Sites & Sights: Battle Against The Tyranny Of Perception
By Kevin Kinder
In my continuing battle against the tyranny of perception over reality, I’ve settled on a new target.
It’s one that you see in many summations of the Big 12 Conference, and it’s accepted as fact by most writers, who spew it out unthinkingly. In doing so, and doing so repeatedly, they make it appear as common knowledge, when it’s really just an observation, and one that is off-base to boot. So, taking up my lance and shield, I’ll continue to joust against items that are “conventional wisdom”, but shouldn’t be. The opponent:
“The Big 12 football conference needs Texas and Oklahoma to be good.”
On the surface, that sounds OK. But so did Kansas’ hiring of Charlie Weis as its football coach five years ago, and we know how that turned out. Real thought, while admittedly in short supply these days, exposes the statement as just another one-liner that is accepted by most, but shouldn’t be.
First off, I’ll admit that having Texas and Oklahoma finish first and second in the league for a couple of years might not be a bad thing, at least from the point of getting pundits, bloggers and others off the Big 12’s back. Were that to occur, and one of them advanced to the college football playoffs, the “Big 12 is dead” mantra might be scaled back somewhat. But should that really be the goal? Or should we try to educate the masses, and help them look deeper?
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Texas’ hiring of Tom Herman reaps immediate dividends. Say the Longhorns’ jump up to third place in the conference this year, and second in 2018. OU continues its dominance under new coach Lincoln Riley. Is all then right in Big 12 land?
Well, my guess would be that would be the case for about 15 minutes – or, in other words, the average attention span of many observers. Once the Sooners and Horns got back to their dual positions atop the league, how long would it take for shots to appear condemning the conference as just a two-team entity? It’s not as if this would be anything new – back in the days of the Big 8, the league was commonly referred to as the Big Two and the Little Six. The only difference then, however, was the absence of overwhelming media attention to things that should matter much less than they do.
That’s really the story of all this conference hoopla nowadays. Micro-examination of leagues, relative strengths, rankings of conferences and the like really came about due to the need of media outlets to fill the unfillable electronic voids of the airwaves and the Internet. Of course, the vast amounts of money at stake also drives the conversation, but it’s still hard for me to think that Alabama fans want Auburn to win a bunch of games so the SEC looks better, or that Michigan fans wish Ohio State well in its bowl game so the Big Ten can stand atop the bowl record stats.
So, back to our supposition. Once the “problem” of not having Texas and Oklahoma dominating the league is “solved,” will there be peace on this front? Of course not. Attention will then turn to other “issues.” Heck, I have seen more than one mention of the fact that the Big 12’s media rights contract expires in 2025 as being a negative, in that there’s no long term stability. What? No other league has a media rights deal that extends much past that, so if the Big 12 is unstable, every other league should be viewed with the same lens, right?
To sum up this section, it doesn’t matter if UT and OU are numbers one and two in the nation for the next three years. There will be other blemishes at which to pick.
Now for the tough part. In a thinking sports fan’s world, it really shouldn’t matter if it’s UT and OU, or West Virginia and TCU, or Oklahoma State and Iowa State atop the league. What should matter is the following:
Are the top teams competitive nationally, winning games over other top-of-league foes and earning spots in the CFP?
Are the majority of the teams competitive overall, beating the one-and-done out of conference foes and providing a threat on any given Saturday?
Are there seven bowl participants every year?
If the competition is really good, why should it be so important for one or two schools to be the ones that represent the league?
I’m not blind to the reasons why this isn’t so. It’s easy to just pick some traditional powers, and due to the coverage and fair-weather fandom they attract, dub them as being more important than other teams. What that misses, though, is the fact that these teams haven’t always been great. And when they haven’t, college football hasn’t been lessened, or attracted less interest.
Need an example? Let’s look at Notre Dame. It was long an accepted fact that college football “needs the Irish to be good.” But is that really the case? The Irish didn’t win a bowl game between 1994 and 2008, and were unranked in eight of those seasons. More recently, an appearance in the BCS national title game after the 2012 season has been offset by four non-winning seasons and seven other campaigns in which the Irish didn’t finish in a post-season Top 25.
Remember when media outlets had Notre Dame coverage every day? When every national story was related to the Irish in some manner? Well, 20 losses over the past four years led to a shift in focus. Now it’s Alabama and the SEC, or Jim Harbaugh’s impression of Jack Kerouac that dominates the headlines. But somehow, college football survived, without “needing” Notre Dame to be awesome.
If fans won’t let themselves be blinded, and will call out those who state the same case for Oklahoma and Texas, then perhaps we could put some of this baloney to bed. Again, I understand that as two of the richest programs in the league, OU and UT will always have a power base in terms of conference matters. That’s o.k. And yes, either, or both, could decide to leave, and that might cause a dissolution of the Big 12 down the road. But none of that is predicated on either having to pile up nine-and ten-win seasons.
Taking the opposite view, let’s look at Oregon. The Ducks were absolutely abysmal for a very long time, but turned it around in dramatic fashion. Sure, they had backing of Nike money, and got attention with shiny facilities and glaring uniforms, but did anyone say that was bad for the Pac-12? Does that league “need” USC to be good in order to flourish? No. Biases being what they are, if the Trojans are good, they are going to get a lot of attention, and that a lot more quickly, than a school trying to fight its way to the top.
To sum it up there’s no, absolutely no, logical reason that supports the “Enormous U must be good for the sake of the league.” Don’t get caught in that trap.
This story was part of the recent issue of the Blue & Gold News. You can purchase a subscription to the Blue & Gold News magazine and the website, BlueGoldNews.com, at https://bluegoldnews.com/membership-account/membership-levels/