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Tramel's ScissorTales: Is Big 12 football poised to take over 'Pac-12 After Dark' series?

Pac-12 After Dark has become a staple for hardcore college football fans. You know, those 9:30 p.m. (Oklahoma time) kickoffs out West.

Washington State-UCLA. Oregon State-Arizona State. Utah-Stanford. Oregon-California. Didn’t much matter the matchup. The games on one of the ESPN channels or Fox Sports1 often were close and exciting. They were a great way to go gently into the night after wall-to-wall football. Fourteen straight hours of televised football.

But now there might be no more Pac-12, as eight of the league members have scattered east, effective 2024 – Arizona State, Colorado, Utah and Arizona to the Big 12; Southern Cal, UCLA, Oregon and Washington to the Big Ten.

Big 12 After Dark, anyone?

Say it’s so.

The Big 12 is poised to become the home of witching-hour football, even moreso than the Big Ten, and here are the reasons:

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Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark walks on stage to speak at the opening of the NCAA college football Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark walks on stage to speak at the opening of the NCAA college football Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

More inventory. Including Brigham Young, the Big 12 now has five teams from the Mountain or Pacific time zones.

That not only offers more potential games, it gives relief to each other. BYU, for example, will play when told. The Cougars are just happy to be in a power conference, but they would prefer to play as many afternoon games as possible. With so many fellow western teams in the Big 12, BYU won’t be saddled with the burden of hosting the late-night games.

More networks. ESPN and Fox share the rights to the Big 12. Fox will have the rights to late-night Big Ten games.

But the Big Ten might be hesitant to go full force into the “After Dark” series. For one thing, NBC will begin airing a Big Ten prime-time game each Saturday, and the league might prefer to not stack a conference game against the fourth quarter of NBC’s marquee window.

For another, there’s a law of diminishing returns on “After Dark” games involving Eastern Time Zone teams. Is Big Ten territory going to stay up to watch Maryland at Washington? That’s why you’d expect fewer “After Dark” games for West Virginia, Cincinnati and Central Florida.

Lack of marquee brands. The Big Ten’s four Pac-12 emigrees are bigger brands than the Big 12’s.

USC, UCLA, Washington, Oregon are bigger brands than Colorado, Utah and the Arizona schools. Thus the Big Ten’s western front is more likely to be chosen for higher-profile games shown earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, the Big 12’s western schools could be chosen for “After Dark” based on the likelihood that even a marquee matchup – OSU at BYU, Kansas State at Utah – would not likely fare well earlier in the day but would do big numbers, compared to the competition, late night.

With BYU joining the conference in 2023, the Big 12 beats the Big Ten by a year in becoming a four-window conference.

The Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten are going to dominate the television windows. Bigger brands, blueblood programs. The Big 12 counters with fun, who-knows-what-will-happen football, the kind of gridiron drama we are accustomed to seeing with the Pac-12 After Dark, a series moving next season to the Big 12.

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Realignment restores traditions

Conference realignment sometimes gets a bad rap. We always talk about the traditions that are lost. But in the crazy madness of last week, some traditions were restored – or at least preserved.

In the span of nine days, Pac-12 schools Colorado, Arizona State, Utah and Arizona accepted invitations to the Big 12, and Oregon and Washington did the same to the Big Ten.

That means the following traditions are preserved or restored:

Utah-Brigham Young: The Holy War is one of college football’s great in-state rivalries, but people being people, the series withered since Utah left the Mountain West for the Pac-12. The Cougars and Utes didn’t play in 2014, 2020 and 2022; they met in 2015 only because of a bowl game, and they aren’t playing this season. But that nonsense ends with both joining the Big 12.

Colorado/Big Eight: The Buffaloes joined the Big Six for the 1947 season and played Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas every season from ‘47 through 2010. OSU came aboard to form the Big Eight in 1960, so the Cowboys played the Buffs every year from ‘60 through 1995.

Colorado/Big 12: After the Big 12 formed in 1996, CU played OSU, Baylor and Texas Tech twice in every four-year cycle, until leaving for the Pac-12 in 2011.

Pac-12 heavyweights: Washington and Oregon joining Southern Cal and UCLA in the Big Ten means those Pac-12 heavyweights will all play each other every year. USC and UCLA haven’t been playing Oregon and Washington every year even in the Pac-12. For example, USC didn’t play Oregon or Washington last season.

Old WAC: The Western Athletic Conference, the forerunner to the Mountain West, was a wild league, dominated by Arizona State in the 1970s, then BYU in the 1980s. Now BYU can play the Arizona schools every season.

Arizona-Texas Tech: This one goes back a ways. From 1932-57, Texas Tech was a member of the old Border Conference, a forerunner to the WAC. For reasons that couldn’t possibly make sense, Tech rarely played Arizona State. But Tech played Arizona every year from 1946-59, plus seven times before that and 12 times since.

Does that make up for the potential loss of rivalries like the Oregon State-Oregon Civil War or the Washington State-Washington Apple Cup? Of course not.

But realignment doesn’t only tear apart traditions. Sometimes it restores them.

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Pac-12 newcomers boost Big 12 academics

Just because the Pac-12 displays academic snobbery doesn’t mean the newcomers to the Big 12 won’t lift the Big 12’s academic reputation.

