As we keep moving closer to what more and more appears to be the eventual end of the Big 12, it struck me how pragmatic I’ve felt about the whole thing.
It’s really the only logical way to feel in regard to something about which you have no input and no control. But I think one of the big reasons I’ve looked at it like, “Whatever happens, happens,” is that I’ve gone through the breakup of the newspaper industry (which is still in progress) and realize there’s not much to do when certain big changes come except to figure out how to adapt to them.
I know the Big 12 has been good for women’s sports, and women’s basketball in particular. The addition of the four Southwest Conference schools brought a new infusion of talent and money into the group that formerly was the Big Eight.
There were things people in the “North” didn’t like, such as the move of the league office from Kansas City, where it was in Big Eight days, to Dallas. Folks in the North felt there was a Texas-centric (especially Longhorn-centric) tilt to the league, and some lamented the Big 12 had ever happened.
But that was a head-in-the-sand kind of mentality … it was clear in the early 1990s that the Big Eight was not going to survive long-term, so the Big 12 then was the best option. And, as I said, it has been good for everybody involved, overall.
There have been improvements to facilities and the elevation of women’s sports programs, and neither of those happen to the degree that they have without the enormity of football revenue. The chase for more dollars is, obviously, what’s prompting this apparent next series of steps for conference shifting.
Rather than spend any time talking about how money has “ruined” college athletics, I will just say that money is what runs college athletics, period. And nobody ever wants to be downsized. They might want somebody else to be downsized, someone they feel is too big, but not themselves.
What the projected breakup of the Big 12 will do to women’s basketball in particular is something I’ve addressed here a few times. But since we are still waiting for the full picture to emerge, I’ll say a few more things about that.
The strength of women’s basketball in the Big 12 had a grounding in the states represented, because there is significant history of the sport in this central corridor of the United States, running from the Heartland into the Southwest.
St. Joseph, Mo., was for many years the home of the national AAU tournaments for women, going back into the early decades of the 20th Century.
Iowa is legendary for its devotion to six-on-six girls basketball, being the only state to have a continuously running state tournament for girls hoops since the 1920s. Oklahoma also has a rich six-on-six history, and Texas is not just noted for girls hoops but also as being one of the leading states in the development of what is now the modern college women’s game.
So there is a more receptive fan base for the sport in this part of the country than is necessarily the case elsewhere. Add in the additional revenue that schools got from football, and it all helped women’s basketball’s growth in the Big 12.
The women’s hoops fans in this conference are to be commended. They’ve pushed the league to the top of attendance ranking for 11 consecutive seasons and set a bar for other leagues to try to match. Many of those folks are now worried about what the future will bring in terms of where their favorite team ends up and how that will impact their experience as fans and the attendance at their program.
And this is where I get back to whatever happens, happens. But I don’t mean that in a flip way.
Once all the dust settles – whenever that is – the same people who bought season tickets and engaged in intelligent chatter on message boards and spread the “gospel” of women’s hoops will still be there to support their teams. They may suddenly fight themselves yoked to a whole different set of schools as their new “neighbors” in a conference, and that will require some getting used to.
But I remember something that former Nebraska coach Angela Beck said on the very first Big 12 media day I attended, in October of 1996. She was asked about how it felt to be in a “new” league, and she said it was sort of like suddenly being introduced to some strangers and told that they were now your brothers and sisters. And so you knew you were supposed to “love” them, but … heck, you just met them. It was going to take awhile to feel that way.
Fourteen years later … well, “love” is not the emotion that all fans of the Big 12 have for each other, that’s for sure. In fact, if this breakup does indeed happen, there are going to be some really ugly jabs thrown amongst fans … there already have been.
But for women’s basketball fans, who formed their own almost-always civil and supportive community on-line (at HoopScoop.net) and in the stands/at restaurants when they visited with each other, it did become a group of brothers and sisters who cared for each other – and also cared very much about all the young women who played at every Big 12 school, not just their own team.
I don’t feel the least bit cornball writing that. I witnessed the very best attributes of fandom for the last 14 years with what I saw consistently from the majority of Big 12 women’s basketball fans.
There will be some genuine tears shed by those folks if they are no longer together as a group – cheering as hard “for” each other in out-of-conference matchups as they did “against” each other in league battles _ but they can take great pride in what they did to elevate this sport over the past decade-plus.
And whatever leagues the various schools do end up in – again, if this all happens and the Big 12 effectively disappears – those conferences will get an infusion of terrific fans for women’s basketball.
We all know that some changes are inevitable. But, thankfully, the spirit and character of those who’ve made up the dedicated fan base for Big 12 women’s basketball won’t change. Because it’s about who they are as human beings, not just as fans.