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Friday, June 11, 2010

Big XII: 1996 - 2011

I come not to bury the Big XII but to praise it.

First a disclaimer, for the most part I intend to keep this blog very objective. I am a fan of the University of Texas and therefore have personal opinions of the Big XII. I'm not going to write about that, but rather the facts, but take my facts in context.

You were born in 1996, really a two years earlier. But it was a good move at the time football being the focus. The Big 8 and Southwest Conference were struggling for relevance. While Nebraska was at the cusp of winning three out of four national titles, OU had regressed, Kansas State hadn't ascended, and it was one big fish in the Big 8, and with Texas A&M's probation and Texas still floundering (no bowls 1991-3) about zero big fish in the SWC but some potential. What might have sealed the fate of the SWC was 1994, when there were five (yes five, to include Rice and Baylor) co-champions all at 4-3. Texas A&M was on probation and ineligible for the title while finishing 6-0-1. The five champions all lost to A&M and went 2-2 against the others. Ironically, the last place finisher in the conference was SMU. At 0-6-1, they tied A&M.

What transpired for the next 14 years (and one to go) was nothing short of taking the best of both and not looking back. A Big XII team (not necessarily the champion) played in the title game for 8 of the 14 years. Two other years teams (1996 NU, 1998 KSU) were upset in the title game and denied. Only the SEC matched the Big XII's 57% appearance rate. Next best is ACC with 29%, all Florida State, all before 2000.

The Big XII garnered 4 Heismans (Williams, Crouch, White, Bradford), one more than any other conference (SEC 3, Big 10 3, Pac10/USC 3, ACC 1).

The following 8 teams made runs at National titles (#3 or better, November 20 or later): Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska (all 2 or more appearances winning one), Kansas State (1998), Colorado (2001), Missouri (2007), Kansas (2007), Texas Tech (2008). I defy you to find another conference that had 8 teams make a run like that. The SEC is the only conference to have more champs (Tennessee, LSU, Bama, Florida) than the Big XII (Texas, OU, Nebraska), no other conference had more than 1.

As for baseball, Texas having won two national titles equals the Big East (Miami x2 pre 2004) and one short of SEC/LSU (3 titles) and the Pac 10 (two Oregon States and a USC). Again right there.

Basketball over the last 10 years (data most easily found) shows that the Big XII has had 6 Final Four appearances only eclipsed by the Big 10 with 7 and the ACC with 9. The Big East also had 6 but has like 18 teams. In that, the Big XII had four different Final Four teams (KU, OSU, UT, OU), eclipsed by 5 for the Big East and matched by the Big 10 and ACC.

There was no doubt that on the field, court, swimming pool, the Big XII was as good as they came.

So what has led to its untimely demise? It was never a comfortable marriage. But rather arranged. The South always felt content, the the SWC teams having taken their tradition forward, and OU and OSU feeling really at home. But since 2000, there has not been a North team favored in the title game. A North team won in 2001 and 2003 upsetting National title hopes, but they were anomalies. The low point might have been Texas' 70-3 thumping of Colorado in 2005. Nebraska made a game of it last year (and might very well win the conference this year) but something was amiss. The old Big 8 lost its feeling of comfort and it didn't seem like the Big 12 was really a cohesive unit.

So enter Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany. Some think he masterminded a big takeover, I really think he was always just acting in the best interest of the Big 10. But when he said expansion, the glue that held together the arranged marriage fell apart. It was like a marriage on the rocks were on Temptation Island. Didn't take long before everyone was protecting their #1 interest. Interesting coincidence that the states of schools in the Big XII all bordered the SEC, Big 10, and Pac 10. It made them ripe for the picking, and everyone (commissioners, presidents, ADs, media) knew it. See the above successes, very very ripe additions only one state away.

So the demise was met. The Big XII tried to put together a pinky swear of everyone vowing to stay in, but the risk of not moving outweighed the potential benefits of staying. It hurt that the region of the Big XII just didn't have near as many TV markets as the other major conferences. So it was set.

It's interesting, as far as baseball, the SWC was always still superior to the Big XII. Despite only having 7 teams. From 1997 - 2009, the Big XII had 12 teams appear, the SWC would have had 15 (add Rice +7, subtract Nebraska +3, OSU +1). Texas, Baylor and Texas A&M count for both.

RIP Big XII, you led a great life, cut too short by marketability, longevity, and too many big programs looking attractive to the market. You end as you began, in the elite of conference competition.

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