In 2010 the Big 12 was in its death throes.
Caught flat-footed in the realignment frenzy, the Big 12 nearly lost half of its teams to the Pac-10, which was bidding to become a monstrous 16-team conference that spanned from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. And this was after the Big Ten already poached Nebraska.
The Pac-10’s ambition turned out to be a bridge too far, and it settled for Utah and Colorado instead (come to think of it, this was akin to Alexander the Great setting out to conquer Persia and India and ending up with Azerbaijan and Armenia). But the Big 12 wasn’t done being picked apart, as Texas A&M and Missouri were pried away by the SEC.
The conference only survived after then-commissioner Dan Beebe was fired and TCU and West Virginia were invited to boost its numbers to 10. The Big 12 held on to Texas and Oklahoma and thus avoided being downgraded to be a rump conference. But its future, even five years later, remains as murky as ever.
At the just-concluded Media Days in Dallas, the uncertainty of the Big 12’s status hung over the proceedings like the lingering stench of spoiled food. That was among the key takeaways as the 2015 season approaches:
1. Expansion is coming to Big 12, as a matter of survival
The expansion questions were inevitable ever since Oklahoma president David Boren said last month that adding two teams won’t reduce TV payouts to current members. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby claimed that a majority of the Big 12 presidents and chancellors are not in favor of expansion — for now — but he left the door wide open when he said “there are probably four or five in the middle who are persuadable one way or the other.
The Big 12 might not have a choice but to preemptively wade into the expansion waters before its current members are poached again. Just as a reminder, even before the Pac-10 and SEC made their flirtations five years ago, as many as five Big 12 schools also danced with the Big Ten.
2. For now, it’ll take its chances without a conference title game
After being the only Power 5 conference left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Big 12 was under pressure to host a conference championship game. That could’ve been done through expansion to 12 teams or obtaining an NCAA waiver. But at the end, Bowlsby said the conference decided not to make a knee-jerk decision.
That’s probably a wise move, since the Big 12 was pretty close to having two teams in the playoff last year, too. CFP boss Bill Hancock, who also made an appearance at the Media Days, reminded that “the risk from conference championship games is significant. Nobody knows that better than the Big 12 through the years, as many good teams as they had go down in championship games. So, yes, it helped Ohio State, but one year doesn’t make a trend, and I think the Big 12 is smart to sit back and wait.”
3. But Big 12 will strive to be kinder and gentler, at least in practice
The Big 12 reduced allowable live contact drills during the game weeks from three (as mandated by the NCAA) to two as a way to improve player safety. The decision not only met no resistance from the coaches, it earned their unanimous approval.
TCU coach Gary Patterson had an interesting way of looking at it: “(With coaches) there’s a false sense of (us) just try to bang our kids around, but I think all of us, we like keeping our jobs, and we want to keep our kids healthy.”
4. Charlie Strong wins in the locker room, now he needs to win, period
Strong’s first season as Texas’ head coach was more of a success behind the scenes than on the field. He re-established discipline and offloaded nine players from the program, but the Longhorns finished 6-7 and were blown out by Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.
While he got a pass from boosters and fans alike for the first season as he got his house in order, Strong knows that patience won’t last forever. And he won’t use the brutal 2015 schedule — with the season opener against Notre Dame in South Bend — as an excuse.
“Last year 6‑7 is not good enough. It will never be good enough at the University of Texas,” Strong said. “The schedule is very challenging. It’s very demanding. … But the good thing about it, why would you want it any other way? That’s why you’re at the University of Texas, and that’s why players have to understand, it’s all about competing. That’s why you’re here. You’re here to go compete for championships.”
5. Back in Dallas, the scene of the crime
If one single winner must be picked from the Media Days, it had to be new Kansas coach David Beaty. The former Texas A&M assistant/recruiting ace dazzled with his enthusiasm and charm, a stark departure from his woebegone predecessor Charlie Weis.
And then he dropped this nugget: His late father Buford Lee Beaty, a Dallas police officer, was at the scene when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. He was also cited in the Warren Report on the Kennedy assassination.
“He was in line with the gun as it shot through (Oswald),” Beatty said of his father. “I think he kind of helped get him on the gurney but they got him in the ambulance pretty quick.”
For the record, Oswald, unlike the Big 12, did not survive his wound.