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Tramel's ScissorTales: Will a 14-team Big 12 Conference play football with divisions?

By pledging to the Southeastern Conference, Texas likely will find itself in a league with Houston.

By pledging to the SEC, OU likely will find itself in a league with Central Florida.

Welcome to the rabbit hole of college football in the third decade of the 21st century. Conference realignment returned in force last summer, with the Sooners’ and Longhorns’ stated defections, but the Big 12 rallied and now is bringing in four new members apparently before OU and Texas can find its way to Dixie.

The American Conference last week announced a financial settlement with Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida that allows those schools to join the Big 12 next summer, along with Brigham Young.

With OU and Texas still publicly committed to the Big 12 through the 2024-25 academic year, that could mean two full years of a 14-team Big 12.

The Sooners and Longhorns would prefer to leave yesterday, of course, but at least on OU’s end, that’s not yet financially feasible. Maybe, probably, absolutely, UT has $80 million lying around in surplus. But that bounty doesn’t exist in Norman.

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Houston, UCF and Cincinnati will join the Big 12 in 2023.
Houston, UCF and Cincinnati will join the Big 12 in 2023.

OU and Texas will explore every option to leave the Big 12 before 2025. But it seems likely a quick exit isn’t feasible.

For the newlook Big 12, a thousand questions remain unanswered, from championships to payouts to conference leadership, and all points in between.

But the biggest concern for fans will be alignment. Will the Big 12 adopt divisions and remain an outlier among Power 5 conferences?

The Big 12 has been divisionless since the 2011 season. Who knew the beleaguered conference was a pioneer? In recent months, the Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC and Atlantic Coast conferences have either scrapped divisions or admitted they are likely to.

So what will 2023 Big 12 football look like?

“We were the only conference that didn’t have divisions,” said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, prematurely embracing the “we,” but he’s got my permission to do so and I assume that’s a Big 12 consensus. And the Big 12’s solo act “might remain that way,” Holmoe said.

Holmoe claims no inside information. He admits to just speculating. But the current (minus OU and Texas) and future Big 12 members have discussed football format.

Sources said divisional play had much momentum early, but the rabbit hole is changing things rapidly.

The other Power 5 leagues are getting away from divisions, preferring to match the top two teams in the standings for a league championship game, to enhance College Football Playoff possibilities.

I don’t understand that rationale. More teams in conference championship games get knocked out of the playoffs than play themselves in, but hey, nobody’s paying attention to history these days.

And everyone’s theories will change if (when?) the College Football Playoff expands from four to 12 teams.

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“As you see conferences get out of divisional alignment, you now see where there’s some pros and cons,” Holmoe said. “Travel could come into play. Who you play and don’t play.”

Adding divisions would create geographic problems for the Big 12. There are no natural splits.

The Big 12 could put the five Southwest schools (OSU and the Texas schools) with BYU and call it the West, or the Big 12 could put the five Southwest schools with UCF and call it the South. Or the Big 12 could just mix it all up and split the four Texas schools 2-2, giving the other members as much exposure as possible in the Lone Star recruiting grounds.

But the scrap-the-divisions movement has given the Big 12 an excellent alternative. If there is no consensus in Big 12 meetings, the league could just keep doing what it’s been doing for the last decade.

“I’m open to either,” said UCF athletic director Terry Mohajir. “The reason people are running away from divisions, they want to be in the best position to get their best teams in the championship game. That may change if it (the CFP) expands.”

That flexibility seems widespread. I’ve talked to people all over the conference and have encountered few people taking an absolute position.

The Big 12 could table divisions initially. Play out the schedule with 14 teams (almost surely a nine-game league slate) and see how it goes. When OU and Texas depart, maybe then adapt divisions, if need be.

The one thing I’ve heard repeatedly is that conference officials don’t want to be changing divisions haphazardly. In other words, if the Big 12 was to adopt divisions immediately, place OU and Texas in opposite divisions, then leave those divisions the same when the Sooners and Longhorns are gone.

“I have opinions, but they’re not based on a lot of great knowledge,” Holmoe said. “I’m in this learning mode. Go north or south or east or west, it’s very difficult to say which would be better.”

Same with going divisionless or with divisions.

This much we know. The Big 12 is not afraid to go against the grain. Sometimes, it even works out.

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Does homecourt matter in NBA Finals?

Game 5 of the NBA Finals arrives Monday night, and the Warriors-Celtics series has turned into a best-of-three.

You would think that would mean advantage Golden State.

The Warriors don’t have to win in Boston to win the title. The Celtics must win in San Francisco to win the title.

