ARLINGTON, Texas — Saturday’s Big 12 championship game was the first significant line of demarcation between the past and the future of the league.
Whether Texas plays in the College Football Playoff or a bowl game, Saturday’s game was the last the Longhorns will play against a Big 12 opponent as a Big 12 member. The next time the Longhorns face a Big 12 football team, it will be as a member of the SEC.
The same goes for Oklahoma, which played its last Big 12 Conference game last week in Norman against TCU.
Commissioner Brett Yormark — who inherited their departure from the league after this season when he took over the league 16 months ago — tipped his hat to each program’s legacy in the Big 12 and handed the Big 12 Championship Game trophy to Texas on its way out the door.
“We thank them for getting us where we are today,” Yormark said Saturday. “For being pillars in this conference, for creating a great history and legacy.”
Come July 1, the Longhorns and the Sooners will be members of the SEC, pushing that league to 16 teams. The Big 12 will also become a 16-team league that day with the additions of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah.
The Big 12 was founded in 1994 and began play in 1996. It was the result of a merger of four teams from the Southwest Conference — Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech — with the eight members of the Big 8, led by Oklahoma.
In football, the Longhorns and Sooners have been standard-bearers. Each has won a national championship — Oklahoma in 2000 and Texas in 2005. The only other Big 12 team to win one is Nebraska, which is now in the Big Ten.
Oklahoma won 14 Big 12 titles, including a run in which the Sooners won three in a row from 2006-08 and six in a row from 2015-20.
Texas won four league titles, including the league’s inaugural Big 12 title game in 1996 and the 2009 crown, which led to a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
That made Saturday’s Big 12 title game an interesting bookend for Texas and for the conference. The Longhorns ended their time in the league where they started it — on top.
“They are a big part of the history of this conference and always will be,” Yormark said. “So it’s a nice way to kind of, you know, finish their time here being at the championship game.”
Even though Texas fans were booing Yormark during the post-game trophy ceremony and chanting “S-E-C” while head coach Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Quinn Ewers were accepting trophies, Sarkisian sought to keep everyone’s attention on Texas winning its first Big 12 title in nearly 15 years.
“To be really clear on that, we’re here to celebrate this victory in a season and what we were able to accomplish this year,” Sarkisian said.
Moving forward it appears more likely that Big 12 matchups with Oklahoma and Texas will happen in bowl games, or even the expanded College Football Playoff, than in non-conference.
Oklahoma has a non-conference home-and-home set up with Houston, with the Cougars visiting Norman next season and the Sooners visiting Houston in 2028.
Texas doesn’t have a regularly-scheduled game with a Big 12 team until a home-and-home with future Big 12 member Arizona State in 2032 and 2033.
The future of the ‘Bedlam’ game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is murky, at best. With Texas moving to the SEC, the Longhorns will continue to face their natural rivals — Oklahoma and Texas A&M. While Texas Tech has stated a desire to continue to play Texas, there appears to be no immediate plans to make that a reality.
So Saturday was, truly, the end of an era, not just for Big 12 football, but for Oklahoma and Texas as standard-bearers of a conference in the middle of the country.
For Yormark, however, he’s looking to the future, especially as someone who had no connection to college sports before he took the job.
“I had no emotion about it (Texas and Oklahoma leaving),” Yormark said. “You know, things happen in life. And they made a decision that it was time for them to have another chapter and their journey, if you will. And as I’ve often said, there’s never been a better time than right now to be part of this conference. And I firmly believe that. But we wish them well and I’ll be rooting them on in the SEC.”iframe src=”https://app.e2ma.net/app2/audience/signup/1986400/1964875/” width=”510″ height=”500″ frameborder=”0″>
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.