So here we are, the conference realignment waters stirring again and fans of Kansas University athletics wondering if any or perhaps every rumor they read should be taken seriously or ignored altogether.
The answer is yes.
With Maryland and Rutgers leaving the ACC and Big East to join the Big Ten earlier this week, administrators, coaches and, yes, even fan bases at schools across the country have tuned their realignment meters to the high-alert setting. With good reason. As we’ve seen before, movement from one conference to another does not always come with a lot of build-up before the bomb drops.
Although this week’s action has taken place on the East Coast and has yet to impact the Big 12 Conference or KU, plenty of advice has been handed out regarding what the Big 12 will — or is it should? — do and what options the Big 12’s members might have if and when the next round of nonsense hits.
One report even went as far as to peg KU as one of the latest Big Ten targets should the now-14-team league look to become the first 16-team superconference.
At this point, it’s much more likely that the Big 12 would expand before one of its members would leave. And even expansion seems like a long shot.
If this kind of KU-to-the-Big-Ten option presented itself five years ago, heck, even two years ago, the decision would have been easy. KU officials would have had to jump on it. It makes geographic sense. It makes financial sense. And, with teams like Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Rutgers calling the conference home, it makes football sense, too.
But a lot has changed in the past couple of years. Enough, in fact, to make entertaining an offer next to impossible.
Kansas Athletics is now run by a man whose word means something and KU football, though still in rebuilding mode, appears in better shape than when Turner Gill was the face of the program. Oh yeah, and the basketball program added a Final Four, a title-game appearance and another NBA lottery pick to its list of accomplishments. But we all know where basketball ranks in all of this.
What’s more, after walking away from its own funeral, the Big 12 has repositioned itself as one of the nation’s power conferences. In addition to upgrading its television deals, unity and leadership, the league also has the unanimously approved granting-of-rights agreement that ties the schools together much more tightly than even a $50 million dollar exit penalty ever could. It’s moments such as these that were the reason behind the Big 12’s decision to go the rights route instead of focusing on dollars, which can, and seemingly always will, be negotiated down to a fraction of the original amount when parts get to moving.
With the Big Ten off the table, the focus shifts, at least around here, to what the Big 12 needs to do and can do to stay strong should the Maryland and Rutgers moves be the blocks that send the Jenga tower toppling over.
It’s true that the ACC is now more vulnerable than ever and it seems clear that future of that league is the key to everything. If the ACC survives, the madness could subside. If not, let the recruiting begin.
While picking up could-be ACC castoffs Florida State and, to a lesser degree, Clemson or Virginia Tech, would make some sense, the best move for the Big 12 today is the one that proved to be best during the two previous rounds of realignment — let patience, loyalty and logic carry you. With new television deals, fewer slices being taken out of a suddenly much-sweeter pie and 10 members that genuinely enjoy doing business together, it seems the Big 12 already got it right once.
Leaning on such core values may sound cheesy and like anything but the right course, but, aside from the destruction of a couple of long-standing rivalries, can you really say that those things failed the conference the first two times?