MORGANTOWN — First off, let us not underplay the affect the defection of Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC has had on college football.
It goes far further than from Weirton to Welch, Martinsburg to Matewan and all points in between, as a West Virginia University play-by-play broadcaster might put it.
It shakes not only Jerry West and Rod Hundley statues outside the Coliseum, but it has the Alamo itself under siege again. In Kansas and Oklahoma, throughout the state of Texas and into the cornfields of Iowa, we have a broken heartland in our country as the Big 12 seems ready to evaporate just as the Big East did a decade ago.
But Big 12 country is not all that has been caught with its pants around its ankles, for all of a sudden, colleges everywhere are looking at themselves, at the conferences in which they reside today and where they may wind up tomorrow.
That goes for the ACC itself, which now hears growing rumors of its highest profile football members — Clemson and Florida State — also looking into jumping to the SEC.
This, of course, has that conference wondering its fate as it already owns the worst TV deal for football of all the Power 5 conferences. If the remaining Big 12 teams stand to take a hit of $14 million a year in TV revenue, as Commissioner Bob Bowlsby suggested would happen, what would happen at the ACC if Clemson and Florida State left.
While the scramble for position is now on, it really comes too late because running the entire college football picture is not the SEC, as some would have you think, but ESPN which is the printing press for money throughout the game.
It has been speculated that ESPN’s fingerprint was all over this from far, far back and Bowlsby did nothing to clear their name when he publicly demanded they “cease and desist” from trying to undermine the Big 12.
While the contents of the letter are not public, Bowlsby has admitted publicly that “I have absolute certainty that they [ESPN] have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members.”
ESPN responded quickly, issuing a public statement that “the accusations you have made are entirely without merit. To be clear, ESPN has engaged in no wrongful conduct and, thus, there is nothing to ‘cease and desist.’”
Before this became the shoot out at the OK Corral, a peace treaty was agreed upon.
“We have agreed to not escalate this publicly,” Bowlsby said in testimony before the Texas legislature. “It’s in neither party’s best interest to do so.”
That doesn’t put an end to the sniping, only drive it behind closed doors.
That, apparently, is where ESPN, Texas and Oklahoma like it best because they acted like sneaky thieves as they snuck up on the Big 12 and mugged it.
That Bowlsby was asleep at the switch even he won’t deny. Asked during his testimony before Texas legislators if he had any inkling this was coming, he responded:
“I was completely surprised.”
May it be noted that is the wrong answer. Inherent in his job as commissioner is that he be aware of the shenanigans going on among the league’s members behind closed doors, especially shenanigans that lead to such a seismic event as has transpired.
It is difficult to imagine anything that could have similar effect on the soul of the nation — maybe New York and California seceding from the union.
Bowlsby tried to address that in Texas when he stressed this was different than other conference realignments over the years.
“The difference between this one any of the others is they come off the top of the food chain,” he said. “The others that have moved have typically been the Rutgers and Marylands that have been down the ranks.”
But that is not really true. Texas A&M certainly wasn’t “down in the ranks” when it left the Big 12. Nebraska was a traditional football power and had a torrid rivalry with Oklahoma, one that is being celebrated this year on the 50th anniversary of their “Game of the Century” that Nebraska won.
Miami and Virginia Tech leaving the Big East was a devastating blow, too, so this is something that one would think a conference commissioner would have done all he could to avoid happening … not after the action is taken threats as are now coming forth from Bowlsby.
And so now you have Iowa State and Kansas trying to get out of the Big 12, WVU has to be looking into the ACC for its own survival.
What’s more, you can bet such schools as Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida are knocking on conference doors hoping to improve their lot in college football.
This will be played out over the next couple of years, if not quicker, for the ship is sinking and the lifeboats are filling up faster than anyone could have imagined.
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