Gut Check

Conference realignment grinds on and once again Mizzou is at the forefront of the discussion.  The difference is that this time there appears to be a legitimate chance of the University of Missouri defecting for the SEC.  The current environment in the Big XII is one that makes it easy for many of us to support and even vigorously lobby for Mizzou's proposed move but there are those who are loath to abandon a rich history of tradition and rivalries for the uncertain future in the SEC.

Personally I've been a proponent of a move out of the Big XII due to a number of factors, most of which have been repeated far too many times already (which doesn't mean I'm not going to repeat a few of them here.)  Yet as the possibility of a conference change looms I find myself growing nostalgic and lamenting the end of the the Border War, the Unholy Alliance and so many of the other odds and ends that have provided the foundations for my love of our Tigers.

Has raw frustration and envy driven me to a hatred of the Big XII or is the desire for a idealized past swaying my better judgement?  In the end the only thing I can do is to try to rationalize it and hopefully my own poor attempt here can help (and be helped by) the rest of the RMN faithful.

To begin with I am laying down one ground rule for my part of this discussion:  The argument must be based on the environment within the Big XII and not with any prospective conference.  To put it simply, the initial question isn't what conference Mizzou should move to but the more basic one once asked by The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

I feel that much of the drive to stay in the Big XII is the history and traditions we have connected with the Big XII and the Big 8.  Most of us lament the loss of the Border War, the mere fact that we refuse to adopt the politically correct name of Border Showdown is a glimpse at how much this game means to us as a fan base.  Every hero needs a villain and in our case the Jayhawk(er)s fit the bill.  Even at the low points of our football existence KU was the a yardstick we could use to measure ourselves as a win against our rivals was enough to salve our pride at the end of a losing season.  To throw away over a hundred years of shared football history, and the deeper American history that it symbolizes, is not only difficult but heart-wrenching.  While we may discuss the possibility of keeping the Border War alive as a non-conference game it is something that can't be counted on and thus its death is a very real fear.

Kansas state, or brother in the Unholy Alliance, how I would miss you!  My favorite discussions are almost always with K-State fans simply because the conversation almost always turns to the topic of who hates the Jayhawks more.  While SEC fans may close ranks against any fan base from outside their conference, the Big XII tends to be a relationship built on antipathy, a situation that has worsened as our numbers have grown smaller.  Yet Kansas State has always been the exception to this for me and the end of the Unholy Alliance would bring me not a small amount of sadness.

Iowa State, as Mizzou improves I fear Ames a little more every time my Tigers visit.  The Cyclones are the potential David to any Goliath that dares visit them.  Watching Iowa State take down Texas, TAMU and Nebraska has brought not a small amount of joy to my life.  The fear of the Cyclones claiming another victim in the form of my Tigers has brought fear that underscores a game that many would consider a easy win.  While I have no real love for the Cyclones I respect them and would miss them.  One of the joys of a defection might be the ability to openly root for Iowa State on Saturdays.

The Big XII South.  Yes, we have a history with OU's land thieves and Texas has styled themselves as the Yankees of college football but the division difference destroyed any real chance of me developing any type of strong ties with the teams of the South.  OSU is T. Boone Pickens' spoiled child who is moving up in the world due to no small part to the monetary gifts lavished upon them.  Texas Tech is another Texas team not named the Longhorns that no longer sports the quotable insanity of Mike Leach.  Baylor is Baylor, enjoying a moment in the limelight with Hot Tub Griffin and Ken Starr's threatened litigation but we all assume that they will quickly fade once more into the background.  A ten team Big XII fired hopes that ties of respect and hatred might be formed by facing these teams every year but the loss of TAMU and designs to expand back to twelve or more teams reduce these hopes to almost nothing.  In the end I am left with little more than resentment that somehow those teams in the North are somehow considered less notable than those of the South, regardless of resume and reality.

