WILLIAMS: OWH column on ISU/Big Ten interesting but just that

It’s July. That’s mostly why a Lee Barfknecht column on conference realignment that appeared on Sunday’s Omaha World Herald created so many headlines across the Internet today. 

For the record, Lee is one of those old guard columnists who I have a ton of respect for. From the time I could read, I grew up (in southwest Iowa) soaking up everything that Lee and Tom Shatel wrote every morning. The guy is far from a “Nebraska homer,” like I’ve seen many characterize him as over the last week or so. Sure, he comes at topics like realignment with a Nebraska perspective. He does cover Nebraska and is writing for Nebraska fans. But this is a quality journalist we are talking about and I wanted to get that settled before I begin hack blogging. 

Here are the first three paragraphs to Sunday’s column:

Big Ten football fans, see if the following slate of conference games would interest you: 

Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin; Nebraska vs. Texas A&M; Iowa vs. Iowa State; Minnesota vs. Kansas.

Unfortunately, it’s not happening. But there was a time when grouping those eight schools into one division of a 16-team Big Ten was discussed at high administrative levels by members of both leagues. 


Throughout the realignment craze of 2010, I had one not-so-reliable source insisting to me that if worst came to worst, the Big Ten would “save” Iowa State, mainly for academic purposes (the source maintained that the Big Ten wasn’t actively recruiting Iowa State but it’s land-grant status would be a nice coup for the league). I didn’t believe it at the time. Even after reading the Barfknect pieces on Sunday, I don’t believe it today.

That’s especially the case after seeing what the Big Ten ultimately did – add Rutgers and Maryland to the mix. Those moves were made for television eyeballs and nothing more. 

I do believe that the sort of conversation that Barfknect described absolutely took place. There’s really no doubt about that. But what conversations weren’t taking place back then? The unstable atmosphere of the Big 12 (and college athletics as a whole) at the time required any president/athletics director worth his/her salary to do just that.

My overall conclusion from this latest “news” is still that it is far more likely that Iowa State would have ended up in some sort of weird Big East/Forgotten Five combo compared to basking in the riches of the Big Ten. 


*** Forgotten Five? One source of mine is certain that the Big East wanted nothing to do with Baylor at the time but certainly wanted to add Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and a fourth "leftover". Boy how things can change in half a decade…

*** If you’re an Iowa State fan out there stating that you would rather the Clones be in the Big 12 compared to the Big Ten, with all due respect, you are half-crazy. From the financial benefits to security to a much more manageable football schedule, it is hard for me to find a negative for Iowa State in the scenario that Barfknect threw down. 

*** I no longer buy the Texas recruiting argument that the Big 12 likes to pitch. Recruiting isn’t a regional game anymore. Everybody recruits the state of Texas. The fact is, the SEC currently owns Texas on the trail, hence why the Longhorns are prepping for another mediocre season. Thank God for Baylor and TCU’s emergence onto the national scene. Can you imagine how badly this conversation would go without the development of those two programs?


I hate being this guy…

I hate being Mr. Negative Nancy who very well could come off as an alarmist to many…

I swear that isn’t me. If you’ve read my work for long enough, I hope that you know that…

But when it comes to perception, the Big 12 still isn’t a stable league. And even if it is fine and dandy behind-the-scenes, quotes like this coming from the commissioner make that impossible for me to buy: 

“It is my understanding at the present time that the majority of our presidents and chancellors believe ten is the right number for us.  There are those that believe we should get larger, and they feel strongly about it.  There are those who believe we should stay at ten, and they feel strongly about it.  And there are probably four or five in the middle who are persuadable one way or the other.

I think that’s exactly where we’re at.  At the present time, I don’t think there’s critical mass for expansion.  It will continue to be a topic about which we spend at least a little time at every meeting talking about it.  But until that majority shifts, it’s a purely academic conversation.” 

Five more…

1) I dream of a day where the Big 12’s media will convene in Dallas in July and realignment/expansion/instability will NOT be a primary topic. This doesn’t happen at any other league’s media day…

2) Why is that the case? Well, Bowlsby just spelled it out for you. “Four or five” are in the middle and you’ve got extremes on both sides of the expansion debate (Oklahoma pro, Texas anti).

That doesn’t sound very united to me. In fact, it is very divided. 

3) None of this would have gone down had Oklahoma’s president not opened his mouth a month ago about Big 12 expansion. I will totally eat crow too. At the time, I applauded David Boren for his comments for challenging the status quo. After gaining perspective over the last month, I now see it for what it was: pointless. Without those comments, last week’s Big 12 media days would have been used to discuss, you know, actual football. Instead, I’m writing columns like this a week before the start of fall camp. 

4) The good news here for Big 12 fans is that Bob Bowslby is still one of the most forward thinking, respected men in the game. The Big 12 has a quality leader who is involved in the overall decision making process. 

5) Crystal ball: Iowa State won’t get left out. The way we (human beings) digest media has changed so much in only five years. Television eyeballs used to be the only relevant number when it came to realignment. That’s no longer the case. The only fact out there is how much change the Power Five is going through right now with larger issues like cost of attendance. There’s not much point in raiding other leagues right now. These conference are all working together. 

If I’m the Big 12, I forget about a television network. I go all digital from here on out (like Netflix or what the WWE Network has become). 

As is always the case in realignment, stay tuned. But I really think that in the year 2015, this Omaha World Herald column is Much Ado About Nothing.