When the Southwest Conference imploded 20 years ago, one of the primary reasons for its demise was a feeling that it was TOO MUCH TEXAS.
Who could argue? It was ALL Texas and Arkansas. Arkansas went to the SEC and the Big 12 and SWC melded to form the Big 12. You still had a core group of Texas schools such as UT, A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech, but you also had Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas State and Iowa State to balance the power.
Fast forward the conference configuration clock to the present and we now see the Big 12 in a state of flux about the best way to get bigger AND BETTER, which also means generating more money and being able to look at their brethren in the other five Power Conference schools with equal status.
The latest plan is explore expansion from 10 to 12 or 14 schools, with an increase of four the overwhelming favorite.
The Big 12 is already loaded with Texas schools–UT, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU.
The University of Houston is a contender. And lately–with the public backing of Texas and Texas Tech, as well as the political push of the President of UT and the Governor, there is an assumption that Houston is on the fast track to move from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12.
In the words of ESPN football sage Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”
What we have developing is a potential border war between the Big 12 Northern schools and the Texas schools. Talks and deals are being discussed in closed door sessions that would fit in well in political conclaves in Boston and in…Jersey, which is the ultimate battleground for back room deals.
The bottom line is simple. To get approved Houston needs 8 of 10 votes. If Oklahoma, which is inclined to say No to anything involving Texas, turns it down, all it needs is a school such as Iowa State–which has already expressed uneasiness about adding Houston–and a school with little to gain or lose such as West Virginia–and the Houston deal is dead.
Waiting anxiously for this decision are BYU, Colorado State, Boise State, UCF, Cincinnati, Memphis and UConn, the reported contenders for the potential four spots that could open.
There was a time when Texas got what Texas wanted merely by expressing an opinion. But those times no longer exist. Texas is struggling to re-establish itself as a national power in football and basketball. It still has all of the resources and money necessary, but it doesn’t have the clout–at least not with schools North of the Red River.
I lived in Dallas for five seasons, working for the Dallas Morning News, and covered the Southwest Conference at the height of the good old days when everyone was cheating and looking for an angle.
I also covered Oklahoma. I remember calling up former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and telling him I wanted to come up to Norman for a meet and greet to introduce myself.
Switzer’s first reponse was “Why should I talk to anyone from the Dallas Morning News?” he asked. “”All you guys South of the Red River do is badmouth us.”
My reply was simple. “”Barry, I’m from Jersey. I could care less what has happened in the past. We start fresh from right now.”
We did and 34 years later, we are still friends.
The bottom line is that the rivalry between North and South in the territory that now covers the Big 12 still exists. And while Texas still thinks it is Texas, there are no guarantees it will be able to push Houston into the Big 12–at least without some major concessions being made.
The story of Big 12 expansion will be play out over the next several weeks, but the first move that must be settled will be the internal battle that determines whether Houston is part of the master plan.
Right now, my guess is that it is far from a done deal, which should be good news for all the other contenders.