DALLAS — This is a message I can deliver in person Monday and Tuesday while attending Big 12 football media days.
Dear Big 12: Sorry. It’s not happening.
No way is Nebraska coming back to the league it left in 2011, nor is it having any second thoughts about joining the Big Ten. As for the fans? Many look back fondly, and with good reason. The old stomping grounds had a lot of great places and faces.
But as an institution, Nebraska isn’t going anywhere.
The conference-realignment gossip wheel got oiled again this month when Oklahoma President David Boren told his regents the Big 12 is lagging other Power Five leagues by having the fewest members: 10.
“When we look at football playoffs, our conference is bumping up against conferences with 12 and 14 members,” Boren said, “I believe that we are psychologically disadvantaged because we are a smaller conference.”
Boren is a smart man and a very savvy politician. He’s a former governor (1975-79) and U.S. senator (1979-94) from the Sooner state.
Publicly proclaiming your league “psychologically disadvantaged” isn’t idle chit-chat. That’s a loud-and-clear shot that one of the Big 12’s biggest dogs wants action, as in expanding to 12 teams.
Raising the issue in July — the slowest news cycle of the sports calendar — guaranteed days of talk, text and commentary. What followed was speculation on whether Nebraska would ever switch back to the Big 12.
Boren’s comments are exactly why the Huskers left the Big 12 for the Big Ten. They are tired of the drama.
Nebraska, despite its athletic history and name recognition, must always deal with being a small-population state. The Big Ten likely wouldn’t have been interested had the Big Ten Network, in its infancy at the time, not needed more programming with a big-name tie.
With television/technology money affecting college athletics more than ever, membership in a league that has had stability issues like the Big 12 creates too much danger of getting left out of the power structure in any future shakeup.
You don’t see Big Ten presidents lobbing grenades at Commissioner Jim Delany about being “disadvantaged.” The Big Ten is the poster boy for long-term stability and singular vision, which is what NU craved.
Some say stability and singular vision is code language for stodgy and boring. That’s for you to decide. It wouldn’t surprise me, if you put Nebraska’s conference affiliation to a fan vote, that the Big 12 would win.
I still hear from Husker fans who rightfully note the increased travel time and costs to reach Big Ten venues — and it shows in seeing road football crowds of 5,000 in red instead of 15,000 to 25,000 like in the past.
To NU fans, Maryland and Rutgers might as well be Saturn and Jupiter. There is a lot of longing for those one-day trips to Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Missouri.
The talent level and pace of play in football and basketball in the Big Ten also bothers some who miss the Big 12, according to my correspondence. Sportswriters notice those things, too, though we don’t get a vote.
The topic of Nebraska looking at a mulligan on conference affiliation was — and maybe still is — hot in these parts.
Early Sunday evening, as I checked into my downtown Dallas hotel, I ran into longtime Tulsa World sportswriter and friend Bill Haisten, who also is a talk-radio host. When I told him I had a column to finish before I could go to dinner, he asked for the topic.
When I told him it was about Nebraska not even thinking about the Big 12, he snapped his fingers in disappointment.
“We spent two entire segments of our radio show on that,” Haisten said. “People were interested, and kind of hoping.”
For Nebraska, Big Ten stability trumps Big 12 drama. Proof comes in something else Boren recently discussed — Texas’ Longhorn Network, something Nebraska and UT argued about strenuously for years.
“The elephant in the room remains the network south of us that has struggled,” said Boren, increasing the jab by not mentioning Texas by name. “It’s a problem.”
The ESPN-affiliated Longhorn Network has battled distribution problems from the beginning. Texas kind of cares but kind of doesn’t because it gets paid really well whether the network is widespread or not.
The problem is the deal prohibits the Big 12 from creating a league-wide network like the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 have. That creates a further national recognition imbalance in a league too often set into turmoil by the “haves” — particularly Texas — creating individual advantages over the group.
We’ll see what Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says Monday morning about that issue, and about the Big 12 being the lone Power Five league left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
The Big 12 fell all over itself touting its “One True Champion” motto, since it is the only conference whose football teams play all other members in the regular season.
Then late in the season, with Baylor and TCU high in the national rankings and tied atop the league, the Big 12 decided maybe it didn’t have one true champion, refusing to declare a tiebreaker.
It was a gamble trying to get Baylor and TCU into the four-team playoff. It backfired, like a few too many other Big 12 issues through the years.
Those things don’t happen in the Big Ten. And that’s why Nebraska will stay where it is.
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