Proactive approach critical for KU if Oklahoma and Texas really do leave the Big 12

New Kansas head football coach Lance Leipold and athletic director Travis Goff sit for questions during an introductory press conference on Monday, May 3, 2021 at the KU football indoor practice facility.

Remember when the most important thing on new Kansas Athletic Director Travis Goff’s to-do list was to make sure he got the football hire right?

Well, the first-year AD got all of 78 days to enjoy the work he did on that front. And we don’t even truly know how that’s going to turn out yet.

But now, before new KU football coach Lance Leipold can even conduct his first official practice, it’s on to bigger and scarier things.

I know. Hard to imagine.

Yet here we are, with reports running wild that Oklahoma and Texas are preparing to leave the Big 12 Conference.

Goff, of course, has no say in what the Sooners and Longhorns do or don’t do. So he need not waste any time worrying about the moves they make.

However, now would be a great time to start putting together one of those flow charts for Kansas that says if X happens then Y or if A and B occur then C.

The guess here is that he’s already thought about it. I doubt the potential for future conference realignment was a big part of Goff’s interview process for the AD job. But I also would bet good money that the topic came up at least once or twice before Goff was hired away from Northwestern.

That’s not to say he has all the answers already. How could he? But finding them suddenly appears like it could be a very important part of his job.

While the potential for college athletics to revisit the tumultuous times of 2011 and 2012 has always been possible and never far from anyone’s mind, it certainly did not seem like anything was imminent that could threaten the existence of the Big 12.

Consider Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s comments about realignment from Big 12 media days just last week.

“It’s really moot on that question,” he said.

He then went on to explain how the last round of realignment was about cable households and, with digital production and streaming becoming a player in the broadcast revenue game, those household markers were not nearly as important any longer.

“The motivation is essentially gone,” he added, noting that conference restructuring was not something he was losing sleep over. “A lot of the motivation for realignment is no longer there.”

Bowlsby was smart enough to hedge, saying that it “could possibly happen for other reasons.” But he certainly did not come across like a commissioner who was at all concerned about any kind of imminent threat to the league he oversees.

And, yet, here we are.

The move for Goff and Kansas this time around is simple: Be proactive. And don’t apologize to anyone for doing so.

Last time, as the entire Big 12 waited with bated breath for OU and Texas to make their decisions to stay or go, KU got caught in a holding pattern. The narrative then was that the best thing for Kansas was a healthy Big 12 Conference.

Loyalty, history, familiarity and comfort all mattered more than taking on the appearance of a street dog fighting for table scraps.

Is the same thing true this time around?

Not without Oklahoma or Texas in the conference it isn’t.

I don’t care who you think the Big 12 could get to replace those two programs. There aren’t two schools out there who could come close to providing the same impact on the college sports landscape as those two power brokers.

Remember, we’re talking about brands and bucks more than trophies and records.

Without OU and Texas, the conference is in serious trouble. And KU would do well to start looking for a favorable landing spot early on rather than hoping for history to repeat itself and the conference to be saved.

In fact, if OU and UT really are out, it could be scramble mode for all eight of the remaining Big 12 schools. I’m just not sure that fighting to hold the league together with just half of its original members would be worth the work nor nearly as profitable when the dust settles.

Without OU and Texas, the new-look Big 12’s television contract in 2025 and beyond would be lucky to be half of what it is today.

It was a good 10-year run. After nearly meeting its demise a decade ago, the conference stabilized and made some good money after the departures of Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri.

But things are different today. Name, image and likeness is a factor. Future television contracts look different than before, with Apple, Amazon and Hulu entering the game. And the future of the NCAA itself is in question.

All three of those developments put KU (and others across the country) in a much different position than it was in the last time around.

So the move now is to secure the future rather than hoping to preserve what soon could be a thing of the past.

No matter what you’ve heard, KU had options last time. And it likely will again if it comes to that. But snagging the best-case scenario will not come if KU again chooses to play the waiting game.

If OU and UT are out, KU has to be willing to follow their lead and be prepared to move quickly.


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