I remember it well.
Because I was smack in the middle of the hailstorm.
In my prior life, I covered West Virginia University sports and, by extension, the Big 12, the league in which the Mountaineers reside.
And, oh, what a hot mess covering the latter was for a while.
Just for giggles, I Googled (is that officially a term now?) some of the old headlines swirling around the Big 12.
From Bleacher Report on Feb. 16, 2014: “Is the Death of the Big 12 Inevitable?”
From something called the cubicle on Oct. 18, 2016: “RIP Big 12: Why the Conference is Dying a Slow and Painful Death.”
These days those are called “freezing cold takes.”
Because right now, right at this moment, the Big 12 could not be more on fire.
In women’s basketball, Baylor just won a national championship.
This evening, April 8, Texas Tech will play Virginia for a men’s national championship.
Texas whipped Lipscomb to claim the men’s NIT championship.
League member Oklahoma made the College Football Playoff field, losing by 11 to Alabama.
The last two Heisman Trophy winners – Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray – played at Big 12 schools.
And if you want the proverbial cherry on top, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player is Patrick Mahomes. (If you’ve been checking out the NCAA men’s tournament, you might have seen him cheering on his alma mater Texas Tech.)
That’s searing hot. And if Big 12 administrators take a moment to bask, well, you’ll have to understand.
See, many of those administrators felt the heat coming from under their seats back when the aforementioned headlines were unleashed.
“The Big XII is a dumpster fire,” said the cubicle. (And, yes, it used “XII.”)
Even within the Big 12 inner circle there was criticism. Then-Oklahoma president David Boren made every official throughout the league cringe when he called the Big 12 “psychologically disadvantaged.”
So Boren, now retired, was a problem. His unhappiness led to speculation the Sooners were ready to take a powder.
There were calls for a football championship game, which, in my eyes, remains unnecessary. Because there are only 10 teams, because there’s round-robin play, the Big 12 has a champion at the end of the regular season. Making two teams play a second time in the face of that is forced and awkward. Yet the CFP clearly wants it, so…
The number of old Big 12 issues is almost difficult to pin down. Some thought Louisville, not WVU, should have been the pick in prior expansion. (How has that worked out in light of the Rick Pitino scandal?)
There was dissatisfaction over the Longhorn Network. Many wanted a Big 12 network.
And, of course, there was the issue of expansion. First, the Big 12 wasn’t going to expand. Then officials decided it might be a good idea and, basically, brought schools in to interview. Then, with the urging of television partners, Big 12 officials decided NOT to expand. It indeed was a hot mess.
Yet look at the league now.
Like spring in West Virginia, everything is coming up roses.
There are enough Big 12 winners, one could put on a chicken dinner banquet.
There’s certainly enough cash in the league’s coffers to pay for one. At the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Big 12 had $364.87 million to disperse. That’s nearly $36 million per school, just behind the per-school payouts of the SEC and Big Ten and ahead of the ACC and Pac-12.
For the 12thconsecutive year, league revenue increased. For WVU, toss in the third-tier rights revenue and you’re looking at a $40 million haul.
“The league continues to compete at a very high level,” said Mountaineer athletic director Shane Lyons on Monday. “It’s the only conference to have a team in the CFP and Final Four the last two years.”
One could go on and on. With a 29-18 (.617) record over the last three years, the Big 12 is ahead of the Big East, Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC in winning percentage and tied with the ACC.
Hot enough to turn all those freezing cold takes into ashes.
Follow Mitch Vingle on Twitter at @MitchVingle. Also, check out his Wheelhouse Creative “Off the Record” live show at Generations Pub in Wheeling. This Thursday at 7 p.m. his guest will be longtime Pittsburgh Pirates baseball announcer Lanny Frattare. We hope to see you there!