Something's not right
It began earlier in the decade when Big-12 teams managed to, on several occasions, slide their way into undeserved rankings and bowl games. In 2001, #2 Nebraska was trampled by Colorado 62-36 late in the season. And yet the Cornhuskers, who failed to even qualify for the Big-12 title game, somehow snuck into the national championship game, where they were completely outclassed by Miami. Two years later, the Sooners were blitzed by Kansas State 35-7 in the conference championship, but that didn't stop them from backdooring their way to the national title game, where they were mauled by LSU. The teams nudged out of those title games? Oregon and USC.
In 2004, Texas coach Mack Brown's public lobbying of pollsters, followed by a mysterious shift in the coaches poll, was enough to drop the #4 ranked Cal Bears (whose only loss was the National Champion Trojans) behind Texas in the computers. As a result, Texas was awarded the at-large Rose Bowl berth while Cal was left to play 23rd ranked Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. The Associated Press was so appalled by the situation that it immediately ended its poll's association with the BCS. Whether one views these instances as chicanery, good luck or Pac-10 sour grapes, it's fair to say the Big-12's reputation took a hit (at least until Texas "Vinced" USC in 2005).
The more recent and problematic issue facing the Big-12 is the significant decline in its quality, depth and parity over the last five years. Programs like Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas State who not long ago competed for both conference and national titles, have become mediocre (although the Cornhuskers appear to be on the rise).
Now, there is only Texas and Oklahoma.
Sure, teams like Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Missouri have improved over the past few years, but only enough to nip at the heals of the Sooners and Longhorns. In the last decade, no other team has won the South. In that same span, only two outside of Austin and Norman have won the conference (Colorado in '01, Kansas State in '03). That's six straight years and counting of Red River dominance with no end in sight.
Contrast this with the SEC, where five different teams have won the conference in the 2000s. Presently, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt may not have a prayer of winning the conference, but about half the league does. In Big-10 country, seven of eleven teams have won or shared the conference crown in that span. Out west, parity returns as USC's unprecedented reign over the last decade appears to be at an end. Just look at the bottom of the conference -- the Washington schools have been Pac-10 doormats for the last five years, but the Cougars won two conference titles and notched four 10-win seasons in the six years before the Trojans run. The Huskies haven't been to a bowl since 2002, but this season they actually have a shot (albeit it long one) at winning the conference. Can Baylor, Iowa State or Texas A&M say the same?
This imbalance is only exacerbated by the departure of Nebraska and Colorado. Rumors have swirled that the Big-12 may try to add Arkansas and TCU in the future. An intriguing notion, but assuming there is any validity to this, does anyone believe either team could threaten the Texlahoma monopoly? The Razorbacks and Horned Frogs would certainly get loads of money and other perks, but they would have to agree to be permanent second-class citizens.
It gets worse. Reports suggest that Texas used the Pac-10 expansion overtures to leverage the Big-12 for more money, its own televsion network (and all the revenue it generates), as well as a commitment by Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor to hand over their share of the $35-$40 million in penalties to be paid by Nebraska and Colorado to Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Isn't this a little outrageous?
Like Ohio State, Florida and USC, Texas is the big dog. It brings in the big money and is therefore entitled to a bigger slice of the pie. But unlike the Big-12, the other BCS conferences have applied far more equitable revenue sharing policies that ensure the long term viability of all their members. The Big-12 needs Texas, but by hitching its wagon to Bevo, it risks further indignities to its teams, or Texas bolting when the arrangement no longer suits them. It's no wonder Nebraska and Colorado left town. The situation has become untenable. As for Texas, this will probably work out for them in the short term, making an even smoother path to the national championship, but down the road, as the conference begins to crumble beneath them, won't everyone begin to notice the emperor's not wearing any clothes?