The Big Ten may forever have more money, but the conference also will always be remembered, in part at least, for being the league that reacted to one hell of a power move made by the Big 12.
You’re welcome, Oregon and Washington.
For years, we’ve heard about the desire of those two schools in the Pacific Northwest to secure a spot in the Big Ten. And, for years, we saw the Big Ten slow-play things to the point of uncertainty, leaving folks from coast to coast to wonder whether the two Pac-12 teams would ever get the invitation that they and so many others covet.
And then the Big 12 snagged Colorado, opening the door for the demise of the Pac-12, and the Big Ten pounced, adding Oregon and Washington on Friday to pair with USC and UCLA in the west coast wing of the conference.
Had they not, it might not have been long before you saw Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark and crew make their pitch to Oregon and Washington to join the Big 12.
Truth be told, if the Big Ten didn’t want them — or didn't want to act on it — the Big 12 very well may have, and the Ducks and Huskies would’ve haaaaadd to view the suddenly-strong Big 12 as a more desirable landing spot than whatever is to become of the Pac-12.
If the realignment madness has taught us anything these past 10 or so years, it’s that what you think you know can change insanely quickly and things you didn’t think were possible very much are.
One morning you’re a 100-year-old league with great tradition and an impressive list of schools and programs and the next you’re on the brink of extinction, with Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State as your biggest brands.
The Big 12 was there once. And it was scary for them just like it is for the Pac-12 today. Or what’s left of it anyway.
But the Big 12 hung in there. Oklahoma and Texas stayed just long enough to keep the league alive and now, without those two powerhouse brands, the Big 12 will move forward with the opportunity to create an entirely new identity. They’ve already planned for a new look next year. And maybe that should’ve been the thing that tipped us off to what Yormark was up to.
In short, his swift and significant acts completely reshaped two power conferences and put a third on the doorstep of becoming unrecognizable. The Big Ten will play this as their brass making power moves. And that's fine. But Oregon and Washington aren't in tonight if not for the Big 12 being incredibly bold.
Plenty of others deserve praise (Big 12 leaders, Colorado’s athletic department, ESPN and Fox and the Big Ten) and some deserve blame (looking at you, Pac-12 commish George Kliavkoff) but it’s entirely plausible that none of this would’ve been possible without Yormark’s vision and willingness to act on it.
Relatively quickly, we reached a point where the leadership at Utah and Arizona State, though wanting to stay in the Pac-12, all but had to join the Big 12 just to ensure a safe landing spot and secure future. Think about that. One man’s move and the stability of the conference he runs, forced two proud universities with strong athletic departments to make the decision to change conferences in a matter of a few days.
Schools like that were never going to get the golden ticket from the Big Ten or the SEC, so they have to view their current reality as nothing but a major win. Yormark sure does.
“We are thrilled to welcome Arizona, Arizona State and Utah to the Big 12,” Yormark said in a statement released Friday night, echoing statements he made about Colorado's return last week. “The Conference is gaining three premier institutions both academically and athletically, and the entire Big 12 looks forward to working alongside their presidents, athletic directors, student-athletes and administrators.”
The past is the past now. It doesn’t matter. And the newest new Big 12 schools should only be looking forward.
Sure, they’ll shed a few tears for the downfall of the Pac-12 — ASU more than Utah — but they’re safe. And it’s far better to be them today than the Pac-12 brothers they're leaving behind, which appear destined to partner with the Mountain West and maybe a few new additions like UNLV, San Diego State, SMU and more in a conference that will only be seen as second rate.
The Big Ten and SEC are the Power 2. That’s undeniable and, at this point, it’s hard to envision that ever changing.
But the Big 12 is the Solo 3, and just as no one can touch the two at the top, none of the conferences below the Big 12 in earnings, prestige and promise for the future, can touch Yormark’s Big 12.
Five years ago, it would’ve been hard to imagine the Big 12 Conference being the spark for the most serious round of conference realignment yet, but that’s exactly what happened. Quicker than imaginable, too.
It’s worth noting that this thing may not be done. The Big Ten adding Oregon and Washington may be just the start of another big move by that conference. And, yeah, Kansas might be in the mix to be in that conversation.
Might. And only if the Big Ten, which now has 18 members on board for 2024, wants to grow beyond 20.
Even if it isn’t, KU AD Travis Goff and company have to be thrilled with where the school, its athletic department and the conference it calls home suddenly sit in the ever-changing landscape of the comically cutthroat college athletics.
From this point on, if things change for Kansas, it’ll likely only be for the better. If things don’t, KU is just fine where it is.
How about that?
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