State of the Conference
This time last year, Baylor was up and coming. Under the direction of Art Briles, the program was on its way to being one of the most elite in the country. Now, the first thought to any ears who hear the name of the school spoken is ‘scandal’. Even with the head coach removed, the saga continues. From suspended players in the locker room and Briles amongst the crowd to Rice’s musical rendition of the school’s trouble are casting the Bears in a not-so-pleasant light.
Other than Baylor, West Virginia is the only other unbeaten Big XII team. This is an anomaly in a world where OU and Texas remained powerhouses for so long. The Mountaineers will face Kansas State (2-1) Saturday and could potentially be dealt their first loss if the Wildcat defense performs as expected.
Iowa State is the new Kansas. The Cyclones scored more in their game last weekend against San Jose State than in their first three games combined. They will go into conference play Saturday with a 1-3 record. But Iowa State can’t really be Kansas because Kansas is still Kansas. Kansas (1-3) kicked off their conference schedule with a 55-19 beatdown from Texas Tech (3-1). Let’s face it. Tech is no Kansas, however, they are facing a pivotal point in their program. As much as the fan base loves Kliff Kingsbury, the results of recent seasons have not been to the liking of anyone. Texas Tech’s defensive struggles have to be fixed before Tech wants to go anywhere.
Oklahoma is allegedly voting against Big XII Conference expansion although President David Boren said Tuesday that this decision had not yet been made. This is likely because Oklahoma is ready to sever ties with the Conference. Oklahoma hasn’t started the season 1-2 since 2005 when they lost games 1 and 3 to TCU and UCLA respectively. Oklahoma is out not only to turn the season around, but to redeem themselves from last year’s loss to TCU when they take on the Horned Frogs Saturday in Fort Worth. TCU is off to relatively smooth start with only a narrow loss to Arkansas.
The Longhorns will travel to Stillwater to play the 2-2 Cowboys. While Bevo had an impressive start to the season, the momentum has since fizzled after losing to unranked Cal. The program’s consistency has continued to struggle under the direction of head coach Charlie Strong who currently has a losing record leading the Longhorns.
Uncertainty surrounds the entire conference and this inevitably continues to impact the recruitment of Texas high school athletes.
Consider the Facts
When Texas A&M jumped ship and hopped aboard the SEC, recruitment of Texas high school 4- and 5-start recruits increased by 14.6%. In fact, since 2013 the top recruits from the state have chosen College Station as their number one pick over any Big XII team. A&M’s change in conference came around the same that Kevin Sumlin assumed leadership over the Aggies. Assuming, however, that the conference change is the draw for top athletes gives schools like Texas and Oklahoma reason enough to hope the Big 12 truly does fall apart.
Not only could bouncing from the Big 12 help the traditionally stellar programs, but a strengthened and expanded Big 12 could potentially further deter recruiting the top Texas athletes. Consider, for example, if Houston was added to the Big 12. As a city, Houston is booming. It’s the third biggest city in the country and growing at a rapid rate. Additionally, it falls in the backyard of some of Texas’ very best high school football programs. The manhandling of Oklahoma in the first game of the season tips the hat in their favor even more. There’s no wonder rumors are floating around of the Sooners voting against conference expansion.
As Big XII schools assume the role of little brother trying to compete with big brother, otherwise known as the SEC, is the actual organization truly invested in the best interest of its teams? It seems, instead, that the Big 12 is chasing the dollar as fast as it can until its predetermined expiration date. Until the 2024-2025 season, a grant of rights deal with ESPN and FOX ensures that the Big 12 will keep getting paid $20-million each season. Should a team choose to leave prior to then, the media revenue for that team would still pay out to the Big 12. Now, if two teams are added to the conference, the revenue would increase but the conference would not allocate the full amount to the school. The large majority would instead remain with the conference.
My prediction, unless the Big XII is revitalized and can purposefully expand with successful programs that can draw a crowd and beat power conference teams, then they will instead expand solely for financial purposes. Oklahoma and Texas will continue to battle for top Texas recruits until the grant of rights deal expires at which time they’ll join a power conference. Until then, the rest of the Big XII has less than a decade to prove it can consistently contend with big brother.