By voting on Monday night to proceed with the 2020 fall sports schedule, including football, the Big 12 may have saved the college football season and redeemed its own reputation in the process.
For the better part of the last decade, the Big 12 has been looked down upon as perhaps the most vulnerable of the Power 5 conferences. But by voting on Monday to proceed with fall sports, including football, the conference may have saved college football in 2020 and it’s own reputation by proving to be a power broker in the sport once again.
After league presidents met on Monday night to vote on whether or not to play sports this fall, it was reported that the conference has indeed decided to move forward with its current season plans, which include a 10-game football schedule. With Monday’s news that both the Big 10 and PAC 12 have decided to postpone fall sports until at least the spring and the reports that both the SEC and the ACC wished to play in 2020, many considered the Big 12 the tiebreaking vote. Fortunately, that vote was cast for competition and not fear.
Make no mistake, the vote does not force the Big 10 or PAC 12 to change their minds and play but it does give the other three Power 5 leagues the majority opinion and assures that there will be enough teams competing this fall to have some semblance of a normal season, one that could eventually crown a champion. Now, the conference is being lauded for potentially saving the college football season.
“The conference, if it wanted, had a chance to pull the trigger on a season,” writes Ross Dellinger of Sports Illustrated. “Instead, it put away the pistol and, of all things, plans very soon to release its 2020 schedule, a very strong #WeWantToPlay statement. Sure, we might be delaying the inevitable, but hell, it’s something.
“We all needed a slice of joy on maybe the most miserable day in college football lore: the shutdown of fall sports at both the Big Ten and Pac-12, somewhat expected outcomes but crushing even so.”
While we are yet to know for certain how the rest of this daily soap opera will play out, consider how much this decision does for the way the Big 12 is now perceived around the nation. Remember that for the last decade, this was the conference that first lost four members in 2011 (Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado) and then in 2014-15 bungled its exploration of potential expansion by first openly courting programs only to then vote not to extend an offer to any school and remain at 10 members.
As such, the conference has since been perceived as weak. In fact, some have even been forecasting the league’s demise as the flock of vultures circling overhead seemed to grow large by the year.
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“The question comes down to one major conference which, on the surface, seems settled in for the long haul,” wrote Amy Daughters of Bleacher Report in 2014. “In reality, it’s sitting on what could be a major fault line in college football.
“That conference is the Big 12—and what does or doesn’t happen to the league over the next several years could decide whether the current calm is permanent, or just a pause in the action.”
But now, the reverse scenario is in play and teams are posting to join the Big 12 instead of bolting for greener pastures. And these are legitimate Power 5 caliber teams, not the likes of SMU, Houston, or Memphis as was the case in 2014-15.
One such school that is rumored to be looking for a way to play this fall is, in fact, Nebraska, which left the league in a tiff over the Big 12’s willingness to allow the existence of the Longhorn Network. But now that that entity is as irrelevant as anyone could have imagined when it was created and the Big 10 is shut down until at least 2021, the Huskers are rumored to be looking for at least a one-year return to the conference they were a founding member of. And many believe this could open the door for a permanent return given the hard feelings that would exist between the school and its current league should this move come to fruition.
Meanwhile, Ohio State also may be eager to be a one-year Big 12 participant. Head coach Ryan Day didn’t shoot down the idea in a recent ESPN interview in which he said the school owed it to players to explore all options in 2020.
Keep in mind that his team is expected to be a National Title contender this year and playing in a spring season with the PAC 12 instead of competing this fall with the majority of the other Power 5 schools would keep the Buckeyes from having any shot at being crowned the National Champions. Thus, do the Buckeyes betray their conference loyalty in the last year before star QB Justin Fields heads to the NFL? It isn’t out of the question.
Other programs like independent BYU have also reportedly expressed interest in the Big 12, if for at least one season. In other words, by the power of one historical conference vote, the league which has spent the last decade trying to defend its legitimacy and prove itself equal to its Power 5 brethren both competitively and financially is all of a sudden the sexiest girl at the bar, albeit at last call.
Meanwhile, the Big 10 and the PAC 12 are being cast in the roles of the cowardly Villians by fans and, more importantly, players around the nation.
In four years, the Big 12 media rights deal is up and all of a sudden, this conference is positioned more powerfully than ever to go to the negotiating table from a position of strength, perhaps even as a 12-team league once again. Perception of the Big 12 has changed almost overnight and all because the university presidents voted to keep football alive for now. Let this be a lesson to us all as to why operating in fear is never the way to go.