Updated: Dec 15, 2018
On Sunday, 247 Sports broke news that the BIG 10 was targeting both Texas and Oklahoma as potential universities that they would like to add to their conference once the BIG 12 Grant of Rights expires (in 2025). The impact of a new deal, while it may seem negligible at the moment, could drastically reshape the NCAA in terms of collegiate athletic influence. Network contracts with current sponsors would be restructured and enhanced while the overall competition level for both the BIG 10 and BIG 12 would see massive swings.
In turn, Texas and Oklahoma would garner a jump in prestige by being part of a BIG 10 conference that is more competitive in most sports than what the BIG 12 currently offers. Not only that, but the business deals would likely benefit the universities, giving them an increased share of revenue.
Of course, the reason you’re reading this isn’t because of the political or financial aspects that could come into play. Everyone in their respective sports wants to know how this will impact them and in regards to cross country, the changing of conferences becomes a fascinating conversation.
The Oklahoma cross country teams haven’t always been a model of excellence or consistency in the fall. However, the men’s team has shown that they are capable of posting strong results every few years. Just think back to the 2015 National Championships where the Sooners finished 15th. Three years earlier, Oklahoma had finished 8th. Depending on the year, this team can be a legitimate contender in almost any conference.
The men from Norman, Oklahoma are due for another strong season (eventually), but the women are still looking for a spark. They have been a middle-of-the-pack BIG 12 team for the past few years, and there isn't any trend that says they'll be improving (or declining) any time soon. Could the transition into a more competitive conference incentive the ladies to improve their fitness? Or will they be overwhelmed by what has become the deepest conference in the nation?
Texas is a very interesting team to add to the BIG 10. The program just went through a massive coaching overhaul with Pete Watson and Pattiesue Plummer overseeing the men's and women's distance teams, respectively. Having to face the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Michigan State in a championship setting every year will test the true coaching capabilities of this new coaching staff.
Of course, if anyone would be under more pressure to produce results, it would have to be the new head coach, Edrick Floreal. After spending six years at Kentucky, Floreal signed a behemoth five-year, $1.14 million contract (not including incentives) with the University of Texas. Should the Longhorns move into the BIG 10, Floreal will need to be able to compete at the highest level.
Facing stronger conference rivals will certainly be a challenge, but moving out of the BIG 12 and into the BIG 10 could actually help nearly every team in the conference when it comes to qualifying for the Cross Country National Championships.
Iowa State and Oklahoma State have both proven to be formidable opponents in the BIG 12. Earning any Kolas points (wins) over either of these teams is incredibly difficult and most teams after those two don't offer any realistic opportunities to secure any more Kolas points (other than Texas).
However, the BIG 10 is home to a number of teams that aren't necessarily distance running powerhouses, but are still capable of qualifying for Nationals. That structure will allow Texas and Oklahoma to earn wins over these teams at the conference championships and go into regionals with one or two Kolas points more than what they are used to.
On the flip side, teams in the BIG 10 will celebrate a program like Texas entering their conference. The Longhorns, along with Arkansas, have dominated the South Central region for years now, cruising to automatic national qualifiers and giving up tons of points to teams who beat them during the season.
From 2012 to 2017, when you look at the teams that qualified for Nationals at least three times, the Texas men gave up the second-most points on average out of 18 teams with 13.8 points a year. Of those 18 teams, only Florida State gave up more points on average in that time span (17.3). We are still calculating our totals for the women, but the averages are likely similar.
As we saw this past fall, both the men and women still have plenty of room for improvement. They may be consistent national qualifiers, but they have yet to hit that next tier of being true national contenders. If you're a team in the BIG 10, you'll happily entertain the idea of earning an additional Kolas point assuming that you can beat Texas at the conference meet.
As exciting as all of this is, we still need to keep things in perspective. The BIG 12 GOR isn't set to expire until 2025, so it will still be six years until we could potentially see both universities enter the BIG 10. Network contracts have to be agreed upon, other conferences will make an effort to recruit, and a handful of other logistics need to be favorable for both sides. It also goes without saying that a lot can happen in six years.
Simply put, nothing is guaranteed (at least, not yet).
Still, the potential storylines and revolutionary changes within collegiate athletics will always catch the attention of sports fans around the nation. When the balance of power is shaken, people will gather to see what happens next...