Ghosts in Big 12 explosion? Really?

If you care about college athletics at all and, especially if you have any ties that bind you to the Southwest, then one of the big stories of the day is the almost certain breakup up of the Big 12 Conference.

At this point, it certainly looks like Nebraska is headed to the old and now warped Big 10 and Colorado is set to head way, way West. Here is the top of the breaking ESPN report

The Pac-10 conference announced Thursday that the University of Colorado has agreed to leave the Big 12 to join its conference.

“This is an historic moment for the Conference, as the Pac-10 is poised for tremendous growth,” commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “The University of Colorado is a great fit for the Conference both academically and athletically and we are incredibly excited to welcome Colorado to the Pac-10.” …

“The University of Colorado is a perfect match — academically and athletically — with the Pac-10,” Colorado president Bruce D. Benson said in a statement.

A source with direct knowledge of the Pac-10′s discussions about adding more Big 12 teams told ESPN’s Joe Schad on Thursday that from the Pac-10′s perspective, it’s “simply a matter of who signs next.”

So now the people who watch the TV ratings and the bank deposits are watching the University of Texas like hawks. A move there could break everything up.

Listening to the sports networks, I have been hearing people emphasize that UT — like Colorado — is a good fit for the Pac-10 in terms of “culture.” That’s an interesting word.

So what schools would get the bad end of this mega-conference divorce? That would be Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State. More on that in this faith-free Dallas Morning News report.

Wait! Did I just say the words “faith-free report” in connection with this massive breaking story in the world of sports? What does faith have to with any of this?

Well, basketball is obviously a religion in Kansas. But that isn’t what I am talking about.

If you look at the map and think in terms of “culture” there are two interesting schools that are being left out of some of these discussions. One is a former winner of the mythical national college football championship and, if wins and losses were the primary factor, would be near the top of the ratings year after year. The problem is that the school isn’t in a major conference — like, say, the Pac-10.

The other school just came within a strange call or two of beating Duke, the eventual champion, and marching into the NCAA Final Four in hoops — for men. And the women on this campus recently won the whole shooting match and have one of the nation’s flashiest young players. If you add up all the sports on campus, this cultural misfit has been a Big 12 powerhouse (but not in football).

What’s the problem with these schools? Television markets are a key, of course. However, columnist Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman thinks he has spotted a ghost, sort of.

Baylor has tried to play politics to usurp Colorado and be included in the Big 12 exodus to the Pac-10. I don’t think the Bears will succeed.

First, the Pac-10 is partial to Colorado. Always has been. The Pac-10 seems to sense a kindred spirit in the Buffs. Boulder is sort of Berkeley East; a funky, liberal bastion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And no way is Baylor attractive to the Pac-10. The Pac-10 always has been allergic to Brigham Young, another church-based school. Baylor is the nation’s largest Baptist university. A Baptist friend of mine says Baylor actually is quite liberal in Baptist eyes, but I don’t think that’s a concept Berkeley recognizes, liberal Baptist.

So is religion playing a role in this huge story? You would think that the place to look for information and news about that angle would be in some of the major Texas newspapers, or even the hometown paper in Waco. Journalists may even want to call the new president of Baylor. You may have heard of him and I imagine that people have in the Pac-10 faculty clubs. His name is Kenneth Starr.

Meanwhile, up in Utah, there are hints that the issue is in play, in part because Brigham Young doesn’t play games on Sundays (if you can imagine that).

So are we about to see a world in which there are conferences that are divided by “culture” as well as by TV market shares? Note that, in football especially, this could end up shaping who is even eligible to play for a national championship, whether mythical or literal.

This could get interesting.

Hat tip to our own Bobby Ross Jr., who certainly knows that sports is a religion in the Southwest.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Francis Beckwith

    Apparently, even “diversity” has its limits.

    If the Pac-10 were a private club on Madison and 38th with the membership rule “no Jews allowed,” we would need no tutoring to see the bigotry and condemn it swiftly.

    Excluding Baylor or BYU from the Pac-10 because of its “religious ties” is morally indistinguishable from excluding Jews from the private club, or, for that matter, excluding Baptists and Mormons from attending Cal sporting events. The fact that some Berkeley official can say this with no pause or nuance reveals how deeply entrenched, accepted, and celebrated this irrational bigotry is in the academic enclaves in which this cast of mind is formed.

  • Matt

    Whatever their motivation, it seems clear that the Pac 10 is making a pre-emptive strike against the brewing you-can’t-take-Texas-without-taking-Baylor-too movement.

  • Bobby

    As a loyal Sooner fan, I must point out that Oklahoma is the other big prize in the breakup of the Big Two Conference. Given that Notre Dame’s status started this big domino of conference realignment, my suspicion is that money and TV market shares are bigger factors than religion. But the BYU, Baylor questions are interesting. And what about TCU, a former Southwest Conference member that now complains about references to Texas Christian (instead of TCU) in sports stories?

  • Roberto

    It’s a bit far-fetched. Sure Boulder is like Berkeley but the PAC-10 is more than Berkeley or even California. Six of its 10 members are outside of California and are in located in non-Boulder like places like Tempe, AZ, Pullman, WA and Corvallis, OR.

