I don’t think I make a secret of my dislike for Jay Nixon, but the blame for the slow dissolution of the Big 12 conference, if it does indeed come to that, lies probably more at the feet of Texas and Nebraska than it does at Missouri’s.
To catch you up, in case you don’t follow college athletics, the Big 12 Conference includes Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech. And in case you were wondering why you should care, this involves massive sums of revenue and big state schools, so of course politics has been involved since the conference’s inception.
The first eight schools I listed used to constitute the Big 8 Conference, and the four Texas schools were part of the Southwest Conference that itself crumbled in the mid-1990s. The Big 8 had generally strong athletic programs, while the Texas schools offered a much larger TV market. So they joined forces in the mid-1990s to form a sort of superconference, with two divisions (a North and a South – how could anyone imagine the North and South squabbling!) and a championship game. Trivia note: Baylor got in because Texas’ governor at the time had graduated from Baylor and threatened to put the kibosh on the whole deal if her school was left out.
Back to the present day. In December, the Big Ten announced they were exploring possibilities for expansion in the next several years. This is where Jay Nixon comes in. Observers speculated about many schools possibly leaving their conferences to join the Big Ten, which boasts its own TV network that doles out more money per school than any other conference, and Missouri was certainly not left out of the buzz. Jay Nixon made it publicly known that Missouri would be interested in joining the Big Ten, focusing on the academic prestige of several Big Ten schools, which are indeed more highly ranked academically than most of the Big 12 schools.
Yesterday, Nebraska, which turned out to be the Big 12 school leaving for the Big Ten, cited Nixon’s comments in its reasoning for leaving the conference. Nebraska knew it would be accused of disloyalty for leaving its longtime conference partners of nearly 100 years, so it pointed the finger elsewhere. Nevermind that the rumors were flying a lot faster about Nebraska leaving for the Big Ten when Nixon made his comments, and that Nebraska had long let its displeasure be known with various parts of the Big 12 arrangement, from its unequal revenue sharing to the Big 12 office move to Dallas. It’s Mizzou’s fault that Nebraska is disloyal!!
In a very real sense, it’s Texas’ fault. Not just the university in Austin, but the whole damn state. Too many kids live there, growing up in a state where football is second only to church in every single community in the state, and even then it’s a close call. That means a recruiting bonanza for schools in the South division, who play at least half their games in the state every year. The marquis conference game is not the old Oklahoma-Nebraska battle, which only takes place two years on, two years off, but rather the Red River Shootout in Dallas between Texas and Oklahoma. Again, that’s more eyeballs on the Big 12 South, which means more money and more attention from recruits.