Longing for the days of the Big 8

By Steve Sell
July 20, 2016

I was a Big 8 guy and always will be.

Of course it’s been exactly 20 years since the Big 8 was scuttled in favor of the fandangled Big 12. The Big 8 welcomed newcomers Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas A & M for what at the time was being called the "conference of all conferences."

From a football standpoint (and money grab), Texas was the big get. After the Southwest Conference dissolved it was a given the Big 8 would want to add one of college football's bluest of bluechips, plus it heightened its rivalry with neighboring Oklahoma. But that meant adding the rest of the Texas clan.

Texas A & M also was a football power. Texas Tech and Baylor, to me, came along for the ride so the Big 8 could acquire Texas. Baylor has since emerged as a sports power, while Texas Tech for the most part spins its wheels and is irrelevant.

Everything seemed rosy until Nebraska, such a football power in its heyday, decided it wanted to test greener pastures and join the Big 10. At that same time, Colorado — for whatever crazy reason — headed for the Pac 12.

Let’s face it, do we hear much about those schools anymore? Both were such high-profile football programs in the Big 8, but have lost their luster with their moves. Basketball-wise, neither was ever a national power and they continue to be fringe NCAA Tournament teams or NIT regulars.

The real nail in the coffin for me was the defection of Missouri, which left for the prestigious SEC along with Texas A & M. Few rivalries in the country matched that of Kansas and Missouri, but now they don’t play each other in either of the two biggest sports, football and basketball. 

There was nothing quite like the hype leading up to those games and the animosity between the schools was real — I can tell you having experienced it first-hand as a student at KU in the 1970s. We disliked in-state rival Kansas State, but HATED Missouri. Most KU alums will tell you they'll take wins over Missouri any day instead of Kansas State.

TCU was a good pickup for the Big 12 though it struggles in basketball, but when West Virginia was added I had to scratch my head. It has proven to be quite competitive in football and basketball, but I still don’t like the fact it’s so far away. That was the charm of the Big 8, schools all within shouting distance of each other. West Virginia just seems like an oasis all to its own.

On Tuesday it was announced the Big 12 has given the directive to commissioner Bob Bowlsby to start evaluating candidates for expansion. Let’s face it, it’s silly to call a conference the Big 12 when it has only 10 schools.

This, of course, is football-driven. The Big 12 hasn’t had a championship game since the conference combined back into one division. There’s still a postseason basketball tournament, which brings in millions. Its lack of a championship game for football has been decried nationally and casts aversions on the conference that it’s not in the class of the other so-called “Big 5” power conferences. That’s one reason the championship game will return in 2017, expansion or not.

Obviously now, boundaries mean nothing to the Big 12. It’s going to add the schools that would bring the most prestige and quality regardless of geography.

I think Houston will be considered, since there would be natural rivalries with the Texas schools. Another name I keep hearing is Louisville, which has been a Top 25 school in the two power sports. Another mentioned is Colorado State, which is a poor man’s Colorado. It would probably be competitive in football, but join TCU as a cellar dweller in basketball.

It will be interesting in the coming weeks and months to see the direction of the Big 12. But it’s never going to be the Big 8 to me.