First, the Big 12 shrunk to 10 schools and was out of the football championship game business.
Then, FOX secured the rights to the new title games of the Pac-12 and Big Ten.
Suddenly, the first Saturday in December was looking a little lean for ABC/ESPN.
Bedlam to the rescue.
OSU and OU play Saturday night in Stillwater in a virtual Big 12 title game that even has a thread of national-championship implications.
“ABC/ESPN wanted to make sure we maintained a strong presence on Championship Saturday,” said Big 12 associate commissioner Tim Allen. “They came to us.”
Little has gone right for the Big 12 over the last 18 months.
A revolving door of conference membership. Internal and public bickering. Lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. A commissioner deposed.
But finally, something breaks the Big 12's way. The league scheduled a marquee finale that ranks with the LSU-Georgia SEC title game as the best showdown of Championship Saturday.
Bedlam 2011 is all that ABC/ESPN could have hoped for, “short of them being (ranked) one and two,” Allen said.
The 10-1 Cowboys are ranked third in the BCS; the 9-2 Sooners are No. 10. The winner gets the Fiesta Bowl berth, unless OSU somehow squirms past No. 2 Alabama, a longshot, and into the national championship game.
No Big 12 school has scheduled a December game since the league formed in 1996. Moving Bedlam to December was a cooperative effort among the networks, the league office and the schools.
“We were more than happy to do that,” said OSU athletic director Mike Holder. “I think it was a win for everybody, especially the conference.
“I think that was the consensus among everybody in the conference when we lost the championship game — we need to have a big game that weekend. At the very least, you were going to get a very passionate game.”
The Big 12 gets that and more – including the promise of great drama. The last six Bedlams in Stillwater have produced games of 12-7, 38-28, 38-35, 27-21, 61-41 and 47-41. Only OSU's 38-28 victory in 2002 was decided before the fourth quarter.
“I wouldn't say it was a no-brainer,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said of moving the game. “But once we thought through all the ramifications of the move for our program, understanding the first year without a championship game, the importance of playing on what has now been referenced as Championship Saturday, it made a lot of sense.”
Big 12 scheduling has become quite a challenge, trying to balance schools' request and competitive balance with the networks' desire to have quality games every week.
“You have varying degrees on what you can sell the schools on, what you can sell the networks on, keeping the conference viable all weeks during the season,” Allen said. The schools have “indicated they're willing to listen to any reasonable request.”
Moving to December was reasonable for the Bedlam rivals, who have played on Thanksgiving Saturday the previous six seasons and 10 of the last 12.
The league's annual marquee game, OU-Texas, is stationed in October around the State Fair of Texas. The Texas A&M-Texas game is a Thanksgiving night staple, though Castiglione said moving UT-A&M was discussed.
Eventually, only a few candidates were left. A&M-OU. OSU-Texas. OSU-A&M. And Bedlam.
Bedlam was the obvious choice, and when the preseason polls arrived with OU No. 1 and OSU No. 8 (coaches) and 9 (AP), that confidence was confirmed.
The only downer was the upset losses. This Bedlam looked like a possible battle of unbeatens, until upsets struck: Texas Tech beat OU 41-38 on Oct. 22, Iowa State beat OSU 37-31 in double overtime on Nov. 18 and Baylor beat OU 45-38 on Nov. 19.