With Oklahoma and Texas set to leave and the Big 12 Conference possibly on the verge of collapsing, what should the Oklahoma State Cowboys do next?
As an athletic department, Oklahoma State was Independent from 1901 to 1914 when they then joined the Southwest Conference for a decade. That was then followed by 32 years (1924 to 1956) in the Missouri Valley Conference. Then, after a year of being Independent, the Cowboys joined the Big 8, which of course turned into the Big 12 in 1996.
Oklahoma State is in a tough spot. The Cowboys aren’t the state’s flagship institution. Stillwater isn’t a huge media market, but of course Oklahoma City and Tulsa are both decent markets where many alumni live and the Pokes have one of the best athletic programs in the country. The Cowboys’ athletic program hasn’t just succeeded in football, it’s been incredibly successful in several other sports, like golf, wrestling, basketball, baseball, cross country and others. In total, Oklahoma State has 52 NCAA team national titles, which ranks fourth in most NCAA team national championships. The Cowboys would be an asset to any conference, but where’s the fit?
Can Oklahoma State Land a Big Ten Invite?
Geographically, it may not make the most sense. Also, the Big Ten prides itself on having AAU universities, which Oklahoma State is not. But the Pokes would fit in well with much of the Big Ten West, especially if it was partnered with another Big 12 school like Iowa State or Kansas. All three can’t get the invite as that would give the conference an odd number of teams. And while geographically KU and Iowa State might make more sense, there’s a strong argument to be made that the Cowboys bring more to the table. It moves the Big Ten further south into richer recruiting territory as well and brings in an athletic department that, as we noted earlier, is strong in a bunch of sports.
The Big Ten prides itself as a strong football and basketball conference. And the Cowboys have a consistent Top 25 football program and a basketball program that Mike Boynton rapidly has on the rise. No one is really having the conversation about the Cowboys and the Big Ten, but I would never rule it out, especially in today’s crazy college sports environment.
Looking West to the Pac-12
More of the conversations around Oklahoma State have centered around a move west to the Pac-12 in a packaged deal with the three leftover Texas schools in Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech, who have reportedly already reached out to the conference.
Culturally, Oklahoma State feels like a fit in a theoretical Pac-12 East with their three former Big 12 partners, plus another old Big 12 foe in Colorado, and say the Arizona schools. That’s a pretty quality division that also “feels” like it fits well.
But new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said this week that he’s not necessarily eager to add schools for the sake of adding schools, saying, “I consider the Pac-12 an exclusive club with a high barrier to entry. I love the schools and the teams we have today. We are not actively seeking to poach any teams from any conferences. But we’d be foolish not to listen if schools call us.”
And he should listen to those calls, he would be foolish not to hear from Oklahoma State. In fact, Oklahoma State’s best partner in a move west would probably be Texas Tech. It’s believed by some that the private, religious nature of Baylor and TCU could be a turnoff to the Pac-12. It shouldn’t be, as they do have two private schools in USC and Stanford, but some feel that could be a hurdle.
All in all, I feel good about Oklahoma State finding itself in a “Power” conference if the Big 12 does collapse, but of course we hope that the conference can find a way forward in some capacity that works for all its members and college athletics in general.