Mar 13, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Big 12 school banners hang in the courtyard of the Kansas City Power & Light District following the cancellation of the Big 12 mens basketball tournament due to concerns over the Covid 19 coronavirus. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
The feeling hit me as I thought about Kansas City.
I was not thinking about Patrick Mahomes and the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs or the magical Royals squad of 2015. No, I was thinking about one of America’s great basketball towns, one of the few great basketball towns without a basketball team of their own, and the greatest conference tournament in college athletics.
I was thinking about the Big 12 Tournament. I was thinking about the Power & Light, Kelly’s, The Green Lady Lounge and the Marriot hotel bar that has been home to many a Cyclone celebration.
I was thinking about Monte Morris’ shot to beat Texas, Deonte Burton’s thunderous slam against West Virginia and Marial Shayok’s heroics against Kansas State.
I was thinking about Hilton South.
The Big 12 as we know it is one step closer to its death today. Oklahoma and Texas have notified the league of their intent not to renew the league’s media rights agreement once it expires in 2025. Nobody expects the league to last until halfway through the decade, though, with the SEC expected to extend membership invites to both schools sometime in the not-so-distant future.
The writing is, unfortunately, on the wall. The Big 12’s last dance is coming — and soon.
Nobody on this Earth knows what that means for the eight institutions left behind by Longhorn and Sooner greed. They could stick together and add a few schools. But, on the other hand, they could end up scattered across various other conferences, looking to find their footing as the new kids on the block.
The only thing we do know is none of it will ever be the same.
We know this because we’ve seen it before with our own eyes. Nebraska turned its back on history more than a decade ago to jump from the Big 12 to the Big Ten for greener financial pastures.
The money has certainly arrived in Lincoln, but ask the folks who pack Memorial Stadium on any given Saturday in the fall if they’d rather be hosting Rutgers or Kansas. The Cornhuskers and Jayhawks have squared off on the gridiron 117 times, dating all the way back to 1892.
There is history and familiarity with the Jayhawks. All Nebraska has in common with Rutgers is they’ve both slid in nicely as punching bags for Ohio State on a nearly annual basis while some of the longest-standing Big Ten members avoid the powerful Buckeyes for years at a time.
It must be nice to be the bully when a new kid comes around.
The Sooners know the value of history all too well. It is why they’ll square off with the Huskers this season for the first time since the 2010 Big 12 title game in a celebration of 50 years since the 1971 Game of the Century.
That game 50 years ago was much like nearly every edition of the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry that followed. Two of the nation’s best teams going head-to-head with league-title and national-title ramifications on the line year-after-year with bad blood and earned respect that can only exist between two bitter rivals.
The same cannot be said for the Sooners, and Texas, the program Oklahoma hitched its wagon to more than 25 years ago and will ride behind off into American Southeast sunset.
Texas has won three Big 12 titles during the league’s 25-year run, which is the same number as Nebraska and Colorado combined. The latter two schools have not been in the league for more than 10 years and last won a title in 2003.
Yet, the Longhorns are the ones calling the shots in the end because this is college athletics and rarely does anything really truly make sense.
I understand the monetary element of all this, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Oklahoma and Texas stand to make obscene amounts of money from jumping ship to align with Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia and others.
If only more money meant solving every problem. If that were the case, Texas would have many more Big 12 titles than Nebraska, Colorado, and even Oklahoma (which has won 14 of them, including the last six), because Texas is already the richest college athletics program in the country regardless of their league affiliation.
Oklahoma has shared a league with Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas since 1920. More than 100 years of athletic partnership and tradition thrown down the drain for a few million dollars.
That’s what makes me so sick about all of this. College football celebrates and touts its history as passionately as maybe any sport on Earth besides baseball. Oklahoma is right at the center of the sport’s history as one of the flagship blue-blood programs.
Hell, they’re playing their longtime rival for the first time in a decade literally to celebrate history. But, now, they’re turning their backs on history and tradition with little regard for any of the people or places they’ve built that history with for over a century.
A high-level Texas source even said the quiet part out loud to OrangeBloods.com reporter Geoff Ketchum, admitting the two schools don’t really care what happens to the eight schools they’ll leave behind.
As Michael Jordan said in The Last Dance…
“That’s when it became personal to me.”
History, tradition, partnership, trust, all of that is out the window. None of it matters anymore because these two schools see greener pastures and greener pockets.
I can’t stop thinking about Kansas City.
I suggest you make your travel plans for March sooner rather than later. It is something that every Cyclone (and Big 12) fan should experience before they die.
That magnificent celebration of Midwest basketball appears to be on its last legs, too, though. A last dance at the Power & Light for fans from across The Great Plains.
From here on out, everything is personal to me.