The death of the Big 12 as we knew it and berth of the super conference era in the Big Ten was spurred on by one of the craziest and most bitter on and off-field rivalries in recent college athletics history.
It’s no secret that the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Texas Longhorns didn’t exactly have the best of relationships, but a new book by former Kansas State president Jon Wefald gives us perhaps the greatest insight in to just how bad things really were.
Only two of nine chapters in Wefald’s book, The Transformative Years at Kansas State: The Years of President Jon Wefald from 1986 to 2009, are devoted to athletics, but they are very powerful chapters indeed.
Included in them are the details from the formation of the Big 12, and it showcases just what kind of power Texas tried and succeeded at wielding in the formation of the league. Not only did it dictate the teams that came along with them in to the new conference (Baylor, Texas A&M and Texas Tech), but it basically dictated the terms of everything else in setting up the conference.
One of the biggest sticking points was Prop-48 players, as Texas and the Southwestern Conference schools didn’t allow them and the Big 8 did. At times Nebraska made a living off the borderline players and Texas’ opposition to Prop-48 players meant a compromise of just one per football and basketball team — effectively draining Nebraska of a lot of talent throughout the 1990’s.
Lest you think the move towards a limited rule wasn’t Texas’ doing or a swipe at the Huskers, Wefald puts that all to rest in his book:
“It was aimed directly at (Nebraska) Cornhusker football. By the late 1990s, this new Big 12 rule has seriously damaged the quality of Nebraska football. In fact, you could say it brought the era of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne to a close.”
He’s not wrong, as the Huskers had three Prop-48 starters on the 1995 national championship team and suddenly at least two of those spots were no longer available the very next season.
That’s a brutal transition for a team like the Huskers to make, and Texas played the rules game to their great advantage in setting up the Big 12. Making things even more maddening was the fact that Texas found its own way to get more partial qualifiers on campus and around the rule thanks to the JUCO ranks.
What Texas wanted…Texas got (and many argue it continues that way to this very day).
That was just the beginning of a long and bitter history between the two that eventually drove the Huskers to look for a home elsewhere. It also was what was driving the Missouri Tigers to look for a new home as well.
The two seemed to be natural fits for the Big Ten, especially with all 11 schools being members of the prestigious American Association of Universities (AAU). However, all things being equal, the Huskers history and name in football eventually were the winning combination and the Big Ten voted Nebraska in to the conference in 2010.
However, Texas couldn’t wait to take one last swipe and only the timing of it likely saved the Huskers from not being made a part of the Big Ten. That’s because Texas president Berdahl decided to be indifferent in a vote on Nebraska’s AAU membership…just in 2011 and not 2010.
According to Wefald’s book, that vote happening in 2011 is actually what saved the Huskers’ bid for Big Ten membership. Had it happened before the Big Ten’s vote…it would’ve been rival Missouri taking up the 12th spot in the Big Ten instead.
“The truth is, no outside academic leader has dented Nebraska’s athletic and academic standing over the years more than Bob Berdahl. In another irony, if Nebraska had not been a member of the AAU in 2010 when the Big 10 was adding a new school, the University of Missouri, an AAU school, would likely be a member of the Big 10 today.”
So, in a sick twist of fate the hatred between these two schools both drove the Huskers out of the Big 12 and the AAU but managed to save a Big Ten move by delaying a vote for a year.
Just think of what history would’ve brought us in the Big Ten with Mizzou as a member of the conference instead of the Huskers.