As we recover from the near-death experience of the athletic conference formerly known as the Big 12, let’s take a break from speculation and recrimination long enough to tackle the important question so far unanswered: What are we going to call the No Longer Quite So Big 12?
Now that it’s left with only 10 members, logic suggests a swap with the group that lured away the Nebraska Bugeaters. Of course, a conference that didn’t change its name when it expanded from 10 to 11 members probably won’t see any reason to switch just because it adds another. So MU isn’t likely to become a member of the Big Ten that way, either.
I have a suggestion that would reflect the reality revealed so vividly by the maneuvering of the past week. Instead of the Big 12-2, let’s call it The Longhorns and the Shorthorns.
In case you’ve had more important things to worry about lately, allow me to explain.
Ever since the late and lamented Big 8 expanded into Texas, the Longhorns of Austin have been first among equals. The South Division (the Texas and Oklahoma schools) has dominated the conference, athletically, financially and politically. The Longhorns lead the South.
So, once Nebraska broke up the party by joining the Big 10 and Colorado fled west, the fate of the Big 12 rested with Texas. All reports suggest that the Pac-10 expected Colorado to be followed by the Texas and Oklahoma schools (less Baylor, the red-headed stepchild nobody really wants).
There’s still some uncertainty and at least a hint of disagreement about the “gentlemen’s agreement” negotiated by Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, but it’s clear that he saved the day – and his job – by outbidding the Pac-10 for the affections of the Longhorns. The herd of would-be defectors fell in behind their bell steer and decided to stay home.
Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M will continue to get the biggest shares of a TV revenue pot that now must be split only 10 ways. Texas gets the right to set up its own TV network. And, depending on who you believe, the Left-Out Five (MU, KU, K State, Iowa State and Baylor) may even have agreed to turn over to the southerners their share of the going-away penalty paid by Nebraska and Colorado.
There’s no doubt, then, that our Tigers are among the Shorthorns. That’s painful enough to us ordinary fans, but it must be agonizing to Mike Alden, Brady Deaton and Gov. Nixon, all of whom appeared to believe just a few weeks ago that MU was likely to be invited to join the Big Ten. Indeed, Nebraskans blamed MU’s apparent lack of loyalty for the uncertainty that led to the departures.
We may never know whether our leaders were misled by winks and whispers or by wishful thinking.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Chancellor Deaton and Athletic Director Alden grinned manfully as they insisted that we’re now in the best of all possible athletic worlds. They accepted no blame, though Mr. Alden did concede that his handling of the affair might have been less than masterful.
He also noted that MU can only claim a bigger slice of TV revenue by strengthening its nonconference football schedule and winning more games. Gary Pinkel might have wrecked his motorcycle when he heard that.
Chancellor Deaton said, “We’re committed to the Big 12 for the foreseeable future, and we are in this for the long haul.”
Of course, when you’re a Shorthorn in the Longhorns’ corral, the long haul sometimes leads to the packing house.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.