Tried to do a puzzle with my granddaughter the other day. The Lion King. A piece was missing. A border piece. Very frustrating.
Tim Allen must know the feeling.
The Big 12 associate commissioner is charged with building the conference's new football schedule, and here we sit, 193 days before college football kickoff, with no schedule.
The Big 12's 10 teams know who they will play and where they will play, but they don't know when they will play. And that's no small deal on campuses whose autumn activities are built around football.
But cut Allen some slack. He's trying to appease schools and television networks alike. And he's building a jigsaw without all the pieces. Nebraska comes to mind.
Here is the stark truth of the new-look Big 12. The league can't provide enough quality games to fill its quality time slots. Inventory, they call it, and the Big 12 is sorely lacking.
When the Big 12 lost Nebraska and Colorado, the networks agreed to not lower their payments to the conference. Hope the Big 12 got it in writing.
Even in a season in which half the members can be classified as a marquee team, it's a stretch to find two or three quality games a week to be televised.
The Big 12 historically has provided quality games for ABC on Saturday afternoons and Fox Sports on Saturday nights. Fox's pre-noon kickoff generally takes whatever it can get. But in recent years, ESPN/ABC also has sought a prime-time game.
Fourteen weeks in the season, the networks need 2-3 quality games a Saturday, do the math. That's about 35 games a season.
That's tough duty on a league that does not schedule an abundance of marquee nonconference games and just added a bunch of Iowa State and Kansas games to the schedules of most of its flagship schools.
“It's not necessarily that black and white,” said Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda. “You want to make sure you're providing attractive matchups every week. I don't know if there's a minimum number.”
I count 18 marquee games for Big 12 football in 2011. That's all the head-to-head meetings among the five heavyweights — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Missouri and Texas A&M — plus eight nonconference games of note. OU-Florida State. Texas-BYU. Texas-UCLA. A&M-Arkansas. Missouri-Arizona State. OSU-Arizona. Baylor-TCU. Kansas State-Miami
Then I counted 20 more games that are decent. Some K-State and Tech conference games, and assorted decent nonconference games.
That's 38 games that don't stink, which might be enough to satisfy the networks. Except too many are in October and November, with not enough in September. And Allen has to keep in mind competitive balance — not too many road or home games in a row — and traditional rivalry dates and filling out the Dec. 3 date left vacant by the death of the Big 12 Championship game.
Hence the jigsaw.
Burda says additional interesting games could develop with the emergence of other teams. I suppose he's right. Tech or Kansas State. But it's more likely that one of the ballyhooed teams, a Missouri or OSU or A&M, falters and gives the league fewer must-see games.
And no one will emerge before the season. Check out Sept. 3, when all 10 Big 12 schools tentatively are scheduled to open, but quality games are rare. The two best appear to be TCU at Baylor and Tulsa at OU.
At some point, Big 12 schools are going to have to shoulder more responsibility in scheduling quality nonconference games.
The networks were sportsmen to not cut the Big 12's revenues, but their generosity will only go so far. Get stuck with too many A&M-SMU or Texas Tech-Nevada games, and the networks will start to question the business model.
Sure, it's in the networks' best interest to keep the Big 12 thriving. It's also in the networks' best interest to keep lots of eyeballs watching Big 12 ballgames.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Ramifications of the new Big 12 scheduling format, in which schools play all nine other members, plus three nonconference games:
1. Bedlam in December: Bedlam almost surely will move to the first Saturday in December, providing the Big 12 a marquee game for the networks. It's not without precedent. OU and OSU played the first Saturday of December in 1950, 1951, 1956, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1971, 1972 and 1973.
2. OSU on television more: While OU and Texas rarely have more than one game a season not picked up for television, OSU typically has several games a year that are not aired. That's likely to change. With an improved program and more demand for Big 12 inventory, look for almost all the Cowboy games to be televised.
3. More conference games in September: In its first 15 years of existence, the Big 12 scheduled few conference games in September. That is likely to change as the league needs more marquee games to fill out its September calendar. Particularly this year. When the Big 12 released a preliminary 2011 conference schedule, it included no September games but no date at all for the OU-Missouri and OSU-Texas A&M games.