Texas and Oklahoma are going to join the SEC. I’m not saying it’s a done deal, but let’s be honest with ourselves. There’s little in the current college football landscape to suggest that Texas and OU won’t join the SEC as soon as they can, leaving the Big 12 high and dry.
I hate it.
There’s lots of reasons to hate this move, but first and foremost is that it is bad for fans of college football in general. We’re so used to only thinking of what’s best for our team or our conference, we never step back and think abut the health of the game itself.
Since 2009, Texas’ last season as a national title contender, Oklahoma State (101), TCU (93), Kansas State (85), Baylor (84) and WVU (81) have all won more games than UT’s 78. Texas Tech has either matched or exceeded the Horns’ win total four times in that span; Iowa State has done so twice in the past four years and is coming off of a top-10 finish, its best ever. Texas indeed strong-armed the conference for decades and was allowed to start its own network within the ESPN family, and none of it helped the school to achieve a competitive football advantage. And yet, because of financial might, UT still got to decide to blow up the conference and leave eight other programs to fight for scraps and far diminished revenue.
I mean, it’s just gross.
Big schools have always pushed around little schools. They have more money, better facilities, better coaches, and better players. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. LSU wins a lot because it has won a lot in the recent past, giving it access to the tools to keep winning.
And yes, over the past decade, the top schools have hoarded their share of talent more than ever before. The gap between the haves and the have nots is bigger than its ever been in college football history.
I’m not saying that’s heathy, it’s not. But at least it was on the field of play. The worst part about this is that the little guys have been beating Big Bad Texas… so Texas picked up its ball and went home. It turns out all of those wins on the field of play didn’t matter because the only stats that matter were TV audience and total revenue. The TCU and Iowa States of the world took an unfair playing field and sill managed to win.
Only to find out their wins don’t matter. Oklahoma, at least, has beaten the hell out of the Big 12. But for these teams to overcome all of these structural disadvantages only to be consigned to football oblivion because of these same structural reasons and completely unrelated to actual on-field success… well, it sucks. It’s simply contrary to the ideals of sport.
This Isn’t Like Previous Expansion
And I know the objection: hey, the SEC has expanded before, so why are you complaining now? The difference is that the SEC has previously added solid, middle class programs: Arkansas and South Carolina, then Texas A&M and Missouri.
Of those, Texas A&M is the winningest program, and they rank 22nd all-time in victories. A&M hasn’t won a national title since 1939. I’m not saying this to make fun of the Aggies (well, maybe a little…), but to illustrate that the SEC wasn’t going whale hunting. We made the league stronger by adding good programs, but not elite ones.
Texas and Oklahoma ranked 4th and 6th all-time in wins. The only SEC program ahead of them is Alabama. They walk in the door, and they will immediately demand the biggest seat at the table and the most influential voice. And that is not how things work in the SEC.
You’ve Let the Wolf in the Door
We can give Texas a pass for blowing up the SWC. It was hopelessly corrupt, and nearly every program except Rice was on NCAA probation of some sort at the time of its demise. They had to get out of that toxic environment.
But the history of the Big 12 is pretty much that of Texas refusing to play nice with its conference mates. When you ask a school who has bolted from the Big 12 the reason why, the biggest reason is almost always “Texas.”
Nebraska fled to the Big 10 to get away from Texas. Missouri joined the SEC, a conference they don’t exactly make a perfect cultural fit. That’s how desperate they were to get away. And then, of course, there’s A&M.
Colorado is probably the only school to exodus the Big 12 for non-Texas reasons. And that’s just because they got out prior to the LHN and the more inequitable monetary arrangements which weakened the Big 12 for so long.
When has Texas ever demonstrated that they are a good faith partner? The SEC is a hyper-competitive conference, but to its credit, it is largely cohesive off the field. We want to kill each other on the field of play and I’m not saying its entirely harmonious, but schools have shown the ability to work together and put the good of the whole over the individual.
Auburn, a school I loathe, agreed to be in the West despite being geographically east, and ended up surrendering some of its dearest rivalries. LSU played Texas A&M on the road for the first two seasons post-expansion in baseball to accommodate the schedule. LSU’s also been the designated rival for the western newcomers, to anchor that team in the SEC.
Yes, there are long-standing issues. Permanent rivals, most obviously, but the SEC has long been able to keep its private disagreements just that. The money certainly makes that easier, but the schools have worked hard to put up a united front or at the very least, deal with political issues in a reasonable way.
Texas has spent ten years negotiating, essentially, from the barrel of a gun. Maybe they slide in and act like a good conference citizen, but I’m not confident. They were upsetting the apple cart when they weren’t even winning, imagine what happens if they start contending for titles again.
Seriously, the Big 12 is Getting Screwed
The Pac-12 already looks reluctant to expand. I mean, how could a conference with such cosmopolitan hotspots as Corvallis and Pullman deign to take Oklahoma State, one of the most all-around successful sports programs in the NCAA, or TCU and Baylor, a bloodsport rivalry with well-rounded departments which contend for titles in multiple sports?
We’re looking at the best Iowa State team in, well, ever. Matt Campbell has saved one of the most moribund programs in the nation. Their reward? Maybe a safe harbor in the AAC. It’s just a slap in the face to fans who want to see a team overcoming its disadvantages to actually be rewarded for it.
Maybe West Virginia can find safe harbor in the ACC before the SEC decides it wants even more money, and raids them for Clemson and Florida St, further destabilizing the conference. The truth is, there is nowhere safe from the SEC right now. It takes what it wants
This is Who We Are
Look, I’ve portrayed Texas as a villain above. And their hands aren’t clean in any of this expansion era. But at the end of the day, this isn’t about Texas, it’s about the SEC. The SEC is the all powerful Death Star which is willing to destroy another conference just to poach two more teams.
Two more teams we don’t remotely need. If Texas and Oklahoma don’t join, the SEC is still the best conference overall. It still can print money at will. It still will get a huge number of the playoff slots. But you know what? What matters most to the SEC is a few bucks more.
It just means more. Money, that is. And it can never be enough.
All of the college football universe is ready to make fun of Texas A&M fans for rightly throwing a fit over this. It took a lot for them to end a century-long relationship with Texas, but they did it to forge their own identity apart from the Horns.
And now they are back to being little brother again. They are absolutely getting screwed here. So is Mizzou, who also jumped to the SEC to avoid dealing with Texas’ political maneuvering. They will vote for this expansion in the end because, well, it’s all about a bigger payday. But don’t get confused, we are stabbing our conference mates in the back.
We can portray Texas as the bad guys here all we want, but that’s just something to make us feel better. The truth is, we’re the villains. We don’t have to ruin college football in the pursuit of a slightly bigger pile of money, but that’s what we’re going to do. Because that’s the thing we care about.
Maybe the Big 12 was doomed to die. But we didn’t have to be the ones who wielded the knife.