College football goes hand in hand with its traditions and rivalries. That’s why it is so unfortunate that many have disappeared in the most recent cycle of conference realignment. The Big 12 is not excused from this plague, losing two of the oldest rivalries in college football (Kansas-Missouri and Texas-Texas A&M). Do its members really want to lose more?
Oklahoma president David Boren is not satisfied with the state of his conference and he has been outspoken about it. He believes the Big 12 is at a disadvantage among the other Power 5 conferences, and said in June that he would back a Big 12 expansion. To his defense, the Big 12 had two one-loss teams left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff last January. Rumors swirled when his university was linked to the Big Ten in a late July Omaha World-Herald report. It indicated that Iowa State, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas A&M wanted to leave the Big 12 in 2010, and join the Big Ten together. Prior to last month’s report, it was not considered a destination if Oklahoma ever left the Big 12. Two scenarios were always more likely: bringing Bedlam to the SEC or heading west to the Pac-10/12.
In the long run, would it be better to stabilize the unbalanced Big 12 or find a new home like four previous members? Oklahoma, along with Texas, needs to use its power and influence to save the conference. The conference’s most important remaining rivalry cannot be left by the wayside. If it can’t survive, no rivalry should. It means more than just the game on the field.
The neighboring fan bases meet at the State Fair of Texas one Saturday every October to support their respective schools, but they all share a common bond. They stay at the same hotels and share the same traffic-filled drives to the fairgrounds. They enjoy the same fried foods and carnival rides before their afternoon sunburns. The Big 12’s version of “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” is one of the most unique experiences in college football and the historic Cotton Bowl hosts the state vs. state matchup.
Do you really want to throw that away? Oklahoma has been at the forefront of making things happen, but that’s not been the case for Texas. Administrators in Austin aren’t interested in cooperating on issues like conference expansion, and that could tear apart the conference all together. A world without the Aggies and Sooners would be devastating, so negotiations with their Norman colleagues is necessary.
Imagine if the hard-headed Longhorns continue to look out for themselves, and not what’s best for the conference. They could lose their only meaningful remaining rivalry if the disgruntled Sooners jump to the SEC with Oklahoma State or head north to the Big Ten with Kansas. Texas would be the only power left and the Big 12 would no longer be considered a power conference. If this happened, an invite from the Pac-12 is most likely. Besides the National Championship in ’06 and Mack’s last hurrah in the 2013 Alamo Bowl, the Longhorns have little to no history with the schools out west. It has 58 all-time meetings against Pac-12 schools, including 18 against former Big 12 member Colorado. Wouldn’t it be better to save its longstanding ties? The Longhorns have a combined 362 meetings against Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU and Tech. Their archrivals across the border have a combined 497 meetings against Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas.
The rivalries in the Big 12 matter, and the conference can’t survive another membership loss. The Big 12 television deal should keep the conference together though at least the 2024-2025 athletic season, but it’s time for Oklahoma and Texas to strengthen the conference together. Cooperation in recruiting notable programs will not only return the Big 12 to its glory days, but strengthen its nationwide footprint as well. Neither school should jump ship because the Big 12 was once a great conference, and it can be again. Prior to conference realignment, it was in the same conversation as the SEC for best conference, with the second-most BCS National Championship Game appearances (seven) and third-most BCS bowl appearances (22).
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