Mac Engel

Big 12 will look fine when Texas is in good health

Texas needs more of this — Charlie Strong is lifted by his players after their 24-17 win over Oklahoma on Oct. 10 — for the Big 12’s image to improve.
Texas needs more of this — Charlie Strong is lifted by his players after their 24-17 win over Oklahoma on Oct. 10 — for the Big 12’s image to improve. AP

Contrary to popular sentiment, fueled mostly by the media, the Big 12 is not in a hurry to do much of anything.

ESPN is not debating if it should drop The Longhorn Network. There is no imminent announcement that the league will form its own TV channel. No additional members are about to be added. No conference title game is coming just yet.

League officials and athletic directors are meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., to discuss a variety of issues, most notably the metrics of whether adding a conference title game is a necessity.

Let me help — it’s not. Not unless you just want more money.

One conference official told me: “The only ones talking about expansion or adding a title game is the media. We aren’t looking at any of this stuff right now. What we have to do is a better job of selling ourselves. We had a great year.”

Other than creating its own TV network, the Big 12 should be in no hurry to do anything other than possibly adding that championship game because it wants the money. The league is good — Oklahoma was in the football playoff and the Final Four, and seven teams reached the NCAA basketball tournament.

That’s a good year. What the Big 12 does not have is a good image, and the only way that is going to change is if Texas is Texas.

The league will suffer as long as Texas is not in the top 10. It’s not right but when the star of the Longhorn Network can’t win football games, the perception is the league is weak.

The BCS Plus Two playoff format has existed for two years, and the Big 12 is 1 for 2 on scoring invites. As long as it is a four-team playoff, one of the Cartel Five conferences will always be left out. Since the SEC will always be in the playoff, it’s four conferences fighting for three spots.

Talks about adding a conference title game shouldn’t happen until the playoff field expands to eight teams — which it will eventually. The NCAA has already approved conference title games for 10-team leagues.

The success of Baylor, TCU and T. Boone State (Okie State) is legitimate, but the national perception (which is inaccurate) is that the Big 12 must be down because Texas is not at the top. As a result, the conference needs help to ensure it can remain on par with the Pac-12, ACC, SEC and Big Ten, hence the discussion for a league championship game.

The Big 12 and other leagues are fighting a stale myth fueled by a pack of antiquated thinkers who cannot accept that there are more than eight of the usual suspects capable of winning. The amount of money schools have poured into their athletic departments would make you sick, but it has given other programs a chance to beat blue bloods.

If the playoff committee is not going to change — which it is not — then the best the Big 12 can hope for is that Texas under Charlie Strong has a run back to respectability. Then, suddenly, the Big 12 “is back.”

College football power brokers insist they look at metrics and data of teams, but in the end what they value the most is the name on the front of the jersey.

What the Big 12 does not need are additional members who don’t bring value to the party. They don’t need another private school with a small alumni base. They don’t need a city, commuter college. And they don’t need another potential Kansas or Iowa State, which annually damage this league’s football image.

The University of Houston, University of Memphis and University of Cincinnati would swallow fire for an invite to the Big 12.

As a conference leader once said, “If you add, you add to the top.”

Houston, Memphis and Cincy have poured cash into their athletic programs and have had success recently in football and men’s basketball, but these are not top-tier additions. These are gambles.

The one potential addition that is not a total gamble is BYU, whose contract with ESPN expires next year. BYU is not an easy fit, and you can bet the Big 12 football coaches would put up a fight about this potential addition.

Coaches hate the advantage that BYU has by playing older players who have completed two-year missions early in their college career. When the mission is complete, they return bigger, stronger and much wiser.

But BYU is about as good as what is available.

The only way expansion makes sense is if there is a state program that wants out from the Pac-12, ACC or Big Ten; given the TV contracts that exist, Nebraska or Arkansas are not walking through that door.

And despite the protests of T. Boone State head coach Mike Gundy, the Longhorn Network is not closing shop. Its parent company, ESPN, is amid financial troubles, but an LHN employee told me there are no plans to drop it. The two sides are in the fifth year of a 20-year contract, and there are no talks to form it into a Big 12 network or to ax it altogether.

The Big 12 is in much better shape than you think. It just needs Texas to win in order for everybody to believe it.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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