Column: Why Go West When You Can Go East?

As my colleague, TB, pointed out this week, it would appear that the Big 12, for all intents and purposes, is dead. At the very least, the Big 12 that we all knew and loved (with a side of melancholy) is going to be a distant memory. With Nebraska and Colorado's departure, a union of schools going back to 1947 has been severed in the span of one day.

I'm not here to lament the loss of Colorado and Nebraska. It saddens me to a degree that I didn't even anticipate, and even though the remainder of this dysfunctional group may still carry on, the events of the last week prove that this is not a long-term and sustainable union. Texas, with it's ability to create a destructively parasitic relationship with every conference it touches, has the itch to leave by all accounts, and even though the plan floated out onto the Interwebs makes about as much sense as a romantic comedy staring Brad Pitt and Rosie O'Donnell, they seem determined to make it happen.

Regardless of whether or not Texas chooses to stay or go, it's time to start thinking towards the future. We've allowed ourselves to be caught in the undertow of the great Red River, assuming that our Texan overlords would grant us a level of stability and prosperity that would allow us to maintain our BCS status in a dynamic landscape. Even though other conferences had forward thinking ideas of revenue sharing, starting conference networks, and expanding into new television markets, we seemed to be okay with standing still under the burnt orange umbrella because, well, Texas would never leave a conference they ran themselves, right?

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm tired of it. I had a lot of hope that this conference would stay together, mainly because of the fear of the unknown, and because a lot of the proposed moves made little sense, but I'm no longer afraid. I see a brighter future out there for us, and it's one that frees us from the constant fear of what will happen when Texas decides to, you know, be Texas.

I say we go East. And by 'we', I mean Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa State.

There have been some rumblings that the Big East is looking to scoop up the leftovers of the Big 12, and after spending some time reading about the proposed plan and what they have to offer, it may be a home run for all schools involved. There are currently eight schools that play football, and the addition of four would allow them to create East and West divisions that could give them the ever lucrative championship game. Even if the Big Ten were to poach a school or two, the geographic footprint of the conference would easily allow them to promote a mid-major school in large metro area (i.e. Memphis, UCF). So the ability to plug and play gives you some added level of stability, even if you are the refugee BCS football conference. Most importantly, they are a BCS conference.

Also, it's important to note that the Big East is thinking about creating their own network. As we've come to find in the past few weeks, that's kind of a big deal. And in reading articles and doing some research on the topic, I was surprised to find who they have to assist them with this process - Paul Tagliabue. Yes, the same one that made the NFL into the most powerful sporting organization in North America. He's a Special Advisor to conference commissioner, John Marinatto, on strategic television agreements. Tell me that you wouldn't someone like that in your corner when you're negotiating your next television agreement?

One of the big things we also learned in this whole 'Made-for-TV' expansion mess is that to have your own network, you need content, and a lot of it. The Big Ten wants to expand their footprint and add teams because they spend a lot of time playing 'Classic' games and showing campus programming. Obviously, that's not going to drive a lot of advertising revenue. The Big East currently has 16 members (1 partial - Notre Dame), and the addition of four would give them nearly unprecedented numbers for a basketball conference. Can you imagine a two division basketball conference that consisted of the following schools?

  • Kansas
  • Kansas State
  • Missouri
  • Uconn
  • Syracuse
  • West Virginia
  • Cincinnati
  • Georgetown
  • Villanova
  • Pitt
  • Marquette
  • Louisville

I could keep going on, but you get the drift. The basketball match-ups, alone, would make that conference network worth having on your cable tier. And if you think about it, historically, the four of us are primarily basketball centric universities that have had short time periods of football success. We know, at the end of the day, where our bread is buttered. Why get caught up in football frenzy when we could create our own basketball super conference?

Granted, I realize that football pays the bills. But the Big East is more than adequate in that regard. If the conference is able to keep twelve members in some capacity, they'll most likely maintain BCS status. In the past few years, Louisville, Cincinnati, and West Virginia have all experienced a significant amount of football success. In 2006, the Big East won the Bowl Challenge Cup by going 5-0 in their games. This is rogue's gallery of schools that know how to get down in football.

Most of all, in all of this talk of westward expansion by the Big 12, it's important to remember that ESPN absolutely LOVES them some Big East. LOVES IT. By joining that conference, all of our schools will still be able to recruit, nationally, in college basketball, and we'll have an increased and favorable media presence in the areas we recruit most. Also, and don't underestimate this sole fact...we'll play our games while people are still up watching television. We can dominate Big Monday on ESPN while the Texas/Arizona match-up can tip off at 10 EST. Try walking into a New York City recruit's home and tell him that their family can look forward to watching you play on the Pac-10 network right around the time they're getting ready to head to bed. Or you can tell them that they can play the conference title game in Madison Square Garden. Take your pick.

At the end of the day, I think that's why this marriage will work, and why it's one we need to pursue. Kansas State and Iowa State, most definitely, are a couple of schools that are the misfortunate recipients of being land grant schools in flyover states, but we have the invaluable designation of being BCS schools, and Kansas State has the bragging rights of being a Big 12 conference champion and BCS participant in the last eight years. Times have been lean as of late, but KSU is a respectable football school, and Iowa State has been nothing if not solid during the better part of the last decade. If you're a conference, like the Big East, that desperately wants to remain a BCS conference during and after the rounds of realignment, the best thing you can do is invite as many BCS schools as you can to the party, no matter what their market looks like. And our stadium size and average attendance fall right into the wheelhouse of the Big East schools. We would no longer be at a disadvantage to schools who have 80,000+ seat stadiums. We would actually be in the upper half of the Big East in terms of average attendance. So that would also make us an attractive addition; we're a good fit.

My plea, to Kansas and Missouri, is to keep as much of the old Big 8 together as possible. I don't say this because I think it improves our chances to get into the Big East; I think KSU and ISU can probably do that on their own. I say it because the four of us have history going back to 1913, and I know that I don't want to live in a college sports world where Kansas, Missouri, and Kansas State live in separate conferences. For Missouri, the Big Ten invite will most likely never come, and Kansas gains nothing by being a potential Pac-16 alternate and playing 8th fiddle to the California and Texas schools...if A&M goes to the SEC, Baylor can't get crowbared in by the Texas legislature, and KU wins a one-on-one battle with Utah. In the Big East, immediately, they'd get to flex their muscle as a kingpin in the greatest basketball conference in the land and continue playing football against the schools that they've played against for nearly one hundred years, in a conference they'd be competitive in and not have an inherent disadvantage.

In this age of insanity, where geography and rivalry take a backseat to potential revenue and rating, the four of us have an opportunity to seize the best of both worlds together. We can remain, united, and join an unorthodox super-conference free of the Texas' and Nebraska's of the world, and we can continue to stay relevant and potentially thrive in a conference that we help save.

It's logical. It's potentially very profitable, and we can do it together. Why go West when you can go East?

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