With Oklahoma and Texas playing their first Big 12 road football games as lame duck league members on Saturday, the unintended consequences portion of the schools’ protracted and awkward exits from the conference are poised to begin.
Oklahoma plays at Kansas State, where a vocal student section is positioned behind the bench ready to taunt the Sooners about their departure. TCU fans, who celebrated a departure from the Mountain West a decade ago, get a chance to hiss at the athletic director, Chris Del Conte now of Texas, who orchestrated that move.
In college athletics, breaking up is hard to do. And if history is an indicator, Texas and Oklahoma are destined for four years of money being thrown at them, derisive sing-song chants in basketball arenas and uncomfortable league meetings. At least the portions they’re allowed to attend.
“It’s almost like you’re divorced, you’ve already announced that you’re going to be divorced,” former Missouri athletic director Mike Alden told Yahoo Sports. “But you’re there hanging out together. It’s tough to co-exist."
Alden led Missouri through the lame duck transition year from the Big 12 to the SEC in 2011-12. He predicted that the four years Texas and Oklahoma are contractually bound to the Big 12 will feel like an eternity: “I can’t imagine it,” he said. “I don’t know anything about all the dynamics of contractual negations and stuff. It was challenging enough to be in the filing for divorce standpoint for a year. I can’t imagine going through that for four years.”
The administrators at Texas and Oklahoma are issuing the contractually obligated party lines that they’ll be staying in the Big 12 four whole seasons – through the 2024 football season – before exiting for the SEC.
The four-year run would be unprecedented in length in the history of realignment, which won’t be ideal for the athletes. Those who’ve just entered school potentially face playing entire careers enduring vitriol during Big 12 road games.
“The ones you feel the most for are the kids, for that animosity,” Alden said. “They had no decision in that. They’re just playing and they understand hostility [on the road], but you add this other dynamic to it. It becomes even more challenging. One of the unsaid things should be the most important thing – how is this impacting your kids?”
Paranoia abound at league office from ref assignments to hotel accommodations
Conference exits are inherently awkward in major college sports. And the dynamics of that made multiple officials predict that just the slog of playing with the jilted lovers in the Big 12 would eventually expedite the early exit of Oklahoma and Texas. The exit fees are around $160 million combined, and ambiguity hovers over the details. What’s clear is that the remaining Big 12 members are going to squeeze every last penny from them.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a phone interview this week that there have been discussions among the Oklahoma athletics staff about how the Sooners will be treated in their four league road games this season.
“Wouldn’t someone be obtuse not to think of that?” Castiglione said. “We’re mindful of all of the different experiences that we may face. We’ve talked about that. I believe that everyone just accepts it, understands it and turns all their attention to focusing on that game. That’s it. We’ve played in very challenging environments forever. It’s certainly something in the back of our minds.”
Along with the fan dynamic, there’s a complex administrative dynamic. One administrator recalled a coach blowing up at a league executive at conference meetings because the coach’s hotel room wasn’t ready. He thought it was an elaborate plot from the league office, when the reality was just slow housekeeping service. The story was told with a chuckle, as a way to show the ratcheted up paranoia from coaches and administrators that come with every scheduling decision, officiating assignment and anything else dictated by the league office.
Nick Carparelli Jr., the former Big East associate commissioner for football, dealt with multiple exits and league rebuilds during his time there. He arrived in 2002 and left after the league became the American Athletic Conference in 2013, seeing numerous exits and entrances. He called the presence of lame duck teams “really stressful” because it impacts everyone.
That includes not allowing exiting teams to take part in league meetings. “You can’t really talk about future conference business while they’re in the room,” Carparelli said. “They’re part of a competing league. It’s a mess. It’s a total mess. There’s nothing easy about it.”
Bitter breakup feelings from realignment past
The thing that stands out to everyone Yahoo Sports interviewed about the alleged four-year departure window is how brutal that time will be for everyone involved. Boston College’s football team had to go through basically a year-and-a-half of the animosity after announcing its departure to the ACC in October of 2003 and playing out the 2004 season. Soon after the announcement, it played at Syracuse and fans threw dollar bills at the team as the Eagles were running out of the tunnel.
By the end of the 2004 season when BC lost at home to Syracuse with a bid to the Fiesta Bowl on the line, coach Tom O’Brien unloaded on the experience in his news conference. “I'm glad it's over,” O'Brien said. "It's been a tough year and a half. Just everything that we've had to put up with, said and unsaid, the treatment. It didn't have to end this way with the Big East, but for whatever reason, there's a lot of animosity towards Boston College and it just wasn't a good thing."
Reached by Yahoo Sports this week, O’Brien recalled the other league coaches working together against them. “There was a great sharing of information on how to best beat us,” he said.
There’s also a mental component that comes into play. Both O’Brien and former BC AD Gene DeFilippo recalled an inordinate number of teams having byes before playing BC. But in checking, just one did. Sometimes the obstacles become imagined, adding to the discomfort.
DeFilippo recalled the Boston College police chief or one of his lieutenants accompanying him to every road game. Still, he got booed and remembers money – quarters, nickels and dimes – being thrown in his direction. “It’s a divorce, and divorces rarely end up being really nice,” he said. “It’s very, very emotional. People take it personally, they probably shouldn’t, but they do.”
DeFilippo added: “The players didn’t sign up for it. I felt bad for them.”
The emotion will carry over to basketball season. Former Missouri star Kim English, now the head coach at George Mason, still recalls the play-by-play and missed calls in a loss at Kansas that cost Missouri the Big 12 regular-season title in 2011-12.
“We felt like we got the raw end,” he said. “From that game on, we were obsessed about winning the Big 12 tournament. It was obsessive. Honestly, maybe too obsessive. It was all I thought about.”
He went as far to buy black-and-gold SEC shirts at the bookstore and stashed them under the bench at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. He put on a shirt after the game, and an image of him holding that Big 12 trophy outside the team bus while wearing an SEC shirt endures on Google.
He recalls Missouri fans serenading the team after the title game in Kansas City. “It was raining with SEC chants, raining as we paraded out of the league.”
The chants won’t be as kind for Oklahoma and Texas this weekend. And until they either depart after 2024-25 season or a new date is negotiated, they’ll be some raw feelings directed their way. “I’m guessing for all concerned,” O’Brien said, noting he has no inside knowledge, “it might happen sooner.”