While the title of this post may be a bit melodramatic, all signs point toward the end of the Big 12 -- at least as we know it -- by shortly after noon on Friday. I'm happy that I will actually be in New York when this occurs, as Kansas City is pretty much ground zero for the bomb Nebraska is about to drop on the Big 12.
I'll apologize in advance for what is sure to be the rambling nature of this post. There are so many thoughts running through my head right now about what is going on, and as hard as I've tried, I can't seem to piece together one coherent, central theme for a post. So what you're going to get won't be a comic-but-sadly-realistic masterpiece like Panjandrum provided earlier this week, but rather a stream-of-consciousness ramble from a young man who is equal parts frustrated, resigned, sad and angry with what has happened to the Big 12.
As pathetic as this probably sounds to the hard-hearted Internet crowd, my overriding reaction to the Big 12's imminent demise is sadness. When I started this site on SB Nation, I recreated several of the previous posts from my independent blog. Among them was one titled "The Best of the Big 12." It was a recitation of my favorite things in the conference, and it ran the gamut. I grew up a Big 8 fan, and learned to be a Big 12 fan midstream. Over time, my team affiliation changed, but my enjoyment of the history of the conferences was constant.
First of all, I'm going to drop what is probably a bit of a shocker. I don't really blame Dan Beebe for what has happened. Was he the best conference commissioner in the world? No. Did he apparently really drop the ball on a college football playoff? Yes. But blaming him for every single thing that's happened is like blaming the president when a hurricane or oil spill strikes the Gulf Coast. Take a civics class. The man at the top really doesn't have that much power.
OK, that said, back to the topic at hand. When I was 11 years old, a bunch of rich, greedy professional baseball players got mad at a bunch of rich, greedy, baseball team owners and a long strike ensued. To say that I loved baseball when I was 11 would be a grand understatement. My favorite team was the Atlanta Braves (Turner Broadcasting FTW), but it didn't matter who was playing, I watched every inning of every World Series game, hanging on every pitch. I played the game in the summer. I knew all the stats. Then, all of a sudden, watching the game I loved on the highest level was taken away. The World Series wasn't played. Suddenly, I saw behind what I loved and realized that the men playing the game and running the league didn't care about me, or the millions of other baseball fans. They cared about money, and nothing more. It hasn't been until this very year that my interest in MLB returned in earnest. I went years without attending a major league game or even watching them on TV.
Time will only tell if my reaction to this sea change in college football will be similar, but if K-State ends up on the outside looking in, as projected, I can't imagine having any interest in an Ohio State-Florida showdown. I'll be a fan of K-State until the day I die, whatever level they're playing on, but the events of the last six months have brought the lesson that my 11-year-old mind learned in August 1993 from baseball to college athletics. No matter what the NCAA says, no matter what these hypocritical and greedy university presidents and athletic directors say, it's not about the student-athletes. It's not about the fans. It's about money, plain and simple.
By choosing money over history and tradition today, Nebraska toppled the first domino that will change college athletics forever. Tom Osborne, Harvey Perlman, and the Nebraska Board of Regents have made it clear that they don't care about the decades of history they share with Iowa State, Missouri, Kansas State, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. They didn't do this because they don't think the Big 12 is a viable conference moving forward. Seven months ago, did anybody question whether the Big 12 was anything but a powerhouse conference, in football and basketball, for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that it wasn't the highest grossing league?
Don't say this is about academic standing, Nebraska. Sure, your academic "ranking" will probably climb as you join the CIC, but the vast majority of your fans don't care about that unless it's the supporting phrase to "five national championships." You tout your all-america athletes, while conveniently forgetting about the fact that you fought tooth-and-nail for unlimited partial-qualifier eligibility when this conference began.
