ARLINGTON, Texas – On the surface at Big 12 football media days, nothing really appeared much different. The 10 mannequins lining the main stage donned the uniforms of the same schools that have made up the conference for a decade.
As the annual two-day kickoff event wound up Thursday, workers began to dismantle the oversized figures, then carried them one by one off the stage that was adorned by all the team logos.
The Big 12 is heading into its final season as a 10-school league. Oklahoma and Texas, the conference's only football national champions, still have at least this season — and up to two more after that — before moving to the Southeastern Conference.
BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF won't join the Big 12 until next summer. And it's unclear if there could be more teams eventually added to the mix — from the Pac-12, or elsewhere.
“Don’t want to speculate, you know, on the future,” new Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said. “I’m going to keep it on this season and what’s right in front of us.”
For now, that is the Sooners trying to win another Big 12 title after their record streak of six championships in a row ended last season.
As for the Longhorns, they look to make a big improvement after going 5-7 with a six-game losing streak in coach Steve Sarkisian's first season. He hasn't decided whether Hudson Card or transfer Quinn Ewers will be the starting quarterback, but Sarkisian isn't worried about that — “We’re in a really good position,” he said — and also isn't concerned about the pending switch of leagues.
“Regardless of playing this year in the Big 12, or next year in the Big 12 or whatever this is going to look like, our style of play, our roster that we have in place, is one that regardless of who we play is going to be one that fits us and what we want to do,” Sarkisian said. “This is just our belief of who we want to be as a team.”
It was a week after Big 12 media days wrapped up last July that word came out about Oklahoma and Texas planning a move to an expanded SEC.
The Big 12 responded in September with the four additions, football independent BYU and the three American Athletic Conference schools that have worked out an early departure from that league. UCF had messages on electronic billboards around AT&T Stadium this week expressing the school's excitement about moving to the Big 12.
“We have really good programs leaving, and we have really good programs coming in,” new Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said.
Matt Campbell, the league's second-longest tenured coach going into his seventh season, believes the Big 12 is in a strong position now because of the decision by Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and other leaders “to move, and not stand pat" last summer.
“Probably a lot better shape than we were a year ago at this time,” Campbell said Thursday. ”A good move at the time because I think it’s probably positioned us in a great spot moving forward."
Two weeks before this year's Big 12 media days, Brett Yormark was named the league's new commissioner after the 70-year-old Bowlsby's decision earlier this year to retire. There was also another surprising shift in conference alignment, with UCLA and Southern California leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten.
Yormark, steadily busy even before his first official day on the job Aug. 1, described himself as actively engaged in realignment, with input from throughout the conference. He said during his introduction Wednesday that he saw “there was opportunity” without specifically naming any schools, and adding that nothing was imminent.
“As we vet out the possibilities, everything will be additive. Nothing will be dilutive,” Yormark said. “I feel very confident that our conference is in the best position it's ever been before."
Texas and Oklahoma are set to remain in the Big 12 through the 2024-25 academic year, which would take them to the end of the conference's current media rights deal with ESPN and Fox.
When asked about a potential early departure for the Longhorns and Sooners, Yormark said he expected some future discussions with the two schools, and that he would always look for a “win-win situation.”
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said Wednesday he believed his team's Bedlam series against Oklahoma would end when the Sooners leave the conference. And while saying he was joking, he also questioned why OU and Texas were still in on Big 12 meetings.
“I think the world is changing and people are like, yeah, they made a business decision. You know, the new commissioner, if I was him, I wouldn’t let OU and Texas in any meetings,” Gundy said. “I say that kind of jokingly, but really it’s almost business as usual."
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