But you never know. The Golden State franchise and this Boston team are historically-successful on the road.

The Warriors have won at least one road game in 27 straight playoff series. That’s remarkable. The previous record was held by Miami, 23 straight, from 2011 through 2019, broken only when Miami was swept by the Bucks in 2021.

But these Celtics are road, uh, warriors. Boston is 8-3 in playoff road games this season, and it’s not like the Celts got a two-game jump with weak competition in the first round.

Boston won twice at Brooklyn, beating the Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving combo. Then the Celtics went 2-1 at Milwaukee, losing only 103-101. Then in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics went 3-1 at Miami, including a Game 7 knockout that Boston dominated.

Still, the Celtics would much prefer that two of the next three games be played on the Eastern Seaboard, not on San Francisco Bay.

Golden State has homecourt advantage courtesy of its superior regular-season record. The Warriors finished 53-29, the Celtics 51-31. The teams split their regular-season meetings.

Back on December 17, Golden State’s Damion Lee made two foul shots with two seconds left to give the Warriors a 111-107 victory over Boston. Had the Celtics won that game, they would have the homecourt tiebreaker and be hosting Game 5.

Oh well. Recent NBA history suggests that best-of-three series – Games 5-7 in a playoff series – don't overwhelmingly go to the home team.

In the 2022 playoffs, teams with homecourt advantage have won five of the seven series that have reached 2-2. Boston won Game 7 at Miami in the East finals, and Dallas won Game 7 at Phoenix in the West semifinals. Both the Celtics and Mavericks dominated those Game 7s, though Miami staged a late rally to make it quite interesting.

However, in 2021, teams without homecourt advantage won four of eight series that reached 2-2. En route to the NBA championship, Milwaukee beat both Phoenix (Finals) and Philadelphia (East semifinals) in such a scenario.

In both 2018 and 2019, the team with homecourt advantage won three of five series that had been tied 2-2.

So over four seasons (the 2020 playoffs were in the Orlando bubble, total neutral courts), teams with homecourt advantage are 15-10 in series that reached 2-2.

Before 2018, homecourt advantage seemed to mean more. From 2012 through 2017, teams with homecourt advantage won 27 of 34 series that reached 2-2.

The Thunder beat the Spurs in the 2012 West finals, winning Game 5 on the road and Game 6 at home, and repeated that formula against San Antonio in the 2016 West semifinals.

But in 2014, OKC had three straight series that reached 2-2; the homecourt advantage team won all three series – the Thunder over the Grizzlies in seven and the Clippers in six, before the Spurs beat the Thunder in six games of the West finals.

Homecourt matters. But it seems to be mattering a little less in recent years and not much at all to these Celtics.

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The List: Dallas Cowboy running backs

Don Perkins died last week at age 84. Perkins was a 1960s Dallas Cowboy star. He led the Cowboys in carries for eight straight seasons, 1961-68 and made the Pro Bowl six times.

Perkins was the first Cowboy running back I remember; I was born in ‘61, so the 1968 Cowboys are about as far back as I go

Perkins’ death made me reminisce about the 62-year-old franchise’s greatest running backs. Here’s how I rank the top 10.

1. Emmitt Smith, 1990-2002: The all-time leading rusher in pro football history (18,355 yards), here’s the most remarkable feat of Smith’s career – he led the Cowboys in rushing for 13 straight years.

2. Tony Dorsett, 1977-87: The top two picks on this list are rather easy. Smith has a virtual 5,000-yard lead (5,126) on Dorsett in Cowboy rushing and Dorsett has a virtual 5,000-yard (4,650) lead on the next runner.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, 2016-present: Whether you like him or not, Elliott has forged an excellent career. In six seasons as the Dallas tailback, he’s rushed for 7,386 yards and has a better yards-per-carry average (4.5) than either Smith or Dorsett.

4. Don Perkins, 1961-68: Perkins was listed as a fullback in those two-back days, but he was Dallas’ bellcow. Perkins gained 6,217 yards in eight seasons.

5. DeMarco Murray, 2011-14: The former Sooner’s four-year numbers were impressive – his 85.4 yards per game match Smith for the Dallas record, and Murray’s 4.8 yards per carry rank fourth in Cowboy history among running backs with at least 100 carries, behind only Tony Pollard (5.1), Duane Thomas (4.9) and Charley Young (4.9). Young played from 1974-76; will everyone forgive me for not remembering him?

6. Calvin Hill, 1969-74: The Cowboys’ unorthodox drafting of that era hit a home run with Hill, a Yale man. Hill became a Dallas icon, with two 1,000-yard seasons and 5,009 rushing yards in six Dallas seasons.