Don't say this is about the Big 12 being against you, Nebraska. You'll throw all those 11-1 votes out there as evidence that everyone was wrong and out go get you. One of those 11-1 votes was for a conference championship game. Yeah, that was a really fucking terrible idea. Only brought more money in to your athletic department every year. The other was partial qualifiers. I suppose it's true that limiting partial qualifiers is one more hypocritical gloss on the blatant hypocrisy that is big-time college athletics, but the pitiful use of "partial qualifiers" as the crutch upon which you based all your problems got old quickly. The reason that Nebraska fell from its rightful perch among college football's elite couldn't possibly have been that Tom Osborne mandated that they hire a long-time assistant who was woefully unqualified to be the head coach of a major-college football team. Or that they followed that guy up with one of the worst hires in the history of college football (right up there with Ron Prince). No, if they had been permitted partial qualifiers, all would have been just fine under Frank Solich and Bill Callahan. Oh yeah, and one final comment on this topic: I'll bet you right now no Nebraska fan will mention another 11-1 vote that happened recently. That would be the 11-1 vote against the University of Texas on the conference's fifth tiebreaker to break a three-way divisional tie in football. It seems that, rather than trying to tear any one university down, most Big 12 schools are capable of recognizing a galactically stupid idea when they see it, and voting accordingly.
That last mention turns my attention to Texas. We really appreciate that you "did everything you could to save the Big 12" recently. Because it's obvious you were willing to go to any lengths necessary to save this conference, other than actually, you know, doing something. Texas was willing to do anything, as long as it still got a disproportionate share of the revenue. Texas was willing to do anything, as long as the conference changed an obscure tiebreaker rule that probably never would have affected it again. Texas was willing to do anything, so long as it was permitted to start up its own TV network, with no interference from a conference-wide network that would benefit all schools, or a new deal from FOX this week that might have saved the conference.
We shouldn't have been surprised. In the past 20 years, two major conferences have been relegated to the dustbins of history, and Texas was a member of both of them. It was tired of the cheating that went on in the SWC, and its perception that all the member schools were out to get the big, bad Longhorns. Despite running the show in the Big 12, getting more money from the conference than any other school, and bullying the conference into letting it explore its own network, Texas wasn't interested in going to the table with Nebraska to work this out. Instead, it backed a short-term ultimatum (along with the other schools, there's blame to share) and, when Nebraska unsurprisingly bolted for greener pastures when the offer arrived, threw up its hands and said "well, we tried!" as it sprinted off to the west coast for the promise of a new conference network, which will preclude it having its own network, and the promise of riches from a conference that currently hands out less money to its member institutions than does the Big 12. You were committed to the Big 12 from the beginning, you said. And it was true, except that your commitment was only valid so long as it didn't affect $0.01 of your bottom line. God forbid a conference work together to improve the standing of each of its schools.
If I sound like a bitter old man rather than an idealistic 27-year-old, well, sorry. College football and college basketball replaced baseball as my favorite distraction from the pressures of everyday life. Now, because of an accident of geography and, to me, unfathomable greed on every side, the school I've chosen as my own will likely be relegated the outer fringes of the college athletics world, if not shut out entirely if (when?) these new conferences bolt the NCAA and set up their own semi-professional league. And yet, I'm not sure that competing at the highest level of college athletics is what I'll miss most.
I think I'll miss checking off the list of road trips I've made within the conference even more. I think I'll miss the fact that, no matter which conference town I go to, I know their history and they know mine. I think I'll miss going to Austin and watching K-State break TXHoney's heart. I think I'll miss the Red River Shootout, and the Border War, and the Bedlam Games as games that meant something in the Big 8/12. I think I'll miss watching Ralphie run. I think I'll miss Peter's thoughtful analysis, Rock M's brilliant statistics, Jon's curmudgeonly anger, Double T's thorough and passionate coverage, and all the other SB Nation Big 12 blogs when they're no longer covering Big 12 schools. I know I'll miss the Unholy Alliance.
In the end, none of it should matter too much, though. It will be much more important to me that I have a healthy family, a prosperous career, and children who grow up to be successful. Keep sports in perspective, folks. It's not war and peace. It's not the death of a loved one. If the worst thing that happens to me because of this is that I no longer care about watching four football games every Saturday that don't involve K-State, I can already think of one benefit.
I'll get to play more golf.