All four Pac-12 newcomers – Colorado, Arizona State, Utah and Arizona – are members of the Association of American Universities, the 71-member club that most schools aspire to join.

The Pac-12 quartet raises the Big 12’s AAU members to five, joining Kansas. The Big 12 has lost or will lose AAU members Texas, Missouri and Texas A&M. Plus Colorado left the Big 12 in 2011, only to return last week, and Nebraska was an AAU member when it joined the Big Ten, but was stripped of that status a few years later.

The Big 12’s five AAU members will match the Southeastern Conference’s five – A&M, Texas, Missouri, Florida and Vanderbilt.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has seven AAU members – Georgia Tech, Virginia, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Duke, Miami and Notre Dame, though the latter is a football independent.

And of course, 17 of the soon-to-be 18 members of the Big Ten are AAU members. All but Nebraska.

More: Tramel: Big 12 adds stability, another football threat with Utah in conference realignment

Mailbag: Pac-12 humanitarianism

The whirlwind Big 12 admissions of Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado and Utah has some fans trying to make sense of it all.

Kevin: “People talk a lot about terrible leadership at the top of the Pac-12. I wonder — is there any chance that they just agree with you and me, that conferences ought to be regional? That they were too honorable to kill the Big 12 when they had the chance? Maybe they did the right thing, but the monetary landscape martyred them for it? Maybe we should think of them as heroes instead of terrible leaders.”

Berry: No. It's not possible.

Oh, heck, I guess it’s not impossible. But where is the evidence?

The Pac-12 absolutely wanted to take OU and Texas 12 years ago (and were willing, on some level, to also take OSU and either Texas A&M in 2010 or Texas Tech in 2011). The Longhorns eventually backed out, but that would have torn the Big 12 asunder.

And nothing in Pac-12 behavior or comments suggest they were thinking of the common good. How many times must they tout and flout their academic superiority before we get the idea?

In all seriousness, even in athletic circles, the Pac-12 bragged more about its academic reputation than the SEC bragged about its football reputation.

Heroes? Seems a stretch.

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The List: Arizona athletics

The University of Arizona brings a broad-based athletic program to the Big 12. Here’s how the Wildcats’ programs rank in terms of readiness to compete in the Big 12:

1. Softball: The Wildcats have won eight NCAA championships (though none since 2007) and remain consistent threats nationally. ‘Zona has made three of the last four Women’s College World Serieses.

2. Women’s golf: The Wildcats won NCAA titles in 1996, 2000 and 2018. They tied for seventh as recently as 2021 and have been a consistent national power over most of the last 35 years.

3. Baseball: The Wildcats have won four NCAA championships – 1976, 1980, 1986 and 2012 – and been national runner-up four times. Arizona has been to the Men’s College World Series 18 times, most recently 2021.

4. Women’s basketball: The Wildcats made the 2021 NCAA championship game and have won an NCAA game each of the last two tournaments. UofA went without an NCAA appearance between 2005 and 2021.

5. Men’s tennis: The Wildcats have made the last four NCAA Tournaments and won two matches in each of the last three.

6. Men’s basketball: The Wildcats won the 1997 NCAA championship and made the 2001 NCAA title game. Arizona has been to four Final Fours, though none since 2001, and 20 Sweet 16s. The Wildcats have won the last two Pac-12 Tournaments and were the 2022 Pac-12 regular-season champion.

7. Men’s swimming: Arizona won the 2008 NCAA title. The Wildcats have been fairly competitive in the Pac-12 the last 15 years.

8. Beach volleyball: Arizona has been quite competitive, routinely finishing in the top 20 of the national poll in the sport, which includes almost 70 schools in Division I.

9. Women’s swimming: Arizona won the 2008 NCAA title but has been middle of the road in the Pac-12 most of the last 15 years.

10. Men’s golf: Arizona won the 1992 NCAA championship and spent decades as a national power. But the Wildcats have turned mostly mediocre in recent years, with no NCAA finish higher than 19th since 2006.

11. Women’s tennis: The Wildcats last made the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

12. Men’s cross-country: Arizona has a second-place and third-place finish in NCAA Championships but hasn’t made the NCAAs since 2006.

13. Women’s cross-country: Arizona has a second-place in NCAA Championships but hasn’t made the NCAAs since 2006.

14. Women’s volleyball: Arizona won its lone Pac-12 title in 2000. The Wildcats are fifth in the conference’s all-time composite standings but have been fairly mediocre in recent years.

15. Women’s soccer: Arizona won a Pac-12 title in 2004 but has been mostly second-division in the last decade.

16. Football: The Wildcats were a combined 143-92-7 in the 21 years under coaches Larry Smith (1980-86) and Dick Tomey (1987-2000). But Arizona has been mostly mediocre since, with only four winning Pac-12 records.

17. Women’s gymnastics: The Wildcats have traditionally have been near the bottom of the Pac-12.

18. Men’s track: Arizona never has won the Pac-12 title. The Wildcats rarely have been in the upper division in recent years.

19. Women’s track: Arizona never has won the Pac-12 title. The Wildcats rarely have been in the upper division in recent years.

20. Women’s triathlon: Arizona just started the program, hiring a coach last December.

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: Big 12 football poised to replace Pac-12 After Dark on television