and smells like corporate rebranding. For someone who's not an Aggie but has admired them from afar for several years, it seems very un-Aggie-like.
Tigers and Aggies have found stability, and the conference they leave behind is as stable as it ever has been in its existence.
It’s a shame, but one couldn't have happened without the other. And the Big 12 was never going to expel Texas A&M or Missouri.
The two schools are owed some gratitude for finding a peaceful path out.