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An Ode to the 10 Team Big 12

Before the conference expands again, a fond look back at this era.

After months of speculation, the official word has been handed down that Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF have secured a deal to leave the AAC for the Big 12 in the summer of 2023, joining fellow new member BYU and completing this era of expansion. Realignment is not yet complete. Texas and Oklahoma are avoiding getting crushed by Alabama and Georgia waiting out their commitments to staying through 2025. Then the new era begins. But before we start over and find our place in the hierarchy of college athletics, I wanted to look back at the 10-team Big 12 era that survived the last round of realignment.

On the outside, I feel like the perception of the Big 12 is that everyone is in an unhappy marriage, waiting for an instigating event to break up. This Iowa State fan however, has thoroughly enjoyed the past 10 years, for a number of reasons. I’d like to name a few of them:

Everyone Plays Everyone in Football, Every Year, No Questions Asked

My biggest gripe about these bloated conferences, without a doubt, has to be the unbalanced scheduling. In the divisional era, how many times have we seen an inferior team (out East) slip through the cracks and put up a great record while avoiding the best of the conference. It’s an annual rite of passage in the Big Ten West. The ACC always has a division champion with at least 4 losses, or somehow like Kentucky wins 10 games in the SEC because they didn’t have to play Alabama or LSU. Iowa State is not innocent in this. The best records of the Dan McCarney era came in years where our cross-division games didn’t include Texas or Oklahoma. It’s ok to admit that certain schools benefit from it.

How does the saying go? Iron sharpens iron? The current Big 12 offers no such options. Part of what has made Matt Campbell’s time leading Iowa State football so satisfying is the fact that we’ve beaten every school in the conference at least once. For every close loss the one year, the next year offers a chance at redemption. Imagine a world where after losing to Texas Tech on a 62-yard field goal, we don’t see them on the schedule again for 4 more years.

In the first year of the CFP era, the Big 12 infamously wanted to crown “One True Champion” - and got shredded for it. The lack of a conference championship game and a “13th data point” is what led to both TCU and Baylor missing out on the playoff in favor of eventual National Champion Ohio State. I never understood the argument. Everyone had their chance to make their statement on the field. We didn’t have to debate a hypothetical. We already knew Baylor was the best team in the conference that year via head-to-head result with TCU.

Not only is the 10 team, 9 game format most equitable, for my money it is the most entertaining. The New Big 12 isn’t going to play 11 conference football games. Mark my words: there will be a time when three schools tie for first that didn’t all play each other, and someone will be unjustly left out of a conference championship game. Enjoy the annual tradition while it lasts. We’ll come around to missing it.

The Double Basketball Round Robin is the Best Scheduling Model in College Sports

The biggest casualty of the once again 12 team Big 12 is the loss of the double round-robin. Like in football, at the end of every basketball season, there is no room for complaints about who played who and who didn’t. We settle everything on the court. Every school has to play on everyone else’s home court and gets the return game at their own place.

Ten teams is truly the perfect number for a conference under the current NCAA scheduling format. Despite Kansas having the long, partially fraudulent (come on, shared titles shouldn’t count) streak, everyone has gotten better because of it. I know that we’ll still play everyone at least once, but there won’t be the guaranteed satisfaction of getting Houston in Hilton if we lose down there.

Every School Has Had Their Moment in the Spotlight

Think about the last decade of athletics for each of the 10 member schools. Let’s break it down:

Baylor - won a freaking national championship in men’s basketball, another women’s basketball championship, and nearly made the CFP twice

Iowa State - multiple Sweet 16s and won a New Years Six bowl game

Kansas - won another men’s basketball national championship, beat Texas in football, twice

Kansas State -

Oklahoma - 4 CFP appearances and a Final Four

Oklahoma State - came up 6 inches short of the CFP in 2021

TCU - almost made the CFP in 2014 and was undoubtedly one of the best four teams that year

Texas Tech - made the finals of the 2019 men’s tournament and nearly won it all

Texas - uhhh.... was back that one time and won the Director’s Cup or something

West Virginia - perennial March Madness participant

You can’t say that about every conference for sure. Not only has the 10-team era been the tide that lifted all boats, it’s led to wildly entertaining games on the field. And while we’re at it, West Virginia and TCU have been fun additions. The Riot Bowl is annually a weird football game. TCU has been a thorn in Texas’ side and Jamie Dixon has made their basketball program relevant.

It hasn’t always been easy. Our national perception has taken some unfair hits. A new beginning is something to be excited about. The last 10 years have been a great ride. The camaraderie between the remaining 8 schools wouldn’t be the same without it. So before we get there, I do want to savor this final academic year in this iteration of the Big 12.