While recent history may not indicate it, the Big Ten remains a superior conference to the Big 12 on multiple levels.
Ohio State and Michigan State may not have helped the reputation of the oldest conference in Division I sports with disappointing losses this weekend, but the Big Ten remains the second best conference in college football. The SEC shows no sign of dropping its distant lead as the premier conference in college football, but the Big Ten vs. Big 12 debate is still up for conversation.
According to ESPN’s latest power rankings, the Big Ten ranks third behind the SEC and Big 12. However, the biggest surprise may be that it places the Big 12 ahead of the SEC. That alone is enough to take away any confidence I had in the rankings.
Sure, the Big 12 boasts two teams in the top 10 (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) and one more ranked team than the Big Ten. However, in looking at this season and the past several years, the Big Ten is the better conference from top to bottom.
The first major problem with the Big 12 is the fact that Texas is treated as the king of the conference, recently signing a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN for the creation of the Longhorn Network. On top of the ridiculous cash the Longhorns will be raking in from their recently inked deal, Texas already earns a greater portion of the conference’s revenue from media coverage than many other teams in the conference. While Big Ten programs participate in revenue sharing (yes, even Indiana, whose last winning season was in 2007), some of the Big 12’s money is divvied up based on how often teams play on a given network.
It simply doesn’t seem fair to split up money based on the exposure of a given program, and the generous $22.6 million hand out to each Big Ten program shows equality is possible. The only problem is, Texas realizes that it can take advantage of the situation it’s in and sweeps up every last dollar it can.
There’s a reason that two of the league’s top teams — Nebraska to the Big Ten and Texas A&M to the SEC in 2012 — have left the conference in the past year. Everyone realizes the entire conference is centered around the demands of Texas, and teams are getting fed up with it. Superconference talk dominates the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and even the ACC, but the Big 12 is closer to collapsing than expanding.
In addition to the fact that Texas wields way too much power, the Big 12 has several top-notch programs that compete on a regular basis but includes five or six oft-forgotten teams, many of whom have been irrelevant for years. Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and arguably Texas Tech have each had a year or two where they made national headlines, but they have quickly fallen off the map.
When it comes down to it, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M are the faces of the conference, while the rest of the conference falls in and out of the spotlight. Even Baylor, which is gaining national attention this season for taking down TCU and their Heisman-caliber quarterback, Robert Griffin III, usually isn’t putting together noteworthy seasons on the field.
Not every team in the Big Ten is a quality, successful program, but the conference seems to produce a greater number of competitive teams on a year-to-year basis. Bottom-dwellers Indiana and Purdue certainly weaken the conference, but the rest of the conference regularly produces a quality product on the field. Seven different teams have finished in the top three of the conference standings since 2006, a sign that, for the most part, all 12 teams compete for a Big Ten football title in any given year.
Big 12 fans could point out that Ohio State has taken home six straight conference title trophies, but three of those titles were shared, and the other top teams in the conference have varied greatly in recent history. And sure, the Iowa State Cyclones beat the Hawkeyes in overtime earlier this year, but Kirk Herbstreit was the only person who expected much out of Iowa this year (he picked them to play in the Big Ten championship game).
When it comes down to it, the Big Ten has one other major advantage over its Big 12 competitors: tradition. And yes, I really am pulling that card. Like it or not, the Big Ten is overflowing with tradition, while the Big 12 was formed in 1994 and didn’t play its first game as a conference until 1996.
The Big Ten was founded exactly 100 years earlier, in 1896, and remains steeped in the nostalgia that makes Big Ten football great. The Aggies may have the 12th man — a great tradition in its own right — but schools like Michigan (as painful as it is to admit) and Penn State have been fielding teams since before the turn of the century. From the maize and blue uniforms to Linebacker U, history simply defines the oldest conference in college football. The Big Ten also holds more Heisman winners than any other conference with 16.
So ESPN can develop a crazy formula to rank the conferences and their top analysts may disagree, but in my opinion, the Big Ten is a stronger conference than the Big 12, both this year and in the recent past. Call me biased, and point out that Oklahoma may have the best team in the country, but the Big Ten deserves the No. 2 spot.