Friday, June 11, 2010

A Lament for the Big XII

Amidst all of the hubbub of the college football cataclysm this week, I finally got a chance to relax and accept the inevitable this morning. Baylor is going to be left out of a BCS football conference. This represents a major financial blow to both Baylor and Waco. See the article from which I quote:

"Waco will lose an estimated $196.7 million in annual total spending, $106.4 million in annual output and 1,677 jobs."

Yet, in all of this talk of money, I think we are missing a much bigger point. What is more important than the financial impact is the less tangible, but much more satisfying, emotional impact that football has on sports fans.

I grew up in Boulder as a Colorado Buffaloes fan. Even after my undergraduate stint as a Baylor Bear, there remained a soft spot in my heart for the Buffs. I was a teenager during the McCartney glory days which included a national championship in 1990 and a Heisman trophy in 1991. What I remember most growing up as a Buff fan was the Nebraska Jokes (one comes to mind now, that Nebraska is breaking up the Big 12 because their football program stunk after they had to meet Big 12 academic standards). Nebraska was our big rival. We would always play them as our last game of the season the Friday after thanksgiving. One particular thanksgiving game stands out in memory. It was during my seminary days in 2001. At the time Nebraska was 11-1 and seemed to be heading for a national championship. Instead Colorado racked up 62 points to trounce Nebraska 62-36. Chris Brown rushed for 198 yards and 6 touchdowns. It was glorious.

A second memory stands out in my mind, the 1998 victory of Baylor over in state Texas. It was the first major win for Baylor since my arrival at the school in 1996. I do not remember much about the game, but I remember rushing the field and tearing down the goal post. I think we were 2-9 that season, but that one moment made it all worth it.

Finally, my favorite sports memory of all time is Baylor's 2005 overtime victory over Texas A&M 35-34. This really was a classic for Baylor fans. At the time, A&M was ranked 16 and expecting to come into Waco and roll over the Bears whom they had beaten 73-10 the previous year. Baylor came from behind to tie the game. In overtime, A&M got the ball first and easily scored a touchdown putting them up by seven. On their possession Baylor struggled, but finally a pass from Shawn Bell found Dominique Ziegler in the end zone for 6. Then it all happened too fast. People, including the Aggies, were expecting an extra point attempt. Instead, Baylor lined up quickly and ran the exact same play with Bell rolling out and once again finding Ziegler in the end zone for a 2 point conversion and a one point victory. Once again, the fans rushed the field. Time went by and the most priceless moment was looking up at the stand from the field 15 minutes after the game and seeing all of the Aggie fans frozen in disbelief (yeah, I carry little love for Aggie fans). They were stunned and not one of them had moved a muscle.

All of these memories are gone. Money has trumped rivalry. Sure, Colorado, Texas, A&M, Tech, OSU and Oklahoma will all get more money in the Pac 10. Nebraska will get more in the Big 10. But the rivalries are gone. Furthermore, is there any hope of creating new rivalries in a new conference. What real rivalry can come between Washington and Texas, or A&M and UCLA. Or, if Baylor were to end up in the Wac, what real rivalry will they have with Hawaii? Also, how long will these conferences last? What happens when the next big conference next door comes up with a better offer? What is happening here is setting a bad precedent for college football.

Conferences used to be regional. Sure they were about money, but they were also about fostering and creating rivalries and thus, compelling football. Does anyone really care about a Texas Tech vs. Oregon State game? Conferences that stretch from Seattle to Austin don't seem to make sense. Sure, I have heard the travel argument about fans getting really stoked about road trips from Texas or Colorado to Washington and LA. But really, besides a few wealthy boosters, how many fans are regularly going to travel to the west coast to see their teams play?

In the end, big money and mega conferences are threatening to destroy much of what has always made college football great.

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