WILLIAMS: The Big 12 finally feels like a functional family

ARLINGTON, Texas — For years, Midwest sports writers have traveled to the blistering hot Dallas metroplex in the middle of July, only to leave more confused about the current state and future of the league than when we arrived. 

The Big 12 has been damn entertaining over the years but despite what anybody tells you, “stable” has never been a word used to describe it. 

I’m just going to come out and speak the truth. Texas – and to a lesser extent Oklahoma – has been a giant pain in the ass for well over a decade. 

The Longhorns have been the equivalent of Logan Roy in the popular HBO show “Succession.” A rich, powerful egomaniac that continuously alienates his own children – this being the rest of the Big 12. He’s never content with anything, is verbally abusive and consistently blames everybody else for his own problems.

In the past 10 years or so, if the Big 12 was one big neighborhood, you had a bunch of middle to lower-class homes and one giant mansion at the end of the street. Yet on Halloween night, the stingy mansion owners gave bite-sized candy bars to the poor kids.

Oklahoma, while undoubtedly winning a lot of games, never could quite afford the mansion that daddy had. If we’re still on the Succession kick, think of the Sooners and Kendall. They so badly want to be Texas, but just can’t ever get the job done. 

Let’s be real. The above conundrum is the case in conferences all across the country. It’s always been this way. Ohio State and Michigan call the shots in the Big Ten and, along with a few others, pay the bills for the rest of the league. The SEC no doubt has its power players, while Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and others are stage-five clingers. Don’t even get me started on the ACC, which is well on its way to moving to an unequal revenue share in the future to appease Clemson and Florida State. 

On that note, I never understood why fans are so obsessed with conference television revenue. 

I’m sure Rutgers fans (AKA, Cousin Greg for you Succession fans) and their 12-56 record since joining the Big Ten are thrilled right now to be getting the same media revenue checks as Penn State. What a blast! 

Will SEC or Big Ten programs lower ticket prices for fans now that they are cashing larger TV checks? Are hot dogs cheaper when you want to feed your growing family at a game? Are athletic departments no longer asking for donations because the TV contract has grown?

Hell no. Because none of this has anything to do with the fans. It’s for coaching salaries, buyouts (burning money) and facilities that you will never use. 

But, together for the first time, this new Big 12 feels different. 

Some schools have more money. Others have better tradition. Geography favors some over others. But after Texas and Oklahoma bounce following the upcoming season, the houses on this block are all fairly similar, which is a refreshing and rare sight in high-major football. Frankly, we have never seen it before in the modern era. 

That’s why in his second-ever media day address on the big stage in Jerry World when Brett Yormark touted that “there has never been a better time to be a part of the Big 12 Conference,” I actually believe and agree with him. 

The Big 12 has always been entertaining. Dating back to the epic Texas Tech Air Raid teams to the height of the Mike Gundy era in Stillwater, it’s a league that used to be mocked for its style of play that now looks like an innovator (because if we’re using the old barbs towards the Big 12, the SEC no longer plays defense). 

I still don’t know this Yormark very well, but he is everything I ever wanted in regard to a leader for the Big 12. Yormark, the former executive for Roc-Nation (for the record, Jay-Z is the greatest hip-hop artist of all time), is perhaps a little too talkative for my taste, but I’m certainly not going to complain about it. He’s brash. He’s confident. He’s pushing different buttons. It kind of reminds me of what Jamie Pollard did for a stale Iowa State athletics department in the mid-2000s. 

Yormark is exactly what this new Big 12 needs. Fresh ideas and attempting to control your own narrative. Playing offense in every way. Every hit won’t be a home run, but shooters shoot. Yormark is a shooter.

The Big 12 is about to lose its two biggest brands, but this league feels more fun than ever. There’s incredible football parity.

“There used to be a few lay-ups, back in the day,” said longtime Big 12 guy and now Houston head coach Dana Holgerson. “There aren’t any lay-ups anymore.”

The Big 12 is without a doubt the best basketball league in America.

Something that goes under the radar, the league now has one of the most engaged fan bases in college sports. 

Yormark impressively noted that the Big 12 added over 100,000 Twitter and Instagram followers last calendar year. The Big 12 now has the second-largest social media following among all conferences in college athletics. It’s because, unlike in the Pac-12, these fan bases actually care. Unlike the newest members of the Big Ten, this league wasn’t thrown together for faux television footprints. 

The new Big 12 is a group of ornery misfits that have all been told they aren’t good enough to live on the big block. These schools aren’t looking for a bigger house because they know they can’t afford it. They are content with what they have. 

I like that. 

From an Iowa State standpoint, football-wise, I’ve never been more bullish about the program’s long-term future. Don’t get me wrong. The job is still challenging and it always will be. But for the first time in history, the Cyclones are punching at their own weight class. 

My personal preference in life is to disrupt the elite and cut against the grain. 

It feels like this new Big 12 is unified, smiling and preparing to do just that in the next era of college athletics.