Participants Stoking Big 12-SEC Rivalry Before It Starts
By Mike Casazza
Bob Stoops said something interesting after one of the many other times he said something else interesting this offseason.
The Oklahoma coach has popped off about various things, including that college athletes shouldn’t be paid because they have plenty of privileges as it is, and one day he was compelled to talk about it. David Ubben of ESPN.com wondered why Stoops kept writing headlines with his mouth.
"Come on, you know why. This time of year? You guys gotta have something to write about, talk about. It's just this time of year. Everybody blows up whatever they can," he said.
Now that makes sense. Stoops said that at one of those offseason appearances coaches make on behalf of their schools for the benefit of their fans and donors. There are no games to discuss. Depth charts are taboo. The specifics of recruiting are off limits.
But the media that gathers has to ask about something. And Stoops has to talk about something. At that same coaches’ caravan in Plano, Texas, Stoops was behind a podium when someone asked about Texas A&M’s “SEC offense” — and trust that both the questioner and the question answerer were well aware that the Aggies pummeled the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl.
The reply, again as told by Ubben?
“It’s an SEC offense now? Well, for the last 100 years or whatever, it’s been a Big 12 offense,” Stoops snarled.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Stoops could have said anything, could have gone anywhere with his reply, but what he said took us down a road he’d traveled before. It was a few weeks before that Stoops tried to explain the popularity of the SEC by saying “propaganda” was to blame and that the SEC wasn’t the best merely because it’s had the past seven national champions — and there are computer rankings that not only support that, but also give the Big 12 the nod here and there.
What Stoops argued to John Hoover of the Tulsa World was that the SEC’s bottom six teams “haven't done much at all” and that the national titles, the record number of draft picks, the gaudy television contract with ESPN, the massive conference revenue payouts and all the other superlatives craft a perception that is not reality. The trained eye would see through it all and understand there isn’t a dramatic gap between the two leagues.
"So you're listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed out to you," Stoops told Hoover. "You're more than smart enough to figure it out. Again, you can look at the top two, three, four, five, six teams, and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight, whatever they are. How well are they all doing?
"What'd we (the Big 12) have, eight of 10 teams in bowl games this year? Again, you figure it all out."
Actually, nine teams, which the Big 12 proudly proclaimed as the highest percentage of bowl-eligible teams ever produced by one conference.
The truth of all of that, though, is that none of it matters. What Stoops has done, twice, is pull back the curtain just a little bit and let us see that these two conferences just don’t like each other. Stoops was first and he was backed, though with less intensity, by Texas coach Mack Brown and Kansas coach Charlie Weis. The SEC fired back with Florida’s Will Muschamp telling the Palm Beach Post that “I’d be saying the same thing if I were in the Big 12.” Alabama’s Nick Saban was less guarded with his reply and at one of his coaches’ caravan stops said “I’ve got more important things to do than sit around and read what Bob Stoops has to say about anything.”
This is wonderful and we’re wise to encourage it.
If we’re worried about the Big 12’s new configuration and how rivalries were lost with Missouri and Texas A&M departing and were not replaced by West Virginia and TCU arriving, if the SEC is fretting how an eight-game conference schedule in a 14-team league deadens some of the league’s liveliest football feuds, we should take comfort in the two leagues smacking one another.
And we should look forward to more of the same. This is heating up, as opposed to slowing down. The SEC preyed on inequality in the Big 12, especially as it related to Texas, to nab Texas A&M and Missouri. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy decided that his now former starting quarterback Wes Lunt couldn’t transfer to any SEC school. The SEC hired arguably West Virginia’s top two assistant coaches. You just wonder when a Big 12 head coach tries to keep an SEC head coach from hiring or interviewing one of his assistants. Certainly there is something — jealousy, animosity, disdain, something — within the Big 12 that is aimed at the SEC and its publicly accepted and rarely challenged popularity. We’re quite likely witnessing manifestations of it.
This is building the rivalry between the two conferences that’s building toward the 2014 season. Fortunately, the administrators in the two leagues get along nicely (for now) and won’t build a barricade between the two. The conferences will play the Big 12/SEC Challenge during the basketball season. There have been conversations about scheduling regular-season games in football, but the fate of that endeavor may be decided by how many conference games leagues will play in the College Football Playoff — and wouldn’t the Big 12 love it if the SEC had to adapt the Big 12’s nine-game schedule?
The leagues will play three times during this football season — LSU and TCU in one neutral-site game and Oklahoma State and Ole Miss in another to start a season that will end with the Cotton Bowl — before things pick up in 2014. There may be more regular-season games. There will definitely be the Sugar Bowl that places the league’s champions, or the top teams not in the playoff, against one another. Another bowl game, possibly in Houston, could be on the agenda as well. And when it comes time to pick the participants of the playoff, believe there will be more debate about the merits of the conferences and how one stacks up against the other.
Hopefully they get to settle these things on the field, but given how entertaining this preamble has been, let’s not complain if we see them lashing out outside the lines, too.