Big 12 badly needs a fix for lack of compelling rivalry-week games

COMMENTARY

FORT WORTH, Texas — This week, I found myself playing an unexpected role after West Virginia’s 20-17 win over TCU.

Photographer.

Needless to say, this should never be happening. Whatever you may think of my writing, I can assure you that my photography is even worse.

At issue was the fact that so few people gave a hoot about the West Virginia-TCU game that the wire service MetroNews pays to shoot road games didn’t even have a photographer there. This is the type of thing that is only supposed to happen in games that Rutgers is playing in.

But I can’t say I blame them.

In a weekend full of historical rivalries, why should anyone care about a West Virginia-TCU game?

The atmosphere at a half-empty Amon G. Carter Stadium hammered home the point. Not even the people who are passionate about the Horned Frogs could find reason to get worked up for a game against the far-flung Mountaineers.

Yes, the weather was lousy, keeping thousands of potential would-be fans out of attendance. But for an actual rivalry game, one has to believe they still would have shown up.

With attendance trending downward the past few seasons, this is a problem college football needs to fix. And that change starts in the Big 12, which has the most nondescript Week 12 schedule in the entire FBS.

My own modest solution seems a simple enough fix. It isn’t exactly rocket science.

Six Big 12 teams would finish the slate with league games, while the other four would take on their traditional rivals to close out the year. As an added benefit, this would also lessen the chances that teams would meet in the Big 12 championship game back-to-back weeks, which is inevitably going to happen at some point.

Here is how it would look:

Big 12 rivalry week done right

Non-conference games

West Virginia-Pitt

Have you seen pictures of Heinz Field during Pitt games? You’d think the Pirates were involved. Simply put, the Panthers need this one even more than the Mountaineers do.

One of the nation’s great rivalries sits dormant, and though it will be back soon enough, September games aren’t good enough. This needs to be on Thanksgiving weekend until whatever global catastrophe it is that will befall us. And they should keep on playing after it, too.

Texas-Texas A&M

The Aggies have demonstrated a stance of never wanting to play the Longhorns again, but right now negotiations to renew this rivalry are being held back by the problem you face whenever you have two bickering Texans in the same room — it’s hard to find one big enough to fit both of their egos. Perhaps a handshake deal can be worked out at the Jerry World 50-yard line. 

The Aggies need to get real. Literally one-half of their fight song (sorry, “war hymn”) is written about Texas, and ends with a ritual “sawing the horns off of old varsity.” Texas is their obsession.

Just play.

Kansas-Missouri

These states tried killing one another in the 1850s — quite literally previewing the Civil War — and the hatred has barely dissipated since. This remains the only college rivalry where people from the neighboring state burned down the other college’s town.

Neither can pretend that their current season-ending games mean a damn in comparison to literal smoldering resentment.

TCU-SMU

These teams meet every September, but they can do better. If the Mustangs made the quick drive over from Dallas, I can guarantee this game would have featured better photography and about 20,000 more people in attendance than the one against West Virginia.

Conference games

Oklahoma-Oklahoma State

The oldest of old-timers would love to see Oklahoma and Nebraska in this spot, but that ship sailed a long time ago. Bedlam will have to do, especially since the Cowboys have no one else they can accuse of being rivals.

Texas Tech-Baylor

Though it feels a bit contrived to say it’s truly a rivalry, we have to fit these two together by default. And it works pretty well. They’ve played each other 78 times since 1929, and the Bears lead the nearly dead-even series with a 39-38-1 record.

Iowa State-Kansas State

Iowa fans don’t see Iowa State as their chief rivals. Kansas fans don’t see Kansas State as their chief rivals.

Welcome to the Little Brother Bowl, where they can take the aggression of being ignored out on each other to end the year. (Fans of both teams have taken to calling this matchup “Farmaggedon,” which is admittedly a much better label.)

What would it take to make it happen?

The most important step is administrators at Mizzou, Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M getting over their ridiculous hurt feelings and misplaced pride over conference realignment. It’s been almost a decade now. Get over it.

After that, it would only take some minor tweaking.

For the Big 12, it requires sprinkling some conference games into the first three weeks to open Week 12 up for the four teams that would will finish the year with non-conference games.

The fix is simple for the two SEC schools. Missouri currently plays Arkansas, while A&M plays LSU to end the year. Just have the Razorbacks and Tigers finish with each other and that problem is solved. It’s what they did before Mizzou and A&M joined the league.

For the ACC, non-conference games to finish the season are already engrained in the culture.

Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Louisville all play in-state rivals to end the year. Throwing Pitt into that mix creates an odd number of non-conference games, but the ACC is the only league with a built-in solution to that problem.

Notre Dame.

The Irish have a scheduling agreement with the ACC, playing five games against league teams each year. Simply save one of those for the end of the year — Boston College makes the most sense given that both are Catholic schools with an established history — and the problem is solved.

If Notre Dame doesn’t want to do that every year because of its USC rivalry, that’s fine too. With UMass and UConn both independents, BC has multiple options for closing out the season against someone that at least offers some form of regional interest.

The Big 12, and college football as a whole, need these changes to take place for the good of the overall product. It isn’t that hard.

Unfortunately for fans, the easiest solutions often prove themselves to be the hardest to come by thanks to the bullheaded people in charge.

It took well over a century to get some form of playoff. Having actual rivals playing each other to end the year may entail a similarly glacial pace.





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