Expansion news funnier than fiction
There is nothing funny about what's going on in the Big 12 right now. Except for the fact that it's fall-down hilarious.
The 98-pound weaklings at college football's Muscle Beach are puffing out their scrawny chests and (at least temporarily) stopping a reconfiguration of the entire nation. A program of unspectacular means opposes them, striving to become the lever that flips everything. Meanwhile, the most powerful programs and conferences sit silently and timidly in the corner, anxiously watching the most meaningful kindergarten sandbox fight ever.
It's "ringleader" Baylor and fellow aggrieved parties vs. Texas A&M.
Quite the epic clash to decide the future of college sports, huh?
May the best lawyers win.
It's just another down-the-rabbit-hole day in college athletics, where perspective and common sense left the scene a few billion dollars ago. Everyone is chasing its own best interests -- and everyone is outraged at everyone else for being so selfish and ignoring the common good. Nobody wants to be the bad guy, yet everyone is to blame. The manly art of high-class backstabbing is in full effect.
The stakes are incredibly high. The absurdity level is even higher.
Dan Jenkins on his biggest bender could not devise a sports novel with a plot this silly.
To recap the latest twists and turns in the heart of Texas: Texas A&M was all set to celebrate its invitation to join the Southeastern Conference on Wednesday -- but the invite is conditional upon the remaining members of the staggering Big 12 promising not to sue the pants off the SEC and A&M. Baylor reportedly was first to rattle its litigious saber, and after a Wednesday conference call of league presidents, the Bears apparently have been joined by all but Oklahoma.
Aggies fans were apoplectic Wednesday over having their SEC getaway blocked by those bothersome Baptist prudes from Waco. Baylor is inhibiting their freedom, they say. Baylor has gone back on the Big 12's unanimous pledge last Friday not to interfere, they say. Mostly, Baylor is keeping the Aggies from doing what they want to do most: flip a farewell salute (hint: not the Gig'em thumb) at those insufferable bullies at Texas.
Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M have shared the same league since 1915, by the way. With familiarity clearly comes contempt.
(By the way, Baylor's president is Kenneth Starr, the guy whose investigation got Bill Clinton impeached for White House hanky-panky. The Aggies might want to ask Clinton how much fun it is to tangle with Starr.)
The humorous thing about this Aggies tantrum is the fact that Baylor is doing what A&M did by agitating to leave the Big 12 -- taking care of itself.
Nobody cares about Baylor football, which is why Baylor must do everything it can to retain the big-six conference membership it got mostly through political pressure and traditional alliances. When the Southwest Conference collapsed in the mid-1990s, Baylor tenaciously clung to Texas, A&M and Tech for inclusion into the Big 12 while Houston, TCU, SMU and Rice were cut loose and marginalized as football entities. Since then the Bears have done nothing on the football field to merit keeping their place among the power elite -- which is why any radical redrawing of the map could easily leave Baylor without a seat at the big-boy table.
So the implosion of the Big 12 clearly would be a scary thing for Baylor. Same for the largely undesirable commodities to the north known as Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.
Adding to the absurdity is the fact that the league's power brokers are shrinking back in the shadows while the midgets wrestle. Last summer everyone said Texas held all the cards, and that Oklahoma was a major player in whatever happened as well. Yet today their futures are tied at least in part to Texas A&M and the Big 12 bottom-feeders.
Texas and Oklahoma would probably rather the Big 12 stay together and let them retain their Most Favored Program status (and revenue) -- but they have other options and are exploring them feverishly behind the scenes. Oklahoma could go to the Pac-12. Texas could go to the Pac-12 or go independent. If the Big 12 sinks, they don't sink with it.
Their low profile this week is indicative of the leadership vacuum in the league. It's also indicative of the nationwide mindset that has gotten us into this mess: If I've got options, then screw everybody else.
Nobody is looking out for the common good. Nobody is in charge. Those with the most juice are exerting it solely on their own behalf, with disregard for all that is unique in college sports: tradition, geographic sense, nonrevenue sports, collegiality, regional flavor.
With that as the cynical backdrop, we all watch the Texas cage match unfold. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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