The Big 12 gained a reprieve this week.
Will it be a new lease on life for the 15-year-old conference? Or did it merely postpone the inevitable?
Five or 10 years from now, will it still be sending teams to BCS title games and NCAA Final Fours? Or could it face a similar raid in the future?
Commissioner Dan Beebe likened the conference’s rebirth to “kind of like renewing the vows.”
As Beebe observed, many people throughout the country like the idea of an intact Big 12 and the denial of the first superconference.
Added Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione: “I think we’re strong and this is being considered a means to keep us strong in the future.”
But that future still looks shaky to some.
“It’s definitely on life support,” said B. David Ridpath, an assistant professor at Ohio University’s Center for Sports Administration. “It came out of a coma and is still attached to a machine.
“I think everybody linking arms is one thing. But there are still going to be one or two schools that are attractive. There’s going to be too much opportunity for teams to move.”
Undeniably, the conference suffered a hit. The exit of Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-10), probably both after the 2010-11 season, robbed the conference of the two North Division schools with the greatest football traditions.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the Big 12’s challenges:
The college landscape. The drive for expansion by the Big Ten and then an aggressive Pac-10 put the Big 12 at risk. For now, expansion seems to have hit a lull.
“I think it has settled down for now, but I don’t think the idea of the superconference has gone away,” Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott told 1280-AM in Salt Lake City. “It was a very compelling vision. At some point in time, it will crop up again.”
With teams like Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, the Big 12 has schools that proved attractive to other conferences.
Allegiances. With the wanderlust exhibited by several schools, loyalty could be a key concern. Texas President Bill Powers Jr. seemed to embrace the honor system.
Infighting. Fault lines emerged during the process.
Beebe pledged to enforce unity while saying he wasn’t worried.
“We had a board of directors call (Friday), and I never felt such an energy and appreciation for each other,” Beebe said. “I think there’s a cohesion we haven’t seen before.”
The championship game. With 10 teams, the Big 12 will be unable to hold a football championship game without an NCAA waiver. For now, Big 12 football coaches love the idea of a regular season without a title game roadblock.
Yet imagine the fallout if a Big 12 team cruises through the regular season, then gets leap-frogged in the BCS standings by a Big Ten or SEC team on the strength of an epic title game win.
The best argument for the league might be recent events. The last several weeks brought conference members face-to-face with uncertainty.
“Surreal,” said Castiglione, who took calls about the situation between innings of his children’s baseball games. “It was moving at warp speed.”
Some schools were faced with the potential challenge of new conferences while parting ways with some traditional rivals. They were the lucky ones.
Five schools scrambled to possibly preserve a conference while faced with a significant loss of status if the Big 12 dissolved. Among them: Baylor, fresh from great runs in the NCAA Tourney by its men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“We really rode the emotional rollercoaster through the last couple of weeks,” said Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, who worked closely with new school president Ken Starr. “There were moments of encouragement, but there were also moments of despair. I liken the whole process to a football coaching search on steroids.”