    Baylor’s problem is that it’s a small school with a poor football history that is more likely to be a recipient of pooled conference income than a contributor. It’s only in the Big-12 because its alums in the Texas legislature made its inclusion in the Big-12 the price for allowing the 3 state schools to join.

    Look at it this way: if the goal is to make money, Colorado, OSU, A&M, Tech, not to mention UT and OU are the way to go.

  • Roberto

    Bobby: it’s entirely about money and television. Church-related schools are on the outside looking in because, with the exception-that-proves-the-rule of Notre Dame, they are not football revenue-producers.

    State schools that fail to meet the criteria, such as Kansas, KSU, and Iowa State are also going to wind up on the outside looking in. Even Missouri is likely to be left out in the cold.

    (Actually, it’s not quite entirely about money: the Big Ten invited Nebraska because, in addition to being a traditional football power, it’s a member of the American Association of Universities.)

    Dr. Beckwith: the real cultural scandal is the money-grab by universities — a money grab that is hard to square with their educational mission. Outside of tax-law circles it’s little-known that the money earned from football should be taxed as unrelated business income but it isn’t because Congress has prohibited the IRS from doing so. That’s the real scandal.

  • Chip Smith

    This has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with TV ratings for football. (I’m sure the Pac 10 would jump at the chance to add Notre Dame to their conference.)Baylor would not add anything on that score. And Baylor basketball would not add as much as KU basketball in terms of recent success, national prestige, or history, yet KU is not on any of the raiding conferences’ radar for the same reason as Baylor – they won’t add very many football viewers.

  • Brian Walden

    I don’t think religion is a story here. It’s all money (TV contracts and championship games). Football and basketball make money, other sports don’t. Even basketball can’t compete with the money football brings in – that’s why Kansas (an elite basketball school) is on the outside looking in on all of this realignment. If Baylor’s football team could bring in TV eyeballs, someone would be courting them. Conferences talk about tradition, culture, academics, and even geographical alignment – but that’s just lip service; it’s all about money from football.

  • Francis Beckwith

    Roberto is correct. The scandal is the money-grabbing.

    However, if it were merely financial and football-oriented, then Baylor (and BYU’s) religious ties are irrelevant. But in that case, why even bring it up?

    My point was not to diminish the financial aspect of this, but rather, to suggest that there is something deeply disturbing about a university culture that permits its leadership to utter these bits of prejudice without fear of reprisal or correction. Again, if the same leader had said the same thing about the university’s refusal to build an Islamic student center on his campus, it would not take long to see religious discrimination lawsuits filed against the University of California system.

  • Chip Smith

    My point was not to diminish the financial aspect of this, but rather, to suggest that there is something deeply disturbing about a university culture that permits its leadership to utter these bits of prejudice without fear of reprisal or correction. Again, if the same leader had said the same thing about the university’s refusal to build an Islamic student center on his campus, it would not take long to see religious discrimination lawsuits filed against the University of California system.

    What leader of which institution said the things you are objecting to?

  • Francis Beckwith

    The one mentioned in Chip Brown’s reporting here. Brown writes: “One top source close to the possible merger between the Pac-10 and six Big 12 schools said some schools in the Pac-10, including California-Berkeley, have a real issue with adding an institution with religious ties like Baylor to the conference.”

  • Kenny

    The remark about Berkeley not recognizing the concept ‘liberal Baptist’ is surely intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but I find it kind of odd, considering that American Baptist Seminary of the West, which is probably one of the most liberal Baptist institutions out there, is in Berkeley.

  • MikeK

    Re: Chip Brown’s reporting on Berkeley. Really? Hearsay generates these comments? Cal and the entire Pac-10 sleeps with the gods of money and TV: as does the Big-10 and the SEC.

    Consequently, the Pac-10 doesn’t believe (!) they’ll get the same kind of revenues from Baylor; I wonder if that kind of faith, though, works with BYU: seems like their alumni are like Big Red machine of Nebraska: they show up for anything related to the Cougars.

  • tmatt

    I’ve been letting this roll for a bit.

    Folks, read the post. I said that TV and money is the BIG factor. However, I was interested in that strange word “culture.”

    I think admins are focused on TV markets and money, for sure. But religion may indeed be a factor. Brigham Young and Sunday games. Baylor’s dismissal of a coach because of her sexual orientation. You think that is not discussed in the Pac-10 faculty lounges? And then with the relevant committees?

  • hoosier

    Uh, I think what gets discussed in the Pac-10 faculty lounges has absolutely zero impact on what happens with Pac-10 sports. The faculty at big U’s like Cal, UCLA, USC, etc. do not have any say over this kind of thing; it’s between the AD, the President, the big donors, and others of that ilk. College sports are entertainment franchises grafted onto educational institutions, and the folks running things try to keep them as separate as NCAA rules allow.

  • Bobby

    Headline: God answers Baylor’s prayers. Or something like that. :-)

    The Oklahoman
    is reporting that the Big 12 — er, what’s left of it — has been put back together like Humpty Dumpty, barring continued flirtations by Texas A&M with the SEC.