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How the SEC gutted Big 12, became a softball juggernaut, Oklahoma to Texas | Toppmeyer

The “Fantastic Four,” they called it.

The Big 12 rested on the brink of change in 2011 – much as it does now. Colorado and Nebraska had their bags packed for new conferences. Missouri and Texas A&M weren’t far behind, soon to be off to the SEC.

The 2011 Women’s College World Series provided a moment of celebration and conference pride that briefly interrupted that period of Big 12 turbulence.

Four of the eight WCWS participants in 2011 hailed from the Big 12: Baylor, Missouri, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Texas and Texas A&M also fielded top teams that season, although they were eliminated before reaching Oklahoma City.

“It's a testament to this conference being one of the best,” Sooners softball coach Patty Gasso told a reporter at the time.

That was true then. By next spring, it’ll be but a memory.

One by one, the SEC gutted the Big 12. The ramifications are especially apparent in softball.

Big 12 softball took a curtain call this past week. The WCWS finals pit rivals Oklahoma and Texas against one another. Oklahoma swept the best-of-three series to four-peat as national champions after Texas had earned the No. 1 seed.

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In less than a month, both schools will call the SEC home.

By now, Missouri and Texas A&M know the terrain. The SEC qualified all 13 of its softball-playing members for the NCAA Tournament this season – the Tigers and Aggies among them.

The decay of the Big 12, as we once knew it, coincided with the surge of SEC softball. Many analyses have been penned from softball aficionados about the shift in conference dominance from the Pac-10 to the SEC. The SEC invested in its coaches, facilities and recruiting to help fuel its softball takeover.

Part of the SEC’s ascent, though, simply stems from brute force and its seizure of Missouri and Texas A&M and now Oklahoma and Texas. The former two made the conference stronger in softball. The latter two will solidify it as a juggernaut.

I don’t blame the SEC. When desirable schools became available, it pounced and strengthened itself. It’s not personal. Just business. And good for the business of SEC softball, at the Big 12's expense.

Missouri, Texas A&M and now Oklahoma and Texas became the SEC’s “Fantastic Four.”

Blake Toppmeyer is the USA TODAY Network's SEC Columnist. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: How SEC gutted Big 12, became a softball juggernaut, Oklahoma to Texas