It was a harrowing and humbling experience for everybody who coaches basketball in the Big 12.
With talk of conference realignment swirling around them like floodwaters, nobody at the highest administrative level where historic decisions were being made even bothered to pretend that basketball was a factor.
Football and its millions in television rights were all that seemed to matter as the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Southeastern Conference attempted earlier this month to pick off the Big 12’s choice schools.
“I think most coaches realized that football generates more revenue,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “But I think it surprised some people out there just how great the disparity level was between football and basketball.”
Even the storied Kansas basketball program seemed to hold no allure. There has been talk that Kansas might have held some interest for the Pac-10, but the league made clear it preferred Oklahoma State or Texas Tech if bringing them along would help land the nationally prominent and imminently marketable Texas and Oklahoma football brands.
“I know who makes the money for the university. I understand that,” Texas A&M; coach Mark Turgeon said Monday during a Big 12 basketball coaches teleconference.
“The scary thing was a school like Kansas — because I played there — their tradition, and them not having a place to go. That was a little bit sobering. I think I was realistic about things. But it’s our NCAA Tournament that pays for the rest of sports in their championships, so that was the hard part.”
After Colorado announced it was leaving for the Pac-10 and Nebraska said yes to the Big Ten, the Big 12 finally did hold together with 10 members and the promise of a big increase in football television money.
But for the two uncertain weeks while the Big 12 appeared to be on the brink of a breakup, the NCAA could only stand by since its rules say nothing about what conference anybody must belong to.
“I’ve been a big enough fan of college sports my whole life to understand that football makes the big TV dollars,” said Kansas State coach Frank Martin. “What’s frustrating is that the NCAA — 97 percent of their whole budget comes from men’s basketball. And yet, nobody was going to stand up and try to protect that and (stop the ruin of) some of these conference rivalries and environments that have been created, which is what makes the Big 12 so special.”
Even though he admits that football “was definitely driving the bus,” Kansas coach Bill Self said he never doubted the Jayhawks would wind up in a major conference somewhere.
“I never feared we weren’t going to have a home. I never feared that we weren’t going to be in a BCS conference,” Self said. “My problem ... was the uncertainty that we could lose a recruiting class or whatever — in the meantime, trying to be certain where we would go.
“You look back at the history of NCAA sports, we’ve impacted many of the sports at a championship-type level. I felt assured we would land somewhere. But the uncertainty of it was the biggest problem.”
With lame duck members Colorado and Nebraska playing out the string, the upcoming season will be a bit awkward. A 10-member league is almost sure to switch to an 18-game round-robin format where everyone plays everybody else home-and-home. And that will be a big change. Since the Big 12 began play in 1996, basketball has been split into two six-team divisions and schools played those in the other division only once a season. Almost all the coaches agreed that that will make it tougher to put together glittering records in what has been one of the most rugged leagues in the country.
“This last year we were 15-1 and the year before we were 14-2 in the league,” Self said. “Now 14-4 is going to be a championship season. The league’s that much tougher playing everybody twice.”