Big 12's alive and kicking butt, but....

Remember when the Big 12 seemed to be in a free-fall state, with chatter ranging from expansion to extinction, when the Presidents decided to flex their athletic muscles and looked and acted like foolish and, at times, spoiled children?

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Remember when after a summer of discontent, the league finally called a meeting and said basically, "Never mind. We like who we are, where we are, and what we are?''

Remember when the Big 12 was a hybrid group of schools, spouting their own agendas, rather than a league united in making itself better? Or at least that's the way it looked to the rest of the college football world.

Remember when it seemed that any school with visions of playing Power 5 football--ranging from Rice to Air Force, to Memphis, to UConn to East Carolina, to Cincinnati, USF, UCF and Tulane--was on the Big 12 expansion list?

That circus reminded me of a weekend in 1984 when legendary Cotton Bowl honcho Jim "Hoss'' Brock was courting Boston College and QB Doug Flutie.

Brock, wearing his customary green Cotton Bowl jacket, spent the Friday afternoon before Saturday's BC game vs. Syracuse in Foxborough, visiting the Harvard campus, which was preparing for the annual battle against Yale.

As Brock strode across Harvard Yard, several Harvard students approached him, wanting to know if Harvard was on the Cotton Bowl list.

"Absolutely, Hoss,'' said Brock, who called everyone "Hoss' to avoid any name recognition embarrassments. ""I do. Right here under the Hs.''

Well, the circus has left down and the Big 12 is playing some solid big boy football, which is a vast change from a year ago when the long-range prospects of the Big 12 looked bleak.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

All it would take would be for a Texas or Oklahoma to be enticed by the Big Ten or SEC and the league would turn into a fire sale of schools looking for new athletic homes.

The compromise was no expansion and a recently added championship game between the two top teams in the one division 10-team league. The league juggled its schedule, moving contenders such as Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State to early November, rather than the normal regular season closer to avoid the potential of a back-to-back rematch in the championship game.

But ultimately felt there was no need for expansion because no one out there was worth pursuing.

Some changes were made.

A coaching change came at Texas, designed to get the Longhorns back into the championship discussion under new coach Tom Herman. And Bob Stoops retired at Oklahoma, giving way to the youngest coach in the FBS in 34-year old Lincoln Riley.

Oh, there were still some problems--Baylor is still a sink hole and will need time and dedication and perhaps some luck before it climbs back into contention. And Kansas football remains a work in progress in terms of reaching even a level of respectability.

But two weeks into this season, the overall picture is devoid of many clouds.

Oklahoma, which had a signature loss to Ohio State last season, came in to Columbus last week and returned the favor by embarrassing the Buckeyes and Coach Urban Meyer, 31-16.

Oklahoma State, which has won 20 games the past two seasons, looks as strong as ever, while TCU continues to lurk as a contender and Kansas State and West Virginia add to the overall depth of a conference which doesn't have many easy pit stops for visiting teams.

The word from Big 12 officials is that the status quo will be just fine for the foreseeable future, which means for at least the next five or six years until the current Big 12 television contract expires in 2023.

With record payouts of almost 35 million dollars per school, there is no reason to make any rash decisions. Right now, the Big 12 is in a solid third place behind the cash cows Big Ten and SEC in terms of payouts.

But the world of college football can change in an instant.

All things considered, the Big 12 still needs the security of a few more quality teams to expand its geographic footprint.

Here's a suggestion for Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

Look West--more specifically to the Southwest and start poking around to test the mood of Arizona and Arizona State. They might be more interested than you think.

By being proactive, instead of reactive, by taking the time to set everything up, Arizona and Arizona State might decide that life in the Big 12 can be better or at least equally as comfortable as in the Pac-12.

In football, neither program has left much of a footprint, less by Arizona than Arizona State. Arizona has yet to make an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Neither team flies a Pac-12 championship banner in football.

And quite frankly, if the Arizona schools disappeared off the Pac-12 map, the conference wouldn't miss a beat by shrinking back to the Pac-10, with Colorado and Utah as its Eastern flank.

Such a move would help both conferences. The Big 12 could really be the Big 12, with a Texas division of four schools--Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor--and the two Arizona schools. The Big 12 North would have Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia.

Or the Big 12 could really expand and go after four teams--Arizona, Arizona State, Houston and BYU.

The threat of poaching from other conferences would disappear and the concept of a Big 12 network, instead of just a Texas football network might draw larger fees than anyone projected with a television reach from Tuscon to Morgantown and from Ames to Austin.

What makes it even better is that there would be enough time to do all of the set-up work without a spotlight on the proceedings. Getting all the numbers and projections together and then let everyone absorb them, tweak them and finally agree to them. And, there would be no clock ticking as they did it.

One of the moves of genius made by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was that he had an expansion plan in his desk for more than a year before a single word leaked. Discussions took place, meetings were held in almost complete secrecy.

For any of this to happen, the Big 12 must be proactive, which has been an ongoing issue for a conference which has never had a real identity.

Whether the mindset changes in the Big 12 remains the unanswered question.[/membership]

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