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Christopher’s Corner: Greener Pastures

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The Big 12 appears to be spiraling downward, but is there really any better place for OSU?

The sign is laughable, right? Not because TCU or West Virginia were bad choices, but because the idea that the Big 12 made a "right choice" about anything, ever, is comical at this point. I love this conference. I do. I know that opinion gets less and less popular (and justifiable) every day, but deep down, I love the Big 12. I love what it used to be. I love what I wish it still was. I want it to survive. I want there to be a Big 12 and I want it to be competitive. Viable. Thriving, even. The potential of a world without a Big 12 seems to become more and more real with every decision the conference leadership makes, but I don’t like the idea of that world. I realize it’s a pup of a conference, particularly because of the absolutely ridiculous edict that came with its inception that it would not claim the history of the Big 8. It wasn’t expansion, they said. It was forming an entirely new conference, they said. And now they’re trying to kill it, all the while having us all believe they are set on its survival.

At this point, is that even what we should want? Is that even what’s best for Oklahoma State (because let’s be honest, we aren’t forming our opinions based on what’s best for that forsaken goal post in Ames or those poor couches in Morgantown). There was a time not so long ago when the idea that something other than the Big 12 might be in the best interest of Oklahoma State seemed ludicrous. The conference was good. It was healthy. Or so it seemed. Tempers flaring beneath the surface for years gave us a false sense of security, but we did feel secure.

But do we now? How could we? How could anyone? The once prospering collection of historic giants and entertaining upstarts has become the laughing stock of college athletics (okay, probably that’s still the NCAA, yes? #FreeDez) The Big 12 meetings this summer have resembled an elementary playground – a jumbled mess of frantic children running around directionless while those watching wait for the inevitable ringing of the bell that would end all of their fun. Oh and one punk kid just sitting back waiting to ruin every game the other kids start playing. Let’s not forget him.

And so here we find ourselves, in a place that seemed preposterous in 1996, or even 2006, wondering if the Big 12 will survive long term. And, even if it does, is it where we need to be going forward? And it wasn’t the departures that brought us here. It wasn’t Colorado and Nebraska or A&M and Missouri that delivered the reaper to the Big 12’s doors in Dallas. What was left of this conference after realignment was still a viable product. I believe in that product. I believe that top to bottom, sport by sport, this is a deep and competitive conference that deserves a seat at the big boy table. But mistakes made by the conference leadership over the last several years have reached critical mass, and at this point I fear the damage done may be irreparable. I hope that it’s not. I hope that somehow the conference can recover from the coma it put itself in when it allowed the formation of the LHN and when it chose not to add Louisville back when there were good options that still wanted into the league.

I hope for survival, but I’m not even sure I should anymore. Would Oklahoma State be better served elsewhere? There’s not been a shortage of rumors about finding a new home over the course of the last six years. At one point, we seemed packed and ready to head to the Pac-12 on the back of that same schoolyard punk. There’s been talk of OU and OSU going together to the SEC. Are those real options for OSU at this point in time? And, if so, are either of them better situations than the one in which OSU currently finds itself?

Let’s look at the Pac-12, since most would agree that rumor seemed closest to coming to fruition. Financially, the Big 12 actually seems to be in better position at the moment. The Big 12’s payout of $30.4 million per member institution puts it behind only the SEC and BigTen, and not far behind either. So at least at the present, OSU would gain nothing financially from a move out west. Add in the substantial spike in travel costs and this is becoming financially difficult to manage. And here’s the thing – all of this is assuming the Pac-12 has open arms, which is not an assumption I’m willing to make. It’s very unlikely the Pac-12 is interested in adding OSU without OU and probably Texas, if then. And if they are, is Texas interested in joining a conference that wouldn’t let it run roughshod over everyone else? My guess is that’s a resounding no.

Okay, so how about the Bedlam Brothers say enough with Texas, widen the Red River just to make a point, and head to the SEC? Financially, it would be a windfall. The SEC currently pays out a little more than the Big 12, but it’s set up to pay out substantially more in the future. The stability of the SEC is also a plus because, let’s be honest, it’s not going anywhere even if Jim Harbaugh really really wishes it would. But. There is a but. Two, actually. And both are Kardashian-sized. First, imagine the schedule. We aren’t going to stop playing OU. So let’s say this ridiculousness of Missouri being in the SEC East when it’s one of the four most western campuses in the conference is a one-time thing and OSU ends up in the West. The SEC West. Plus OU. Hey, at least we’re getting paid, right? That seems to be Arkansas’ philosophy. And if we end up in the East? Long road trips and probably a significant hit to recruiting thanks to no longer playing multiple games in the state of Texas (unless you think Florida kids are coming to Stillwater in large enough numbers to make up for that. I don’t). And then there’s the even bigger but – would the SEC even be interested? They’ve yet to add a school that didn’t expand their footprint into a new state. Would they want two Oklahoma schools?

The truth that no one wants to admit (probably because it seems like such a lost cause at this point) is that, short of a massive reshaping of the Power 5 into the super-conferences some think are inevitable, what’s best for Oklahoma State is the survival, and resurgence, of the Big 12 Conference. I don’t just say that because of my personal affinity for it, but because the logistics of every other option just don’t work out as well as any of us would like. I believe OSU has positioned itself well to remain within whatever shape the power conferences take going forward, so that’s the good news. And it’s good news that wasn’t true a decade ago. The bad news is that it may still be in our best interest to put our hope in what appears to be a conference not long for this world.