September 06, 2011
The dominoes have been arranged. First, possibly sometime this week/a>, Texas A&M will finalize its pending defection from the Big 12 to the SEC. Not long after that, Oklahoma will finally succumb to the temptation of the Pac-12 with Oklahoma State en tow. The SEC may be angling to pick up Missouri to pair with the Aggies. Texas will have its choice of following the Sooners' wagon train to the coast (picking up Texas Tech along the way to convert the Pac-12 into an even Pac-16), entertaining overtures from the SEC and/or Big Ten or striking out on its own as an independent. All that's left is for the first domino to fall.
And the rest of the Big 12? Sorry, guys, but at the end of this round, it's every Bear, Cyclone, Jayhawk and Wildcat for himself, and — like the bottom half of the old Southwest Conference after it disintegrated in the mid-nineties — the prospects for maintaining their current standard of living aren't very good. Which is why Baylor has just launched a new initiative, "Don't Mess With Texas Football," pleading with fans to help it stop the game before it starts:
Football in Texas is more than a passing interest, it is a part of the fabric of this great state.
• Will Texans stand by and watch hundred-year-old rivalries be cast aside as the state's largest universities align themselves with other states across the country?
• Texans sit and watch as Texas' flagship universities pledge their loyalties to other states?
• Will Texans stand by as our most promising student athletes are lured out of Texas by new rivals?
• Will Texans watch as our most precious resources — the great minds of the next generation — are exported to new conference institutions?
Texans must stand up and call the leadership of the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech to clear-headed thinking about the state's future. Texas' flagship institutions of higher learning are the guardians of the state's future — their loyalties must first be to Texas and to her citizens. Ask these leaders to take a stand for Texas and to stop this madness that will lead to the dissolution of the Big 12 and the end of an era for Texas.
Beneath that call to arms, readers are asked to click on a button reading "Take a Stand Now," which sends them to a contact page with e-mail addresses for the respective Board of Regents and presidents for each of the three in-state schools on the verge of breaking up the band, UT, A&M and Tech. Baylor has shared a conference with the Longhorns and Aggies since 1915, when all three were charter members of the SWC; Texas Tech came on board in 1956. Good luck pitting nostalgia against Larry Scott's $3 billion television contract.
If any relatively out-of-the-way religious school with 15,000 students can win that tug-of-war, it's probably Baylor. The Bears weren't expected to land in the Big 12 when the SWC split up, until then-Texas governor Ann Richards, a Baylor grad, pulled a few levers and twisted a few arms to preserve her alma mater's seat at the table. Last summer, when the Pac-10's plan to raid Texas, Oklahoma and the rest of the then-extant Big 12 South — save Baylor — threatened to leave the Bears to fend for themselves, a bloc of Texas legislators vowed to block the move unless Baylor was included. That's not what eventually submarined the deal then, but obviously the Baptists are never content to go down without a fight. (Although, this time, the state legislature may be.)
Beyond a miraculous outpouring of online support, the best hope for the refugees in the bottom half of the conference is an open door to the expansion-minded Big East, which may be able to shelter at least two of the Big 12 leftovers (Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and possibly Missouri and/or Texas Tech) that don't get snapped up by one of the other power conferences in a league that still — for now — has a seemingly firm grip on an automatic bid to a BCS bowl, and the much larger payout that goes with it. Otherwise, they're all staring at greatly diminished futures in the Mountain West, Conference USA or — heaven forbid — the Sun Belt. If you were drawing up a brand new batch of conferences today from scratch, their demotions make a lot of sense financially, demographically and competitively. But after 100 years of running with (or at least at the heels of) the big dogs, you'd be scratching and clawing to keep from being separated from the pack, too.