7. Marion Barber III, 2005-10: Barber, who died a few days ago at age 38, was a hard-charging runner who always was sharing time (he started only 41 of 88 Cowboy games). Barber gained 4,358 yards in six Dallas seasons and scored 47 touchdowns, the latter fourth all-time among Cowboy runners.

8. Walt Garrison, 1966-74: The ultimate Cowboy, from his growing-up days rodeoing in then-small town Lewisville to his college days at OSU to his Copenhagen commercials, Garrison was more than a blocking back for the likes of Perkins and Hill. He’s the ninth-leading rusher in Dallas history, with 3,886 yards.

9. Robert Newhouse, 1972-83: A 12-year Cowboy, Newhouse took over the Garrison role at fullback and also was an adept runner. Newhouse led the 1975 Cowboys’ Super Bowl team in rushing, with 930 yards.

10. Herschel Walker, 1986-89 & 1996-97: We often remember Walker being traded to the Vikings as the catalyst for Jimmy Johnson’s successful tenure coaching the Cowboys. But we often forget that Walker was a heck of a player for Dallas. In 1988, Walker rushed for 1,514 yards. His Cowboy total of 3,491 is 10th-best in franchise history.

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WCWS television ratings dip slightly

OU softball seems to be a national phenomenon, but perhaps the Sooners’ domination comes at a price. Television ratings for the Women’s College World Series dipped slightly in 2022.

The WCWS finished last week, with OU’s 16-1 and 10-5 sweep of Texas in the championship series.

The 10-5 win in Game 2 last Thursday drew 1.744 million viewers on ESPN, according to ShowBuzzDaily.com. The 16-1 win in Game 1 last Wednesday drew 1.411 million viewers.

The blowouts didn’t help. Game 2 at least was close for awhile – OU broke a 2-2 tie with four runs in the fifth inning, then scored four more runs in the sixth to take a 10-2 lead.

In combined viewership, the 2022 championship series averaged 1.6 million, down from the 1.84 million that watched the 2021 finals between OU and Florida State, though that was a three-game affair.

In combined viewership, the 2022 finals drew slightly higher than the 2019 OU-UCLA series.

The total WCWS viewership also was down from 2021, which averaged a record-setting 1.2 million per game. This WCWS averaged 1.0 million.

The WCWS also was aired on ABC-TV for the first time. The Saturday OU-Texas game drew 1.25 million, while the Sunday Florida-UCLA game drew 1.064 million.

Two other matchups drew at least one million – Texas-Arizona on Sunday night (1.03M) and OSU-Texas on Monday night (1.304M for Game 1, 1.256M for Game 2).

The numbers indicate a strong following for softball. But the plateau arrived in 2022. Can softball retain that status and regain the momentum?

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Mailbag: OU softball fan behavior

The actions of some Sooner fans at the Women’s College World Series drew the ire of at least one reader:

Faye: “I showed up at the (OU-Texas) game really wanting to root for OU. I went to the session that was OSU versus Texas, and I can tell you that it was contentious and fans were rooting hard but they were not vicious. As soon as I got to the (OU-Texas) game, I heard fans screaming ‘Texas sucks.’ I was immediately taken off guard and finding it really hard to root for this team that I wanted to root for because the fans were gross, I felt like it was just not OK to be screaming at a group of 20something women that they suck. There was even a point when the Texas team came out and stood outside of their dugout, trying to cheerlead their fans saying ‘TEXAS!’ and the rest of crowd, most of the stadium, screamed ‘SUCKS!’ To scream that into the faces of young women felt wrong. I’m not a Texas girl. I grew up in Norman, my dad taught at OU, I went to school there. Still, this behavior is unacceptable in my mind. This behavior was something that I didn’t see at any other softball game that I’ve been to in this series, in any series, and I’ve been going to the softball games since 2011. I was really disgusted. That’s not the ‘Oklahoma Standard’ we praise ourselves on.”

Tramel: Welcome to big-time sports. That’s what happens the higher-up the food chain you go (and sometimes you don’t have to go very high). College softball had a charm and purity for many years, but it’s gone mainstream now, with all kinds of fans jumping on the bandwagon, and unfortunately, you add an undesirable element.

It's mob mentality. And OU-Texas is a game of arch-rivals. The reason no other fan bases acted like that was because the other fanbases were miniscule. Dozens, maybe, instead of thousands.

Not excusing the Sooners, but if this tournament was in Round Rock, Texas, it would have been the UT fans acting untoward. It's the (negative) nature of sports.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Will 14-team Big 12 add divisions with BYU, UCF, Cincinnati & Houston?