Ghosts in Big 12 explosion? Really?

If you care about college athletics at all and, especially if you have any ties that bind you to the Southwest, then one of the big stories of the day is the almost certain breakup up of the Big 12 Conference. At this point, it certainly looks like Nebraska is headed to the old and now warped Big 10 and Colorado is set to head way, way West. Here is the top of the breaking ESPN report

The Pac-10 conference announced Thursday that the University of Colorado has agreed to leave the Big 12 to join its conference.

"This is an historic moment for the Conference, as the Pac-10 is poised for tremendous growth," commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. "The University of Colorado is a great fit for the Conference both academically and athletically and we are incredibly excited to welcome Colorado to the Pac-10." ...

"The University of Colorado is a perfect match -- academically and athletically -- with the Pac-10," Colorado president Bruce D. Benson said in a statement.

A source with direct knowledge of the Pac-10's discussions about adding more Big 12 teams told ESPN's Joe Schad on Thursday that from the Pac-10's perspective, it's "simply a matter of who signs next."

So now the people who watch the TV ratings and the bank deposits are watching the University of Texas like hawks. A move there could break everything up.

Listening to the sports networks, I have been hearing people emphasize that UT -- like Colorado -- is a good fit for the Pac-10 in terms of "culture." That's an interesting word.

So what schools would get the bad end of this mega-conference divorce? That would be Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State. More on that in this faith-free Dallas Morning News report.

Wait! Did I just say the words "faith-free report" in connection with this massive breaking story in the world of sports? What does faith have to with any of this?

Well, basketball is obviously a religion in Kansas. But that isn't what I am talking about.

If you look at the map and think in terms of "culture" there are two interesting schools that are being left out of some of these discussions. One is a former winner of the mythical national college football championship and, if wins and losses were the primary factor, would be near the top of the ratings year after year. The problem is that the school isn't in a major conference -- like, say, the Pac-10.

The other school just came within a strange call or two of beating Duke, the eventual champion, and marching into the NCAA Final Four in hoops -- for men. And the women on this campus recently won the whole shooting match and have one of the nation's flashiest young players. If you add up all the sports on campus, this cultural misfit has been a Big 12 powerhouse (but not in football).

What's the problem with these schools? Television markets are a key, of course. However, columnist Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman thinks he has spotted a ghost, sort of.

Baylor has tried to play politics to usurp Colorado and be included in the Big 12 exodus to the Pac-10. I don't think the Bears will succeed.

First, the Pac-10 is partial to Colorado. Always has been. The Pac-10 seems to sense a kindred spirit in the Buffs. Boulder is sort of Berkeley East; a funky, liberal bastion. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And no way is Baylor attractive to the Pac-10. The Pac-10 always has been allergic to Brigham Young, another church-based school. Baylor is the nation's largest Baptist university. A Baptist friend of mine says Baylor actually is quite liberal in Baptist eyes, but I don't think that's a concept Berkeley recognizes, liberal Baptist.

So is religion playing a role in this huge story? You would think that the place to look for information and news about that angle would be in some of the major Texas newspapers, or even the hometown paper in Waco. Journalists may even want to call the new president of Baylor. You may have heard of him and I imagine that people have in the Pac-10 faculty clubs. His name is Kenneth Starr.

Meanwhile, up in Utah, there are hints that the issue is in play, in part because Brigham Young doesn't play games on Sundays (if you can imagine that).

So are we about to see a world in which there are conferences that are divided by "culture" as well as by TV market shares? Note that, in football especially, this could end up shaping who is even eligible to play for a national championship, whether mythical or literal.

This could get interesting.

Hat tip to our own Bobby Ross Jr., who certainly knows that sports is a religion in the Southwest.

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