FRISCO, Texas – Considering the center of the College Football Universe is located in Atlanta – the new home of the Southeastern Conference football media days – the fact the Big 12 Conference kicked off its media dog and pony show on the same day Monday put it back behind the classifieds.
(Oh, wait. Sorry, old newspaper reference from an old former newspaper writer. If you’re confused, Google either “newspapers” or “classifieds.”)
The Big 12 is so “yesterday’s news” TMG editors even decided to run Monday’s Big 12 kickoff preview on Tuesday, not daring to trample on the SEC’s sacred first day in the ATL.
For the second consecutive year, the Big 12 is holding its two-day season preview at the Ford Center, the Dallas Cowboys’ new headquarters/practice facility. The biggest news from a conference perspective is that media days will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas in 2019 and 2020.
First, an interview-intensive event held in a massive stadium is like placing a BB in a boxcar. Second, the Big 12’s connection with Jerry Jones is bad karma considering the Cowboys’ championship drought.
Commissioner Bob Bowlsby kicked off the yakity-yak with his state of the conference remarks. They were mostly benign. His first question from the media was about expansion … of the College Football Playoff field.
“Actually, I thought you were going to ask the Big 12 expansion question,” Bowlsby cracked. “I still had it on my list in case somebody was going to ask that.”
After years of media days where the unanswerable questions about the future and the membership were hot topics, the Big 12 is boring and the talking points are positive.
Oklahoma won its third consecutive Big 12 title and reached the College Football Playoff while Kansas made the Final Four. Recent revenue sharing numbers showed that each school is banking about $36.5 million. That places the Big 12, for now, as a solid third among Power Five brethren behind the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences
“So in short, we have much to be thankful for,” Bowlsby said. “Things have gone well for us. We’re moving ahead. Our presidents and chancellors and ADs have made some good decisions. I’m as bullish as I can be about the Big 12.”
And perhaps best of all, the Big 12 isn’t the Pac-12. The Left Coast Conference’s money flow is a trickle, its ballyhooed conference network is a mess/failure and its competitive results in football and men’s basketball last season were embarrassing.
And “embarrassing” has been a good description for past Big 12 media days. These are events of scant news value but are unofficial kickoffs to the season. Conferences parade coaches and select players before reporters to answer questions (oftentimes stupid) that are answered with (almost always) dull clichés.
The Big 12, though, has often been a circus with emphasis on “clown show.” For instance, just two years ago, the Big 12’s turmoil was two-fold.
First, the conference leadership was assessing the damage of Baylor’s sexual assault scandal. CBSSports.com reported over the weekend that, at the time, the school was worried about its membership status. On the first day of media days, Bowlsby said Baylor being kicked out was “a long shot, but it’s not an impossibility.”
The next day during a teleconference, impossibility happened. Not with kicking a charter member out but with the idea of expanding the 10-team conference. Oklahoma president David Boren, whose love of his own voice often got him way over his skis, joined Bowlsby to tell reporters the Big 12 would engage in a college sports version of “The Bachelor” and engage in the courtship of new members. The curtain came down on this ill-fated dog and pony show three months later with the Big 12 maintaining status quo.
The Big 12’s inability to exert influence over its coaches was evident in 2008.
That year, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach declined to bring quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree to media days. In 2007, Harrell had completed 71.8 percent of his passes for 5,705 yards and 48 touchdowns. And Crabtree was coming off a freshman season where he had 134 receptions for 1,962 yards, and 22 touchdowns. being a stubborn ass.
(Later that season, the Texas Tech media relations director asked me why Harrell and Crabtree weren’t getting Heisman love. I reminded him of media day and said, “If you don’t understand the connection, I can’t help ya.”
This decade has been particularly volatile. It started with Nebraska and Colorado leaving the league. And at media days in Dallas in 2011, the Big 12 was attempting to soldier on as a 10-team league. It hired a GSD&M, a company that specializes in advertising, graphic design, marketing, and media consulting services to help burnish the Big 12’s image.
One problem was that GSD&M is based in Austin. And Texas had just announced its partnership with ESPN on the Longhorn Network. That riled Texas A&M, which along with Missouri started listening to overtures from the SEC.
After Day One at the 2011 media days, the Big 12 staged a horn-tooting show. Then-commissioner Dan Beebe walked on the stage in the too-small meeting room as the theme from “The Natural” played. The football coaches were introduced – but Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville was a no-show, claiming a previously scheduled event.
If a disaster can be hilarious, that effort to promote the Big 12’s brand left them rolling in the aisles. And a month later, the Aggies and the Tigers were rolling toward the SEC to be replaced by TCU and West Virginia.
The demise of the Big 12, for now, is not just on the back burner, it’s not on the stove. Stability isn’t forever and when the next round of television negotiations happens, who knows what nefarious deals could be made. But none of that was being discussed Monday.
“I’ve never believed in the talk about the Big 12’s health or future being in question,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “I’ve been in a lot of conferences. I’ve been in conferences that just got a couple of million (dollars) in TV rights. The Big 12 has helped us and West Virginia and I think we’ve helped the Big 12.”
With the 2018 season approaching, no news is good news for the Big 12.