Nebraska and Colorado can't get out of the Big 12 fast enough for the remaining 10 schools to relish the most competitive college basketball league in the country.
"If you look at who we lost and where they've been basketball-wise, we got stronger,'' Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. "It's going to be a great league. How great would it be, if, when we have 10 teams, that we get six to seven teams in the NCAA tournament in good years? As basketball coaches, we knew we wanted to save this league because we knew we had something special.''
The current plan is for the Huskers to leave for the Big Ten by next summer for the fall of 2011. Meanwhile, Colorado exits for the Pac-10 in 2012, giving the league one more season of 12 teams and a 16-game men's basketball schedule, and a possible season of 11 teams and a 16- or 18-game schedule before the league goes to a tidy 10 teams in 2012. The plan for 2012-13 is an 18-game schedule with home-and-home games.
It might sound simplistic, but the Big 12 held on to a football divisional schedule even though the league standings were 1 through 12. While Kansas State and Missouri have become major national players the past two seasons, Nebraska and Colorado were still in the North. That meant the Big 12 South traditionally had tougher home-and-home games. Not having Kansas and Texas play twice in recent years, save last season's nosedive from Texas, was a disservice to the league.
Kansas coach Bill Self said the ACC, Big East, SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 didn't have true champions. Only the Pac-10 did.
But the RPI and the overall scheduling for the teams in the Big 12 North (Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State) will change dramatically.
"We're trading four games with Nebraska and Colorado for another game against Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M and Texas Tech,'' Self said of the true home-and-home series and the jump to two more overall league games from 16 to 18.
"When we didn't get in four years ago and two years ago, we were criticized for being in the weaker Big 12 North, and therefore our conference record was weaker than teams in the Big 12 South,'' Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "Well, the only thing that will matter is that we play everybody twice -- no ifs, ands or buts. That argument is no longer valid. ''
That's when the Big 12 becomes unquestionably the best college basketball conference in the country. No dogs. None. Not even Iowa State, which has slid toward the bottom but still has potentially one of the better home court in the country.
The Pac-10 had the envy of other power conferences because of its schedule. The true round-robin schedule produces a real regular-season champion. There is no way to hide behind the premise that the regular-season champion doesn't matter as much because the teams don't play the same schedule.
What the Pac-10 had over its fellow power conferences, it will lose once it adds Colorado and possibly Utah, which will mean 12 teams. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said the familiarity and consistency of home-and-home games was a huge plus. He said he remembered how tough it was being in an unbalanced schedule in Conference USA with St. Louis, Cincinnati, Marquette, Louisville and Charlotte. Losing the home-and-home aspect within the Pac-10 is something Romar said he'll have to sit down, digest and figure out the best course of action for the league, assuming it will drop from 18 to 16 games.
Turgeon said he wasn't thrilled to jump from 16 to 18 league games just in number alone, but the format is the best. No one is questioning that.
No one seems to question the direction of every program in the remaining Big 12, with Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Missouri -- four schools that were being left out of possible expansion -- likely in the top 20 this fall. Texas won't be far behind. Oklahoma State has been a consistent winner. Oklahoma had one disastrous season but is two seasons removed from being a national title contender with then-player of the year Blake Griffin. Assuming OU coach Jeff Capel won't let the Sooners slide again, they should be in the thick of the chase soon. The coaches all agree Texas Tech's Pat Knight is ready to turn the corner this season as a factor in the Big 12 mix. The question is whether Iowa State can regroup and recruit under new coach Fred Hoiberg? If he can, there is no weak link in the bunch and there are no wins that can be counted on to get into the NCAA tournament in a given season.
If the football side agrees that other programs (Memphis, Louisville or Mountain West schools) wouldn't add serious value to the league, the compacted Big 12 could easily exist for years and become one of the most competitive leagues in the country.
The Big 12 has produced national players of the year in Griffin (Oklahoma) and Kevin Durant (Texas), and one who was close to earning it in Michael Beasley (Kansas State).
Duke and North Carolina won the past two national championships. However, outside of Memphis and Kentucky these past two seasons, Big 12 schools have had some of the top storylines in the country. That should only continue as the league matures into a 10-team conference that will become the envy of the other power-six schools because of how easily it will be managed.
Navigating wins will be tough, but there will be no letdowns. Every game will be important. As rivalries are enhanced, interest in conference games will increase, and to the benefit of the Big 12, the ratings might rise, too.