News and speculation out of the Big 12 over the past week have circulated fast and furiously.
Remind anyone of a different time, same place?
Let’s look back five years.
Nebraska and Colorado were gone from the Big 12, with Texas A&M and Missouri soon to follow.
Media reports in that summer of 2011 shifted daily, if not more often. Sometimes, new information was right, then wrong hours later.
The landscape shifted rapidly. Texas was two seasons removed from playing for the national championship. TCU belonged to the Mountain West; West Virginia was in the Big East, which later morphed into the American Athletic Conference. Within two years as the ground nationally stabilized, the reconfigured Big 12 symbolized a tumultuous era.
The Big 12 stood at the epicenter of conference realignment. Without its undercurrents of dysfunction that predate the league’s 1996 birth, the lineup of FBS conferences would appear considerably different today. Perhaps even the revolutionized postseason, spurred in part by changes at the conference level, would appear as something different than its current form.
One can argue that five years ago, the Big 12 reshaped college sports.
And here we stand, with the Big 12 again at the altar of realignment, ready to extend its hand after a fascinating week of developments that originated July 19 as the league’s board of directors delivered to commissioner Bob Bowlsby the go-ahead to investigate expansion candidates.
That the Big 12 survived at all to reach this next step rates as something of an upset. Together, these 10 schools form an unusual marriage -- and it might be about to get even more odd. But together, they are survivors.
In visiting with the league’s key figures last week in Dallas and Bristol, Connecticut, I saw a conference with much to offer that still struggles to shed some of the deep-rooted issues that led it five years ago to splinter, almost irreparably.
So can the Big 12 look back to learn lessons as it moves forward?
No one asked for my advice, but here’s what I believe must happen over the coming weeks and months to ensure the best future.
Drop the drama. OK, this isn’t realistic. But come on, the ink hadn’t dried on the Big 12 media release about possible expansion when University of Texas president Greg Fenves and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed Houston as their pick. Who asked them, anyway? UT figured to serve as a roadblock for the Cougars until this revelation, which forced skeptics to question the Longhorns’ motives. It seems there’s more griping in the back rooms of the Big 12 than at a political party convention. And speaking of politics, can’t we, for once, separate it from football in Texas? Don’t answer that, please.
Pick candidates for the long-term. Credit this piece of wisdom to TCU coach Gary Patterson, who traversed these waters with the Horned Frogs in the most recent round of realignment. And TCU, which established itself as a winner over a decade before the Big 12 called, offers the most notable success story among the programs to move into the Power 5. The most obvious parallel to Patterson’s program is BYU, with its impressive track record. Just as notable is the comparison to Houston, a hot name with a trendy coach. Is it a quick fix, though?
Get on the same page. The Big 12’s future security involves more than the right choices in expansion. The league seems to find it amazingly difficult to present a unified front. On anything. The latest case of bungled messaging, at media days, involved the sexual assault scandal at Baylor. Not that sensible talking points shared by Bowlsby with Baylor coach Jim Grobe and school officials would have eased the pain of victims, but an appearance of togetherness could have served to inspire more confidence in the league’s ability to help foster an environment for Baylor to fix its problems. We are left to wonder and wait.
Showcase your stars. An obvious one that’s worth mentioning amid the swirling storylines off the field. The Big 12 plays an intoxicating brand of offensive football, and it’s heavy on star power -- headlined by the quarterbacks. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Seth Russell of Baylor, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, and Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State form the best quartet of QBs in any league. And no conference is likely all that close to the Big 12. Stars like Oklahoma running backs Samaje Perine and Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson can also help observers forget about some of the behind-the-scenes craziness.