By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
With the boxed body of the Big 12 Conference seemingly sawed into pieces and displaced from coast to coast, the embattled commissioner of our state's prestigious football fraternity last week dramatically, magically reassembled the body parts into a living, breathing, working whole.
Presto! The result is that the Big 12 lives—tah-dah!—rebooted and repackaged as a leaner, stronger-than-ever conference eternally bonded by tradition, unity and loyalty.
Said Beebe after a tumultuous two weeks in which his league was at least twice pronounced dead, "We've got more cohesion than ever."
The real trick? Beebe didn't use smoke or mirrors or duct tape. He kept the Big 12 together via dollar bills. Greed begat the Big 12. Greed almost tore it apart. And in the end, mo' money saved it.
"Now we have stability," University of Texas president William Powers said at a press conference stating his school's re-allegiance to the conference. "We're in a far better position than we were three months ago."
With Texas-hatin' Nebraska having already bolted to the Big Ten Conference and Colorado to the Pac 10 Conference, the Longhorns too were gone. To the Pac 10. Lured by a super conference boasting the Los Angeles and San Francisco TV markets and increased revenue and visibility, Texas was taking Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with it. Stubbornly clinging to its Southern heritage at the risk of ruining centuries-old rivalries, Texas A&M was headed to the Southeastern Conference. Baylor—with its faith-based premise a bad fit with the left-coast liberals—was on its way to a homeless shelter.
More than two-thirds of Longhorns fans polled approved of the move. ESPN ran a "Breaking News" scroll on June 15 that called the end of the Big 12 "imminent" and gauged the chances of a last-second rescue as "zero."
Enter Beebe and his Benjamins.
Armed with the promise of more cash, the commish coaxed Texas into staying put. Here's how it worked: For leaving, Nebraska and Colorado have to pay approximately a combined $18 million. And since losing its Big 12 games in the fall would severely dent ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports Net, the networks pledged bigger paydays to the conference in the future. Simple math says that more money—divided by fewer teams—is, um, more money.
But then Beebe teased Texas with the biggest slice of pizza. The Longhorns, along with Oklahoma and Texas A&M, would not only get up to $25 million a year (more than any other school), they're also free to pursue their own TV network.
Beebe can romanticize all he wants about the unbreakable union of regional brotherhood, but in the end Texas saved the Big 12 because of its unyielding quest for bigger hats and, yes, bigger cattle. Imbalanced TV payouts and individual TV networks. That's what has the Big 12 alive today, not Beebe's wizardry.
Sad, really. The Southwest Conference lived to be 80. It took a major facelift and some unprecedented concessions for the Big 12 to make it to its not-so-sweet 16. When you hear the remaining 10 schools—The Tepid 10?—sheepishly holding hands and crooning "Kumbayah" outside the conference offices in Irving, don't buy it. Remember, five were out the door and five others, stripped of their dignity, are still here only out of desperation, not inspiration.
For years Texas—outside a recent home-and-home with Ohio State—has been criticized for soft scheduling. That echo won't diminish this season when the Longhorns play Rice, Central Florida, Iowa State and Baylor. But there's a new rallying cry for burnt orange opponents and it goes something like this:
"Conference realignment died because the Texas football program is made up of cowards who are aware that the Longhorns' program can't compete at the top levels of the SEC or Pac 10," Clay Travis wrote in a stinging column posted on Fanhouse.com last week. "Yep, the state that values masculine swagger more than any other in the nation features a top football program that is yella."
Whether it's founded in being chicken or being savvy, pretty sure Texas did the right thing. Its bottom line: more money to play an easier schedule and, in turn, face a smoother road to BCS National Championship Games. Other than its annual battle with OU at the Cotton Bowl (at least until 2015, that is), Texas likely won't play Top 25 teams.
And then there's the downside. In the fallout from a conference quake that turned into nothing more than a rumble, fans are the biggest losers.
You want conference chaos? As you read this, the Big 12 Conference is made of 10 teams and the Big Ten Conference has 12 members. That's a good thing, because anything that disrupts the current flow and the BCS is a step toward another male fantasy that is as rare and as tantalizing as the hot, sexy girl who wants to share her bed with you and your girlfriend— the college football playoff.
But as is, we're forced to settle.
We were teased with dreams of Texas-Southern Cal. With Alabama visiting Kyle Field in College Station. With the formations of four superconferences. But now, the flirting is over. Back to the same ol' same ol', like her or not. Yeah the Big 12 lost some weight here and maybe got a boob lift there, but it's still her. Pass the comfort food. Yawn.
Starting with the 2011 season the new Big 12—for now the league is keeping the name—will have a nine-game schedule, no December championship game at Cowboys Stadium and less clout around the nation and in the polls. Off the field there are fences to be mended.
Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne infamously got into it with a frustrated fan tired of being bullied by Texas. Missouri has some 'splaining to do after its governor, Jay Nixon, disparaged the academic credentials of Texas Tech. And Oklahoma State benefactor T. Boone Pickens basically told the Tigers not to let the door hit them on the way out of the conference when Missouri's wanderlust seemed certain to take it to the Big Ten.
It's a feud. But, for now, it's also still a family.
Said Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance, "We don't necessarily agree with every decision, but we're part of the family."
According to Beebe, all is right for the foreseeable future. While some consider the motions that reconstituted the Big 12 to merely be a stay of execution, he prefers to refer to them as a renewing of the vows. So strong is the new Big 12 that Beebe says schools like Arkansas and Houston and even Notre Dame are wasting their time sniffing around for an entrance to the club.
"At this point in time, and based upon all the feedback from our membership, expansion is dead on all levels," he said. "There's no interest in looking at expansion."
The Big 12 in 2010-11 is a lame-duck conference that refuses to quack.
So now do you believe in magic?
Or are you too naïve to even know you've been duped?