Dribble Handover: Predicting How The Reorientation Of The Conference Will Affect These College Basketball Programs
Much of the talks so far about realigning the conference in college sports has focused on the impact on football as historic Gridiron powers Oklahoma and Texas prepare for SEC membership by 2025 at the latest. But it will also have an impact on basketball, especially as the Big 12 – a strong basketball league – finds its way into the changing landscape.
With reigning national champions Baylor, historic power Kansas, and strong programs like West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech, the Big 12 would have a solid basketball roster even after the Longhorns and Sooners go. But there is no guarantee that the Big 12 will survive, and even if it does, its construction could end up being different.
Could schools be invited to the American Athletic Conference or Mountain West and thereby gain a boost in basketball prestige? What if the Big 12 crumble, leaving a school or two in fallout with no desirable home?
With these questions looming over college basketball, our writing team looks into the crystal ball for this edition of the Dribble Handoff and answers the prompt: or suffer most from it?
State of Oklahoma
Let me begin by addressing one point on the question at hand. “When the dust settles on the realignment in five years.” I’m not sure if dust ever settles. University sport has undergone substantial changes in its power conference structure practically every 8-12 years. Last was the fragmentation of the old Big East into the American, the creation of the new Big East, in addition to the Pac-10 becoming the Pac-12, the Big 12 reduced to 10 teams, and the ACC inflated to an unnecessary 15. Before that, we saw the Big 8 become the Big 12; we saw the breakup of the beloved Metro Conference and many more examples. The idea that expanding the SEC to 16 teams – in a super league in college athletics – signals one final and big change … well, I’m not convinced. Let’s talk in 2040.
Which school will benefit or suffer most from this? I go with the suffering side. Give me the state of Oklahoma. Oklahoma got its rival and the Sooner State brothers dirty by secretly negotiating with Texas. Given the historical context, it is easy to argue that there are no five more important and passionate rivalries in college sports than Bedlam. Will the series continue? What guarantee do we have for that? The OSU benefits significantly from its Big 12 association, but also from its closeness and solidarity with OU. Kansas will always be a draw in basketball. Baylor will benefit from losing Texas as a state competitor in the men and women. But the OSU seems more alienated to me than most of the others and could suffer some drip-and-drop drainage due to the benefits of its conference membership. The idea that Oklahoma and OSU won’t play in the same league is idiotic. It didn’t have to be like that. – Matt Norlander
As the Big 12 expands, Cincinnati is a logical call. Likewise, if the Big 12 disintegrate and the AAC takes one of the leftovers, the AAC will gain prestige, helping Cincinnati. The Bearcats are lagging through an awkward transition from Mick Cronin to John Brannen to Wes Miller as coach, but the program’s track record under Bob Huggins and Cronin is strong, and Miller is a proven builder. He took over at UNC Greensboro mid-way through the 2011/12 season after battling his way through three consecutive campaigns to single-digit wins. When he left, he left his resume five seasons with 20 straight wins.
Cincinnati’s football program is also thriving, and with this sport being the driving force behind the realignment, the Bearcats are well positioned to benefit from the change in the conference landscape. Miller appears to be a highly skilled person who can help the program succeed in a transition period, much like it did with the foray into new leagues under Huggins and Cronin. – David Cobb
It is possible that one (or more) of the remaining Big 12 schools could be invited to another Power Five conference – perhaps Kansas to the Big Ten, West Virginia to the ACC, or some Texas-based schools to the Pac-12. As always, we’ll see. But the most likely scenario, most seem to believe, is that the eight remaining Big 12 schools are sticking together, if only because they might be sticking together, and at that point adding members could become a priority. As Cobb noted, one of the best options would be Cincinnati. Houston, BYU, Boise State, SMU, and / or UCF can also make sense. But if things rocked in a certain way, Memphis could be thanks to A) a respectable football program that has shown seven bowl games in a row; big winners emerge for the second time in three years, C) a top 50 television market, and D) an incredible amount of corporate support, which was overwritten by FedEx, which was instrumental in earning Memphis an invitation from Big East before that league finally split.
Will it happen?
It is impossible to say for sure. But Memphis could launch a soccer program designed to compete, a basketball program designed to thrive, and – who knows? – possibly a title sponsor for the Big 12 Championship Game or the Big 12 Tournament, or both. Don’t forget, the main reason the Grizzlies are in Memphis is because FedEx is in Memphis, and the main reason the PGA Tour Memphis just landed a FedEx Cup playoff event at TPC Southwind is because FedEx is in Memphis . This Fortune 500 company wields a great stick in the world of sports. So it’s not difficult to say that it could aid Memphis’ attempt to capitalize on the realignment again. – Gary Parrish
Kansas will likely do fine this round of realignment because it has a world-class basketball program to rely on. The same goes for Baylor while Scott Drew calls home in Waco, Texas, and for West Virginia while Bob Huggins is on the sidelines. But the same probably doesn’t apply to its Big 12 brothers in Kansas State. The Wildcats basketball program has had as many defeat as it won campaigns in conference play since 2000. And under Bruce Weber, their recruitment was consistently among the worst in the league. Things are going the wrong way.
Staying in the Big 12 is unlikely to do the K-State any good; only twice since 2015 it landed in the top half of the league’s regular season race. It also doesn’t seem like a promising route to move to another conference, nor does it seem likely that it will be targeted if the Pac-12, Big Ten, or ACC expand. Rock, hit a hard place. There are no immediately attractive options for Kansas State, and five years from now it is possible – perhaps likely – that it will be in an even more difficult place than what it is in now. – Kyle Boone