The rest of my beloved memories?  Gone with the departure of Nebraska and Colorado.  No longer can I laugh at the media's pick of the Buffaloes as the 'dark horse' in the North.  While Kansas is our rival I hated the Huskers and the loss of that foil brings me more grief than I care to admit.  I still rank that rainy night in 2004 when Brad Smith and the Tigers finally put an end to Nebraska's dominance at the top of my football memories, even above last year's win over the Sooners.  With the departure of Nebraska one of the biggest reasons for me to defend the Big XII died as one of my favorite modern rivalries was brought to an end.

It is true that last year I had hope.  I loved the ten team Big XII as we would have a chance to form closer ties with the South and while the Huskers departed the Aggies seemed a perfect and willing replacement, sharing the same easy arrogance and immunity to facts and logic.  Yet TAMU has defected and the only potential villains we have left are those we all claim and who have foiled the Tiger's previous attempts to claim a Big XII title.

So what does the future potentially hold for the Big XII?  If the present and recent past are accurate predictors it is a future of uncertainty and woe for any team not named the Longhorns or Sooners.  The media had a field day calling TAMU a hostage but anyone familiar with the conference knows that the real hostages are the Forgotten Five.  For these schools there is no firm hope of finding a home in an AQ conference and for Texas Tech and Oklahoma State their futures are truly tied to Texas and Oklahoma.  In this state of affairs Kansas, Baylor, K-State and Iowa State are going to do what it takes to survive.  Being realistic, that means voting to keep the Big XII together despite its inequities and problems.  Kansas has already shown its willingness to bow to Bevo by allowing their conference game to be aired on the LHN and does anyone doubt that most of these schools will vote with UT to keep the financial situation "as is?"  Last but not least is that by committing to the Big XII, Missouri must surrender their right (for all intents and purposes) to leave the conference for the next six years.  Fear is a horrible foundation for a partnership and this one favors only Texas and those schools who are reliant upon Bevo's success.  For Missouri it is a set of shackles imprisoning ourselves in the gaol of the Big XII.

Then there are those who live in the hopes that expansion with save the conference and fill the coffers beyond what the SEC and B1G receive.  All I can say is that this is highly unlikely.  Boise State, BYU and TCU are the best options of a bad lot, ones that bring good, respectable football teams to the Big XII but do little to improve matters.  None of these teams bring the potential of increased revenue, a large part of the reason that they aren't currently associated with an AQ conference.  Additionally I suspect that prior to their inclusion Texas will do their best to cement the financial contracts so that there is no possibility that new members allied with Missouri and others can deny them the LHN.  In fact, the current arrangement is favorable to BYU which will likely fight as hard as UT to maintain their own network.

Last but certainly not least we turn to media rights.  I have heard the argument that the Big XII will reap new rewards with a new media contract but such a stance fall short of what is actually likely.  The Big XII, even with additions, is no longer as appealing as it once was.  Nebraska counted an entire state of fanatics and Colorado a respectable media market.  TAMU brought us another strong fan base in a populous state and it is impossible to replace those televisions with the fans from BYU, Boise State, Houston, SMU or Air Force.  Yes, the revenue may increase but it will be due to inflation and by comparison will likely fall short of what will be seen from the B1G and SEC.

Equal revenue distribution?  An argument that became almost irrelevant with the ESPN/UT partnership.  The argument was that the old situation unfairly benefited Texas and Oklahoma and now we support an agreement that only favors Texas.  Those who favored the old system based it on the fact that better teams garnered more media appearances but that isn't entirely correct.  The truth of the matter is that the teams that would have more television sets tuned to their games would be picked for airing and Texas would always win at that game.  No, the real threat of LHN is not recruiting (though that threat exists) it is the fact that it merely widens the economic advantage that Texas has over everyone else in the conference while hampering the formation of a conference network.  If Texas manages to placate the rest of the conference with the equal distribution of tier one and two monies then it will perhaps be the largest coup in college football as they will be allowed a large economic advantage while eliminating the one which Oklahoma and even Missouri now enjoy under the current system.

I realize that my own internal discussion has become less and less balanced as I have progressed but such is the way with internal arguments as we near a conclusion.  While a beloved past will sway us to what we know and anger and frustration will push for change, reason should at least hint at the true situation.  In my case I have reached a conclusion I am comfortable with: My heart now says "Stay." but my head answers with and emphatic "Go!"

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