The Conference That Almost Was, and the Conference That Almost Wasn’t

All of the attention this fall is going to be on the outcome of the four teams “The Committee” picks to play in the first-ever college football playoff. Even if those four spots are distributed evenly across the power conferences, there will still be at least one conference that will miss out on the inaugural playoff.

This, of course, did not have to happen.

In 2010, college football was on the verge of losing one of its five power conferences. The movement was led by the Pac-10, who was attempting to ransack the Big 12 of its core — including Texas, Texas A&M and the Oklahoma schools amongst its plunder — and at the same time kill the league, or at least kill it as a major conference.

We all know what happened next: The Pac-10 refused to give Texas the inequitable share it demanded, Texas rejected the Pac-10’s offer and all the potential additions from the Big 12, save for Colorado, stayed. We could have had a Pac-16 that would have featured Oregon, USC, Stanford, Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M all in the same league. It would have been a counterpoint to the SEC that would have been so significant it would have ended the discussion about the nation’s best conference.

(Just kidding, there’s no way SEC fans would have stopped talking about being the nation’s best conference regardless of how good any other conference actually was.)

While people may argue about whether superconferences are good for college football (and I could see either argument), there’s no mistaking what paring down to four superconferences would have done; create a de facto eight-team playoff, with the conference championships serving as the quarterfinals.

Instead, we have five major conferences fighting for four spots, meaning a minimum of one conference champion could be left out of the playoff. Not to mention that I have to write a fifth column picking schools in power conferences.

So thanks for nothing Larry Scott, everyone at Texas, and the Longhorn Network.

As always, these Big 12 schools are judged on five criteria: status as a football school, quality of other sports teams, partying campus life, the actual academic quality of the school itself and the enjoyability of the city the school is in, to determine what college a prospective student – such as myself — would be most interested in attending. For a more detailed primer, catch my initial explanation here.

10. Texas Tech

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University

Football School (rank out of 10): 7
Other Sports: 9
Campus Life: 9
Academics: 9
City: 10
Total Score: 43

Lubbock is the Big 12’s answer to Pullman.

9. Iowa State

Aerial shot of Iowa State's campus.

Aerial shot of Iowa State’s campus.

Football School (rank out of 10): 9
Other Sports: 6
Campus Life: 8
Academics: 4
City: 8
Total Score: 65

Circumstances under which I would attend Iowa State, given the ability to choose from any number of out-of-state schools:

  • Iowa State offered me a full-ride scholarship
  • No better school offered me a full-ride scholarship

8. Baylor

Baylor University

Baylor University

Football School (rank out of 10): 4
Other Sports: 7
Campus Life: 10
Academics: 2
City: 9
Total Score: 81

Some might dispute having Baylor fourth as a football program, given their status as the defending conference champions and one of the most fun teams to watch in college football. I argue that it is the perfect position. Baylor was a basement-dwelling program prior to Art Briles’ arrival in Waco (and potentially would have been left out of any form of Pac-16 expansion), but there is no evidence that Baylor’s program would succeed without him.

However, that is not a question they may have to answer any time soon. Briles turning down Texas, however real that opportunity was, is a strong sign of his long-term prospects with the Bears. All the schools that are clustered within the football rankings have similar circumstances: football success attributable to a strong coach, but no guarantee of it if that coach was to leave. They get the advantage because their coach seems to be better than anyone else’s.

7. Kansas State

Image of Kansas State and the surrounding area

Image of Kansas State and the surrounding area

Football School (rank out of 10): 5
Other Sports: 8
Campus Life: 6
Academics: 7
City: 7
Total Score: 85

Manhattan is the Big 12’s answer to Corvallis.

5 (tie). TCU

Texas Christian University

Texas Christian University

Football School (rank out of 10): 6
Other Sports: 10
Campus Life: 5
Academics: 3
City: 5
Total Score: 99

To give you an idea of the cities being evaluated amongst the teams in this conference, Fort Worth is in the upper half of college towns in this group.

5 (tie). Oklahoma State

It does snow in Stillwater.

It does snow in Stillwater.

Football School (rank out of 10): 3
Other Sports: 4
Campus Life: 7
Academics: 8
City: 6
Total Score: 99

Why Oklahoma State’s football program is third amongst Big 12 schools:

  • They have won a conference championship in the last three seasons.
  • They would have played for a national championship in 2011 if the idiotic BCS voters hadn’t decided that losing a road game that was played the same day as the worst tragedy in school history was somehow a greater sin than failing to win your division.
  • While there are plenty of excellent programs in the conference currently, say Baylor or Kansas State, those are outcomes of a singularly great coach. Oklahoma State’s last two head coaching hires were Mike Gundy and Les Miles.
  • T. Boone Pickens.

4. Kansas

Allen Fieldhouse remains one of the iconic basketball venues in the country.

Allen Fieldhouse remains one of the iconic basketball venues in the country.

Football School (rank out of 10): 10
Other Sports: 1
Campus Life: 3
Academics: 6
City: 4
Total Score: 101

It would have been fascinating to see how these rankings would have played out following the 2007 season (with the 2014 version of the conference), when Kansas was playing in the Orange Bowl, and West Virginia was a game away from playing for a national championship; or in 2008 when Texas Tech looked as good as any program in the country.

Instead, Kansas remains what it has always been: A basketball school in a fun college town.

3. West Virginia

Mountaineer Stadium

Mountaineer Stadium

Football School (rank out of 10): 8
Other Sports: 5
Campus Life: 1
Academics: 10
City: 2
Total Score: 108

Oh, how I wanted West Virginia to crack the top two. Under the right circumstances, with both of its sports programs running on all cylinders, it might have a chance. But the last place academic rating might be just enough of a hindrance to keeping it out of the top tier of the conference.

Then I imagine trying to explain to one’s parents the necessity of spending out-of-state tuition on the nation’s 170th-ranked academic institution and try to do so without mentioning partying in the first two minutes. Then, realize it will never happen, even if I want to go to there.

2. Oklahoma

Aerial image of the University of Oklahoma

Aerial image of the University of Oklahoma

Football School (rank out of 10): 1
Other Sports: 3
Campus Life: 4
Academics: 4
City: 3
Total Score: 146

The answer to all three of these questions is the same:

Who is the only Big 12 team to win a BCS bowl last season (and did so by blasting Alabama)?
Which Big 12 program won six of the last ten conference championships?
Who is the last Big 12 team to both play at and be defeated in, Autzen Stadium?

If you guessed Oklahoma, you would be correct.

1. Texas

Panorama of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

Panorama of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

Football School (rank out of 10): 2
Other Sports: 2
Campus Life: 2
Academics: 1
City: 1
Total Score: 168

Much like Wisconsin, there are certain schools in specific conferences that are going to stand out amongst their peers and you know it going into the evaluation process. Regarded as a good school in a fun college town with a football program fans really care about (maybe a little too much), there is a reason Texas is such an iconic program. It’s a school that draws a lot of interest from prospective students, and for the criteria listed above.

Just know that if you pick Texas as a school, when you play Oregon in a bowl game, your team will lose. Sorry, that’s just the rules of the universe.

Top photo courtesy of DC Photography


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Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt is a senior writer and managing editor emeritus for FishDuck. Follow him on Twitter @nathanroholt. Send questions/feedback/hatemail to