Big 12: Big Eight dropped ball on Arkansas
Lots of talk about Arkansas and the Big 12. Would the Razorbacks consider a jump? Who knows. I’ve blogged about it and written a column about it, and I guess we’ll see.
But don’t blame the Big 12 for Arkansas being so comfy in the Southeastern Conference since announcing 20 years ago this summer that it was leaving the Southwest Conference.
Blame the Big Eight. The Big Eight Conference finally became proactive in 1995, when it commandeered four schools from the SWC and became the Big 12.
But throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Big Eight was a sleepy conference that did not react to the changing national landscape. In 1976, the Southwest Conference added Houston. In 1978, the Pac-10 added Arizona State and Arizona. That same year, the ACC added Georgia Tech. In 1979, the Big East was formed.
The stage was set. Arkansas sat geographically divided from the rest of the SWC, which consisted of eight Texas schools and the Razorbacks. In this age of individual schools wanting to start their own television networks, Arkansas didn’t even have control of its own radio network.
The SWC sold its radio rights in bulk; Humble Oil sponsored a legendary radio network that brought SWC football all over the states of Texas and Arkansas. But the network was much more romanticized in Texas than in Arkansas.
Arkansas was a great fit geographically for the Big Eight, which in the 1970s played big-time football. By the mid to late 1980s, the Big Eight was an Oklahoma-Nebraska show, with occasional uprisings by a third team. But in the ’70s, Big Eight football rocked.
An innovative, creative conference could have convinced Arkansas to make the jump. An innovative, creative conference did — the Southeastern Conference, in 1990. That same year, the Big Ten added Penn State.
So in the span of 12 years, every major conference had either expanded or formed. Except the Big Eight.
Not every league was perfect. In 1985, the Big East voted to deny admission to Penn State. Think about that one for a minute. Think the history of college conferences would be different had Joe Paterno been granted inclusion to what he had dreamed of, a league of previously-Eastern independents?
But I digress. The Big Eight either didn’t knock on Arkansas’ door or didn’t offer the right sales job. Chuck Neinas was the Big Eight commissioner in those days; the league was run by old-style athletic directors. Football coaches like Bob Devaney and Eddie Crowder and Wade Walker. Not exactly visionary.
Get Arkansas into the Big Eight circa 1980, and everything is different. The league would have been in a position of power, rather than a position of compromise in 1995, when UT’s DeLoss Dodds and OU’s Donnie Duncan put together the Big 12. Only three SWC schools would have been admitted. Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, quite obviously.
The Big 12 has morphed into a conference of haves and have-nots, so much so that starting in 2011, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M are guaranteed $20 million a year in conference payout revenues, with everyone else given a baseline of at least $14 million. Arkansas would have been a heavyweight. The more heavyweights, the better.
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