What a shame.
When Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) bolted, the league was left with 10 schools that are all on the upward trend. There are no bad teams. None. All of the schools are now fully committed to making men's basketball a premier sport. Finally, the Big 12 was going to have a true round-robin schedule in the sport. The Big 12 was going to be the newest and only major conference to play a balanced schedule.
And this season promises to deliver on one of the country's most competitive conference races.
But the Aggies will soon be gone for the SEC, if they can get over their legal woes, and the rest of the league is in serious doubt. If Oklahoma hadn't started the latest round of Big 12 exploration, nine remaining Big 12 schools would be together and all would be relatively well. But the Sooners are indeed exploring and that means four could bolt to the Pac-12, with Oklahoma leading Texas and those two schools dragging Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, too.
It's a tough pill to swallow for the men's basketball coaches at the remaining schools.
"Look at those nine teams in all major sports -- football, men's and women's basketball, baseball, I don't understand," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "What other league has what we do top to bottom?"
Added Kansas coach Bill Self: "I think every school but Iowa State [and Texas Tech] has been to the Elite Eight since 2004. No other league could probably say that."
Here are the facts the Big 12 likes to tout:
• The nine schools have combined for a total of 201 NCAA tournament appearances.
• Of the 115 NCAA victories in the history of the Big 12 (since 1996-97), a total of 109 wins (94.8 percent) have come from the nine teams that would make up the league if the Big 12 remained together.
• The Big 12 has earned 80 NCAA bids in its history (since 1996-97), all but nine (88.8 percent) have come from those nine schools.
• The Big 12 has 24 NCAA bids in the past four years and 42 since 2004. Only six of those bids came from one of the three other teams (Texas A&M).
• A total of 24 of the 26 consensus All-Americans in Big 12 history have come from the remaining nine schools.
So let's pause for a moment and actually consider what could be lost from a basketball standpoint if the remaining nine don't stay together
Denny Medley/US PresswireTexas and Kansas have developed a nice rivalry over the past decade. Could that soon be gone?
Kansas: This one is easy. KU is one of the five best programs in the country. Phog Allen is easily one of the top three venues in the sport. The Jayhawks consistently rank in the top 10. Bill Self won a national championship in 2008.
Texas: Rick Barnes has one of the best jobs in the country. Texas can pluck the best talent in the state or go elsewhere as it did with Kevin Durant and its host of Canadian imports (Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo et al). The Longhorns are consistent winners, usually play a national schedule and are regulars in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas State: The Wildcats were dormant not long ago, but Frank Martin (with an opening assist from Bob Huggins) has helped resurrect the program and ensured that Kansas State is a regular in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats were in the Elite Eight two seasons ago. The passion for the Wildcats isn't equal to Kansas, but it's not too far behind anymore.
Baylor: The Bears were a disappointment a season ago but were in the Elite Eight in 2010. Baylor has hauled in some elite talent over the last few years, and it's clear that Scott Drew can get it done on the recruiting trail. The Bears already have the fifth-ranked class in the country lined up for 2012 and have a potential lottery pick (Perry Jones) suiting up for another year in Waco.
Iowa State: The Cyclones have hit a rough patch of late, but go back a few years and ask what opponents thought of going into Hilton Coliseum. They will tell you that it was one of the toughest environments in the league. Fred Hoiberg is going with a combination of transfers and new recruits. Let's see if that works. But you can't deny the talent he is bringing into Ames. If it works, Iowa State suddenly is relevant again.
Missouri: The Tigers have consistently had a winner in the region and been an Elite Eight team, despite coaching changes. If Frank Haith stays on despite the Miami allegations, he has an opportunity to continue the winning ways in Columbia. Athletic director Mike Alden is backing Haith, and that's a good sign for now. The Tigers have tremendous fan base, too.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys haven't been a Big 12 title team, but Travis Ford has had them as a regular pest in the league. Oklahoma State has as passionate a following as any of these schools, and Gallagher-Iba is a gem of an arena. Ford's recruiting has picked up, and the Cowboys are clearly on the rise.
Oklahoma: The Sooners are in a rebuilding mode after the gut of early entries, attrition and an NCAA investigation sent OU down to the bottom of the league. But this is a proud program that has had a history of national talent and success. Lon Kruger is an undervalued coach who has won wherever he has coached in college. There is apathy in the hoops fan base, but this program will trend upward under Kruger.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders haven't done much on the court lately, but they hired the right coach in Billy Gillispie. He has won in the state of Texas at UTEP and Texas A&M. He will win in Lubbock. The fan base needs to be prodded, but Gillispie will produce a product that will be a consistently decent team.
So that's what could've been.
"It would no question be an extremely strong basketball league," Ford said. "One of the positives of staying together, it keeps us all together in the region. Our rivalries would be strong. That will help with the excitement with the fans. I think it's a premier basketball league and this is the first year we're playing everybody twice. Even if it went to nine teams, it will be a battle every single night."
These schools have and will continue to produce strong, NBA-level talent. It would be too bad if they can't keep it all together.
"The Big 12 has had the most NBA lottery picks, first-round picks, total picks in the last four years and almost all of them have come from the nine schools left," Baylor coach Scott Drew said, clearly conscience of the league's talking points. "Since 2002, nine schools have had 17 Elite Eight teams and that's the most of any conference in the country. The second highest is the Big East with 14."
As you can tell, the Big 12 coaches are ready with ammunition. They don't have to be. Just look at the preseason top 25 when it comes out next month. More than likely, four of those remaining nine will be ranked -- Baylor, Missouri, Kansas and Texas (along with Texas A&M).
That speaks for itself.