Commentary

So long to fun, pageantry, geography

Last Big 12 championship game (or is it?) reminds us of college football's glory, greed

Updated: December 5, 2010, 2:10 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Who really cares if Mack Brown and Bob Stoops think conference title games are only good for impeding progress to the national title game?

Or if conference title games were born solely a product of greed, flowing millions to the schools and TV networks and Jerry Jones?

[+] EnlargeNebraska Cornhuskers fan
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireA Nebraska fan takes in the pageantry of the last Big 12 title game. The conference seems content to stroll along with 10 members and no championship.

And who gives a non-automatic-qualifier flip already about market size and television sets?

These title games are fun -- fun for the players and fun for the fans. Cowboys Stadium on Saturday night was proof of that. Jerry's Palace of Cha-Ching glowed from within with 78,410 best friends and mortal enemies crammed inside wearing either crimson or red. No exceptions.

Jerry's overpriced parking lots were hopping hours before kickoff and prior to the parties the caravans of Cornhusker campers and Sooner SUVs parading into town was a glorious yet simple reminder of what's always been college football's lure: The pageantry. The players. The fans.

And they saw a good one in the final one. The Oklahoma Sooners rallied from a 17-0 hole to defeat those dastardly departing Nebraska Cornhuskers 23-20 and cement their spot in another Fiesta Bowl.

Yeah, pageantry and players and fans are for rose-colored glasses. College football seems as much about high-salaried bowl executives with strings and kowtowing university presidents spewing senseless comments through the media -- and insulting those dear little sisters of the poor -- as it is about the pageantry, the players and the fans.

And so the Big 12 has come to the end of an era yet seems quite happy to skip along as a wealthier pack of 10. The Huskers will have to go win conference championship games in the Big Ten, which, of course, will now have 12 teams and play a championship game. It's all long removed from the old Big Eight, which expanded to the Big 12, which ultimately led to Big Red bolting for the Big Ten.

And now TCU, ranked higher than any Big 12 or Big Ten team, is gone to the Big East.

Chalk that geographic travesty up to the dollar-blinded Big 12, the TV networks and the cowardly big state schools. The Big 12 doesn't want the Horned Frogs.

They don't bring a television market or anything else that grows the Benjamins. It's bad enough TCU coach Gary Patterson can now whip out his AQ card courtesy of the Big East to better recruit. No way Big 12 coaches want him any closer to sniffing their blue chips as the Frogs are to sniffing roses in Pasadena on New Year's Day.

This rejuvenated TCU makes too much geographic sense and even brings statewide intrigue now that the little Frogs have elevated to a national level. Take on the Longhorns and Aggies and Sooners every year? Why, yes.

Add TCU and another school to get back to 12, and a title game like Saturday's old-fashioned grudge match that enticed tens of thousands of out-of-towners to converge in Arlington could still exist. But the Big 12 as 10 insists it won't.

And then, Nebraska's animated coach Bo Pelini, asked during Friday's press conference about the historical aspect of the final Sooners vs. Huskers (at least until 2020) and the last Big 12 championship game, surely fogged Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe's glasses with this little nugget:

"As far as it being the last Big 12 championship game, I think it's probably the last one maybe for a year or two, but I don't think this will be the last Big 12 championship."

Oh, really, Bo? Do tell.

"It just so happens that I think the conference will keep thriving. It will probably add ..." and then Pelini paused as if on cue to drop the ultimate cliffhanger.

"Who knows what's going to happen," he continued. "But I wouldn't be surprised if you see a Big 12 championship come back around here pretty quick."

(That giant sucking sound was Jerry Jones' wallet opening.)

Was Bo just pulling Beebe's chain as one last parting gift? Or is there more to it? To no surprise, Beebe reiterated Saturday before the game that he'd be stunned if the coaches reversed field and suddenly wanted a title game.

And Beebe's kept a zero-tolerance policy regarding expansion, as in zero chance. But if a title game were to reappear, wouldn't it take expanding back to 12? Technically, they can do it with 10, but never has a conference with fewer than 12 and not split into divisions held a championship game.

So what if expansion is put back on the table? With TCU off the table -- not that it would be considered anyway -- who would the Big 12 go get? Arkansas? Good luck. BYU or Air Force? Louisville? Other than the Hogs, do any of the others drive the money meter greater than the Frogs?

Oh well. It's too bad college football can't be more about the pageantry, the players and the fans.

Because when everything else is stripped away, Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium -- with nearly 80,000 standing, cheering fans and an exciting game that had zero BCS title game implications -- was pretty darn fun.

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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