The Big 12 marches on with 10 teams and a brave front. And the happy face is not a fraud. Sooners and Cowboys alike are in good stead. Easier conference, rosier path to exalted status, and more money to boot. Hard to argue with.
But the collapse of the proposed Pac-16 was lost opportunity for OU and OSU. Both would have been better off in a Southwest precinct of the NCAA's first mega-conference. Not for athletic reasons. Athletically, the new and diminished Big 12 will be just fine for Sooners and Cowboys. Probably better than a passage to the Pacific. OU's road to football national championships is easier staying strictly in the Central Time Zone. OU-Texas darn near will be a national semifinal. OSU's pursuit of a conference football title will be less severe. Still treacherous, yes, but only OU and Texas are vastly superior. In a Pac-16, USC and Oregon would stand in the way, too, along with more equals. Other sports would have been fun and fruitful out West; that doesn't mean they can't be sporting here in Middle America. But the lost opportunity centers on issues even more important than scoreboards and banners. The Pac-16 offered academic enhancement and long-term stability. Discount neither. Both are pearls of great price. OU and OSU leaders alike were excited about a pending alliance with Pac-10 universities. OU in a league with Cal-Berkeley? OSU in a league with Stanford? That kind of association cannot be purchased. Academic elitism wears me slick. But that doesn't mean it's not valuable for the schools lucky enough to possess it. You're known by the company you keep, and just as the Missouri governor was fired up to align his school with exclusive Big Ten universities, Oklahomans in both Norman and Stillwater were entranced at the idea of becoming allies with USC and UCLA, they were just smart enough not to crow about it. We sometimes forget that football teams exist to bolster the mission of universities, not the other way around. And the Pac-16 offered stability, which the Big 12 cannot. The Big 12 did not go from dysfunctional league to hunky dory just by exorcising Nebraska and Colorado. Happy face could become happy trails. "I'm worried about the future,” said a Big 12 administrator in a rare moment of truthfulness from a decision-maker. What happens when the realignment winds again blow? When Notre Dame comes to its senses and joins the Big Ten? When the SEC decides that expansion could mean an even bigger piece of the pie? Consolidation is a fact of life. Conoco and Phillips merged because they knew if they didn't get big enough, they could become part of Exxon. Universities know if they don't keep the colleagues, they could be swallowed up. The Pac-10 has courted Texas twice.
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