The Big 12 North's flagship programs

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

With the men's and women's college basketball season approaching their peaks with the tournament, it's interesting to think about what might be considered the flagship sport for each Big 12 school.

Here's a look at what I consider to be each institution's flagship sport, and what football will have to do -- both in the immediate and long-term future -- to become the school's most important sport.

First, we'll look at the North Division


Flagship program: Football.

Why: Even though the football program has made only one bowl trip in the past three seasons, none of the other programs at Colorado has made much of a national dent in its place. The struggles of the men's and women's basketball programs are especially noteworthy in the past season.

Football's future: If the Buffaloes can return to a bowl and into contention in what should be a balanced North Division, there won't be much doubt what program commands the most attention in the Flatirons.


Flagship program: Women's basketball.

Why: Bill Fennelly's program has developed into the most consistent winner at Iowa State, qualifying this season for their 10th NCAA tournament berth in his 12 seasons coaching there. The Cyclones' dominance in the Big 12 is a marked contrast from most of the school's athletic programs.

Football's future: Paul Rhoads was a good choice and has a lot of history around the program and his recruiting area. But it won't make his job any easier, considering the Cyclones still haven't won an undisputed conference football championship and last shared a conference title with a pair of back-to-back championships in the Missouri Valley Conference in 1911-12. It will be a long trip back for him to bring the program into contention.


Flagship program: Men's basketball.

Why: Remember that shot Mario Chalmers made last season at the Alamodome? I thought so. That dramatic championship brought the third national championship to Lawrence. Kansas has won nine regular-season Big 12 championships and will be making its 20th straight trip to the NCAA tournament. It's the best basketball program in the Big 12 and among the five or 10 best in the nation on a consistent basis.

Football's future: Mark Mangino has taken the Jayhawks to back-to-back bowl games in the past two years, and their first BCS bowl game in history in 2007. It hasn't ever been much better than this in Kansas' recent gridiron history. And basketball still remains dominant. But Mangino has the Jayhawks at an increasingly strong position after the recent growth.


Flagship program: Men's basketball.

Why: Bob Huggins started it and Frank Martin has continued it with three straight postseason appearances. The Wildcats' recent success has come as the football program has hit a lull in recent years, bottoming out with the firing of Ron Prince late last season.

Football's future: Bill Snyder turned the Wildcats around once. He's headed for the Football Hall of Fame because of his earlier work in taking the Wildcats to the 2003 Big 12 title and 11 straight bowl games from 1993-2003. Only one bowl game and one winning season in the last five seasons has dropped the Wildcats' football program from that perch. But if anybody can get the Wildcats back it will be Snyder, although he will be challenged more today than his first turnaround because it will be in the Big 12 rather than the old Big Eight.


Flagship program: Football

Why: The Tigers have claimed back-to-back North Division championships for the first time in school history and have made bowl trips in the last four seasons for the first time since 1978-81. Mike Anderson has the Missouri basketball team headed in that direction, but not nearly as consistently as Gary Pinkel.

Football's future: It will be interesting to see if Pinkel can keep his team's run of North titles coming without Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman and Jeremy Maclin -- along with two new coordinators. The North Division figures to be down next season and balanced, but Missouri's talent level appears to have dropped, too.


Flagship program: Football

Why: Because it's Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have claimed five national championships, 46 conference championships and been the big dogs in the state since Bob Devaney came to the state from Wyoming in 1962. Nebraska hasn't won a men's conference basketball title since sharing the Big Seven title with Kansas and Kansas State in 1950 and hasn't won an outright conference title since winning the Missouri Valley Conference in 1916. But Nebraska has been very successful in the National Invitational Tournament over the years, prompting some Nebraska pundits to dub the Devaney Athletic Center as "The Orchard" because of the number of NIT banners that once were displayed in the facility.

Football's future: Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers pointed in the right direction and should have them among the Big 12 powers for the immediate future. Doc Sadler has done a nice job with the men's basketball program, but please. It's Nebraska.