When we turned the calendar from June to July, it marked the end of the '13-'14 collegiate athletic season and the '14-'15 season began. For some conferences, this also marked a shake-up to their team configurations.
The Big Ten welcomed new members Maryland & Rutgers. While the ACC bid farewell to Maryland, they welcomed in Louisville.
The American Athletic Conference was perhaps the biggest loser in the process, losing Louisville & Rutgers and adding only Eastern Carolina.
Such is the nature of college athletics these days, with a constantly changing landscape that can have shattering impacts on even the power conferences. Just ask the former Big East.
The Big 12, however, stood pat. They lost no school, nor added any. And some in the Big 12 will tell you that's how they want it.
Conference officials and university ADs will point to the distributive per school revenue (which topped even that of SEC & ACC schools) as well as conference schedules, which allow a conference football game between every school and a home-and-home basketball schedule between every school, as reasons they are pleased with the current configuration. They've taken that uniqueness of scheduling and turned it into the conference slogan - One True Champion.
I have no doubt many fans like the set-up as well. I myself always hated when the basketball team would lose to Texas or some other school from the old Big 12 south and wouldn't get a shot at revenge (until possibly in the Big 12 tournament).
However, I'm of the opinion that the further expansion would be good. And understand that when I say good, mostly I mean for the KU men's basketball team.
First I have to lament the decision to not extend an invitation to Louisville back in 2011. This stands as perhaps the biggest blunder that this group of inept conference officials have displayed during the "expansion/realignment" era. They've been completely reactive to the climate at every turn. And for whatever reason, the expansion committee decided to bring in West Virginia instead of Louisville. Whether it was because they had made promises to West Virginia or they didn't want to feel bullied into adding Louisville by Senator Mitch McConnell, they turned their backs on the Cardinals - perhaps cutting off their nose to spite their face.
Not that it had to be an either/or scenario. They could have added both and sought another school to bring the conference back up to 12 schools. Or they could have stayed at 11 until another attractive opportunity for expansion presented itself (the Big 10 had 11 schools for years). But most likely due to a new television deal and not wanting to take a slightly smaller slice of the pie per school, the greedy Big 12 officials have decided 10 is enough.
(Side note: there's nothing as mind-numbingly idiotic as calling a 10 team league "the Big 12". The Big 10 with 11, 12, or 14 schools is equally moronic. Oh no, by no means should we do something as radical as renaming the conference. That would mean re-branding everything, which costs money. They're much more comfortable holding onto that money and pretending they can't count. Ugh. Anyway, rant over).
Adding Louisville would have been the best possible conference addition for KU. Last week Ivan Portillo examined the loss of Missouri and how it has left Kansas without a true rival. While I understand a true rivalry cannot simply be manufactured, Louisville would continually challenge the Jayhawks for conference supremacy (men's basketball). And that is a good thing. Yes, we have all enjoyed the 10 straight conference titles. But how big of an achievement is that if it means rolling over a bunch of stiffs every year? I know that's hyperbole, as Texas often has high-quality teams, lately Iowa State has been formidable, etc. But let's not pretend that the Big 12 is a great basketball conference. I'm sorry, but it's just not. But hey, at least we have those cool "Ten There, Done That" t-shirts, right?
Competition is a good thing. Competition pushes you to get better. It helps you avoid complacency. It provides you with a better measuring stick for evaluation. And almost every iconic sports team across the board has a rival pushing it to be better. The Yankees and the Red Sox. Ohio State and Michigan. Duke and North Carolina.
In this respect, I would argue that even Missouri was never a true rival. Did they ever push us to be better? Sure, we hate them and always wanted to beat them, but the Tigers never elevated their program to a level that caused anybody in the athletic department to say "Those bastards in Columbia just did this! (whatever ‘this' might mean - hiring of a marquee coach, landing a recruiting coup, major facilities upgrade, etc.) How are we going to match that? Because I'll be damned if I'm going to sit back while those low-life Tigers get a leg up on us!" Again, at least not from a basketball perspective.
(And judging by the opposite directions our respective football programs have headed, it doesn't seem like anybody went on a rant like that regarding football either.)
Anyway, during this 10 year run of conference championships, how many other Big 12 teams have made a Final Four run? The answer is none, unless you want to count West Virginia in 2010 when they were a member of the Big East (I don't). Oklahoma State in 2004 is the only other conference school to make it during Self's KU tenure.
That's a pretty anemic basketball resume for the conference. Adding Louisville, who I would rank as just a notch below the blue blood basketball institutions, would have given the conference's basketball credibility a huge boost. It's only been two seasons since the realignment, but in 2013 the Cardinals won the NCAA championship (and were a Final Four team the year before as a member of the Big East). Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have missed the NCAA tournament in both seasons.
And just for good measure, Louisville has had more success in football the last couple of seasons as well. So adding them would have been an all around win.
I suppose that's enough of my frustrations regarding missing the boat on Louisville. That ship has sailed. There doesn't appear to be anyone close to their pedigree out there that's ripe for the picking. But West Virginia & TCU have been big disappointments to the conference. Losing Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M and replacing them with those two schools is a major fail. Who might we look to upgrade the conference's pedigree?
As brendandzwierzynski suggested last week, Cincinnati might be the best fit out there. They have good basketball and football programs, it would allow the conference to expand its geographical footprint into Ohio, and maybe most importantly, it probably wouldn't be too difficult to pry them away from the American Athletic Conference.
In general, the American is a good conference from which to potentially poach. Memphis might be a decent add. They've been solid in basketball for a number of years. SMU is viable as long as Larry Brown is there, but how much longer can that last? And if the current league members could stomach the travel...UConn? 4 NCAA championships in the past 16 years is nothing to sneeze at!
And if travel isn't a concern, looking to BYU and teams from the Mountain West conference like Boise St., UNLV, San Diego St., and New Mexico could be a possibility. I'm personally against this, as I'm not a fan of staying up 1-2 hours later for road games in those time zones to end.
The Big East has several decent basketball schools, but I don't think there is an FBS football program among them, which means adding them would be strictly for basketball, a move that seems unlikely.
My preference would be for KU to ditch the Big 12 for the Big 10, although that doesn't seem likely with the grant of rights. No way anyone is walking away from years of television revenue. Perhaps the right move now is no move. If that's the case, the Big 12 should be set. After all, making no moves is what they're good at.