Any disaster has many explanations. And with the collapse of the Big 12, plenty of small factors caused the league’s demise. But one explanation suffices: Texas lost too many games and decided to head to the SEC to see if it could win more games than it did along I-35.
Texas and Oklahoma are officially heading to the SEC because the league will pay its schools more money. But that leads to two questions: Why does the SEC pay more, and why do those schools care about making more money?
The SEC pays more because it’s won the most games and has the most attractive brands. The SEC didn’t always win the most. As wild as it seems now, Auburn went undefeated and didn’t make the national championship in 2004 because the PAC-10 and Big 12’s respective champions, USC and Oklahoma, were seen as better than the best in the SEC.
Nebraska, Missouri, Texas A&M and Colorado elected to leave the Big 12 because of frustration with Texas. If those schools remained in the league, the Big 12 wouldn’t be so far behind in the conference race. But why did those schools leave? It’s not because Colorado’s culture just aligned more with Washington State. It’s because Texas has insane demands. Ohio State, USC and company don’t mandate the constraints Texas imposed on its conference brethren. No other league countenances a school having its own network. The Big 12 gave Texas the Longhorn Network. And no other league considered an uneven distribution of revenue. The Big 12 offered that; it wasn’t enough for Texas. Those four original members that left in the last round of realignment understood nothing can provide enough to satiate Texas’s ego.
Even with its attitude causing four original members to bolt, Texas still would be in the Big 12 had it just won enough. Since Texas won the Big 12 in 2009, Oklahoma (a bunch), Baylor (x2), TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State have won the league. The decimated Big 12 didn’t preclude schools with fewer resources from winning.
Instead, Texas had quite possibly the worst performance relative to resources in the history of college football. Texas makes the most money in college sports. It made zero playoffs. It lost to Kansas, and nearly lost to the Jayhawks another time. Texas had four head coaches from 2009-2021—one more than the number of people America elected to the White House in that stretch. The Longhorns finished with fewer wins than Baylor over the last decade, despite one win and two wins seasons from the Bears in that stretch.
The Longhorns’ pride is deeply hurt. They’ve convinced themselves the weakness of the Big 12 explains their own mediocrity. Somehow the Big 12 is so weak that it’s made Texas too weak to win the league. That oxymoronic belief is the foundation of the hubris that makes Texas certain that it will use resources that have bought zero Big 12 championships a bevy of SEC titles. Good luck.
So instead of deep introspection, Burnt Orange Nation echoed the view of many Texas fans by opining:
The remaining Big 12 schools on the verge of being left behind, the schools subsidized by the Longhorns for decades, are finding that they didn’t appreciate what they had. So now they’re big mad, full of sound of fury, signifying nothing. https://t.co/oAEMH5VLAv— Burnt Orange Nation (@BON_SBNation) July 27, 2021
That view is wrong for a host of reasons. First, this would be the framework of someone that thinks Milton Friedman sold out by not worshiping the market every day of his life. Apparently the “schools subsidized by the Longhorns for decades, are finding that they didn’t appreciate what they had.” This is the ideology of people that would say, “You can never challenge the market. If Amazon wants to shut down all its competitors and control markets in everything, then praise Jeff Bezos! If you don’t show him proper appreciation, then it’s your fault if Amazon decides to remove all your products. Be happy they let you sell for a day!”
Second, Texas would still be here if it won. If Texas had been as successful as Oklahoma, it would have an easy path to the playoff. The next playoff agreement would have ensured the Big 12 champ made the playoff. There’s a much easier path to winning the Big 12 than the SEC. Texas just couldn’t do it. If Texas had won—with all the attendant revenue boost—it would have leapt ahead of anyone in the SEC. And if Texas had won, it would have recruited at an even higher tier. Its problems stem from its own weakness, not from the lower-tiered folks it could not beat. But I guess when the billionaire finds out that money doesn’t buy wins or happiness, he has to blame those in a lower financial strait for not providing enough trickle-up economics or easy victories. The 2016 Jayhawks still owe Texas an apology, I guess.
College football makes a ton of money because football is incredibly popular and the sport draws from a wide audience. Football may not stay as popular so that simply playing the game brings as many eyeballs. Generations Z and Alpha have a variety of new entertainment options. Boxing and baseball were once the most popular sports. Nothing ensures football will always draw audiences just because people play it. That’s why the second reason is paramount. College football is also popular because tons of schools compete every season in power leagues. Now eight schools’ futures in a power leagues are at risk. Let’s see if people that like, support, and care about those programs do so as much if their team can’t even dream of winning a title. Yes, Texas and Oklahoma will undoubtedly make more money in the next decade than the decade before. We’ll see about the following decades.
This is probably all part of a plan to eventually get a smaller field to a champions league in college football. Maybe it’s not immediately, but sometime, the top 12 or 16 or 24 schools will band together thinking, “We’ll get more money just playing ourselves.” Then eventually they’ll realize that not quite as many people care about watching college football as they once did. But luckily Burnt Orange Nation has a bit more faith in the market than I do, so I’m sure that the narrowing of the sport to fewer schools won’t have any consequences. When has short-term financial interest ever led to long-term financial peril?
Had Texas simply won this wouldn’t be happening. But Texas didn’t win, so now they’ll tell us they’re leaving because the money will give Texas an advantage it can’t win without. But Texas couldn’t win with that advantage over the last decade. So good luck to the Longhorns winning with fewer advantages and less appeasement from the SEC. If the cost of the Big 12 meant not appeasing or losing to Texas enough, then the Big 12 died a good death. That’s more than many conferences can say.