John Klein: A year later, Big 12 is on solid ground
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, July 22, 2012
7/22/12 at 6:39 AM
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The Big 12 Media Days will open on Monday in a far different atmosphere than last year.
There is a calm confidence and new-found enthusiasm for the future.
A year ago, the Big 12 faced so many challenges it was hard to imagine any kind of future for the league.
However, a handful of developments, all of them surrounding some aspect of the University of Texas, helped the Big 12 stabilize and become one of the power players in the new world of college football.
The challenges a year ago at Big 12 Media Days were obvious.
Despite pleas to the contrary, most considered the future of the conference to be dead. Too many issues.
The Pac-12 was on the verge of becoming the Pac-16, and that probably would have been the end of the Big 12 if Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech went west.
It was possible, at one point, that Texas was close to splitting with Oklahoma just as the 'Horns were also splitting with their other major rival - Texas A&M.
The Longhorn Network was considered a huge hurdle for some in the Big 12 to overcome. It is considered the primary reason Texas A&M left the Big 12 and was a major reason why Oklahoma nearly left.
Notre Dame was being courted, and probably still is, by the Big 12.
Plus, the Big East was falling apart.
But, a series of events seemed to rally the Big 12 and put it in the current strong position.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the biggest reason the Big 12 is still around and growing stronger by the week is that Texas wanted it.
The Longhorns took a long look at their options and decided, luckily for all involved, that the best option was a healthy Big 12.
The best way to have a healthy Big 12 was for Texas to end all of the speculation and make it very clear it is dedicated to preserving and expanding the Big 12.
Secondly, the Longhorn Network turned out to be a lot about nothing.
The Longhorn Network was going to give Texas too big of an advantage and was too much for the other Big 12 schools to endure.
However, the Longhorn Network has turned out to be pretty much of a disaster.
Despite all of the complaining and worry about the Longhorn Network, the television cable network has had virtually no impact.
Yes, the network is worth $300 million over 20 years to Texas.
However, the network has virtually no outlets in Texas. In fact, it is not even available in much of Austin. The Longhorn Network has struggled to find carriers, making any potential recruiting or marketing advantage questionable.
The lack of carriers, along with a lack of quality available programming, seems to have made the Longhorn Network a non-factor. The demand for Texas-Pepperdine volleyball - the first UT event televised by LHN - or baseball preseason practice apparently isn't very strong.
As such, the Longhorn Network no longer looks like such a hurdle to other Big 12 members. If Texas is having trouble making its own network a viable business, then what are the options at other schools?
Finally, there was concern about having just 10 members. However, at the end of this school year, Texas was among the chorus of schools that advocated keeping the current 10-team model.
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, while always keeping the door open for Notre Dame, has said repeatedly he believes 10 is a good number.
That is the same thing being said in most Big 12 outposts.
Finally, there is an acceptance around the league that Texas is making some effort to make the current Big 12 work.
Even new Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby admits Texas is the "800-pound gorilla."
However, as long as the gorilla doesn't start to attack its playmates, everything would seem to be moving forward stronger than ever.
There may come a time when the league needs to expand to 12 teams.
There may eventually be some debate about who and how many?
However, for now, the Big 12 appears to be one happy family.
Texas has accepted its role and knows the current Big 12 is its best option. Most of the league may not like the Longhorns, but we all know how important they are to the league's future.
The most unhappy schools - Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri - are gone.
For perhaps the first time in the 14 years since the league was formed, the Big 12 appears to have a relatively happy, healthy and stable membership.
That's terrific for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.