Hlas column: A Big 12 breakup would leave Iowa State heartsick

Published: June 5 2010 | 1:02 pm - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 2:17 am in
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You work hard to make a living fishing off the Gulf of Mexico, and a massive oil leak takes you out of the game.

Itís not your fault. But what can you do other than figure out what to do next?

Youíre a member in good standing of a high-profile college athletic conference on the Great Plains, but poachers from the west and north seem poised to steal your league.

Itís not your fault. But what can you do other than hope for the best and prepare for the worst?

Iowa State University could become a 152-year-old orphan should some scenarios play out the way they could. If the Pacific-10 Conference does indeed swipe†Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and either Baylor or Colorado, the Big 12 is big no more.

It isnít BCS-big, it isnít ESPN-big. Itís a ghost league.

Now, it would take some serious doing for the Pac-10 to pull that off. If history has taught us anything, itís that you donít know what to believe when it comes to conference-expansion chatter.

But letís say the Big Ten is as serious about expansion as many think it is, and it grabs Missouri and Nebraska. Suddenly, Iowa State becomes a school without a border neighbor.

In the words of the immortal Chico Marx, thassa no good.

Now letís go to an even-darker scenario for ISU and say the Pac-10 does raid the Big 12. It seems improbable, but the Pac-10 has shifted into aggressive mode recently.

Well, that would kill off the league. Without a Big 12 to call home, Iowa State takes a major step down the pecking order of college sports. The revenue flow of being part of a league with a nice TV deal gets chopped immediately.

Thatís just the start. You lose annual home basketball games against Missouri, you lose something. You lose an every-other-year home football game against Nebraska, you lose something. You lose century-old rivalries with those two schools, you lose a lot.

And then thereís what youíd lose if those six other schools join a conference with the word ďPacificĒ in its name.

Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy needs to send University of Texas President William Powers some of Iowaís finest steaks and chops, let him know that heíd love to have the Longhorns as conference partners for eternity.

If Texas bolts and five other league members follow suit, Jack Trice Stadium and Hilton Coliseum may seem oversized on many future days and nights.

Assuming ó and itís still just a wild assumption ó all those schools depart the Big 12, what in the world do you do if youíre Iowa State?

Do you go to the Mountain West Conference with your hat in your hands and hope to join an established nine-team (10 if it snags Boise State soon, as expected) league with just one†current member in the Central time zone?

Do you and Big 12 refugees Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor try to swipe a slab of Conference USA, say Houston, Memphis, UTEP and, uh, somebody else?

Would that really grab the imagination of anyone who is used to the Sooners and Cornhuskers and Longhorns?

Which is another part of the rub. Besides losing TV money, how do you get ticket-buyers to pay similar prices for a less-attractive product? How do you sustain the same level of contributions to the athletic program?

You donít.

Any Iowa fan who delights at the prospect of Iowa State possibly encountering this dilemma should think again. If the Big 12 walks away from ISU, itís less money entering the state, less prestige for the state, and a drop in stature for one of the state universities. Which is a drop in stature for the whole state.

No state that borders Iowa has universities in two different BCS conferences. No border state has two public universities in BCS leagues, period.

That says we possess and sustain two large and capable public universities in a lightly populated state.

Whether you think athletics truly matter in an institution of higher learning, it still isnít a good thing if Iowa State becomes perceived as a school left behind by many of its former peers. Some of which, by the way, donít measure up to ISU academically.

Texas holds all the cards. If Texas sees no need to move to its third different conference in a quarter-century, the Big 12 will survive even without Missouri and Nebraska. If Texas leaves, uh oh.

It wouldnít be ideal for Iowa State to lose one or two of its neighbors and be part of an even more Southwest-centric conference. But it sure would beat the alternative, whatever that might be.

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