What Can Derail Current Big 12?

In an excellent, well-thought out column, The Daily Oklahoman's Berry Tramel asks why the current ten-team configuration of the Big 12 Conference won't work. While I agree 100% with his position, there is one nebulous, yet powerful, force that could smash the current league makeup.

In his column, Tramel lays out the reasons against a rushed expansion of the Big 12. It's not that he's anti-expansion -- in fact, he notes that he is for it -- but rather that the Big 12 can't simply rush headlong into expansion without determining if their potential partners bring more positives than negatives to the league. Unfortunately, Tramel's position, along with several other right-minded observations, face one of the most powerful opponents of all: Perception.

In today's world, perception often trumps reality. The oft-uttered phrase "perception IS reality" in addition to driving me absolutely bonkers, is just as sadly a truism here in 2015. The facts often don't matter. What matters is what people think about an issue, or how it's perceived by the general public. And that's dangerous, because it leads to wrong actions and poor decisions.

Before proceeding with this train of thought, here's a couple of examples to illustrate the point that all West Virginia fans should be familiar with. The first is the perception of Don Nehlen as a stodgy, old school coach who could only win games one way. Run the ball, play defense, keep the other team under 20 points and you'll win were his mantras. While that was true at its core, that perception also fails to take into account the adjustments he made to his personnel during his time at West Virginia. Sure, he pounded the ball into the line and ran draw plays a lot during his early tenure, but he actually ran many different offenses at West Virginia. He kept elements of the veer early on, ran power I (three back) offenses, morphed to option football with Major Harris, and switched to a more open pro-style passing game with Marc Bulger, proving that he was adaptable as anyone. However, bring him up, and invariably the "Up-the-Middle-O-Meter" is mentioned, perpetuating the perception of him as the next incarnation of Woody Hayes.

The second is a player who elicits groans every time his name is mentioned -- Perlo Bastien. Long before today's shallow practice of coming up with a cute nickname or meme for everything, "third and Perlo" crossed the lips of many Mountaineer fans who blamed the cornerback for every failing in West Virginia's pass defense from 1996-99. His failings were multiplied a thousand times over, quite unfairly.

One reason Bastien was unfairly singled out as that he began his career as a freshman starter alongside three redshirt-seniors in the secondary -- Vann Washington, Charles Emmanuel and Mike Logan. Given the ability of those three, it was obvious that teams were going to target the freshman, so he was going to give up some completions and yardage. However, he did quite well for a true freshman, even though it wasn't widely appreciated. Over the next two years he had ups and downs, but was still a good performer overall, and he capped his career with six interceptions in his senior year, giving him 13 for his career. That number tied him for seventh all-time in West Virginia's record book, but somehow he's still often mentioned as WVU's worst defensive back ever. While he wasn't a Hall of Famer, he was also far from WVU's worst back end defender in history.

That's exactly the kind of thinking that's in play with the topic of Big 12 expansion. A couple of comments from administrators (who may have hidden agendas of their own) and suddenly the Big 12 is collapsing, or there's "momentum" toward expansion. The amount of discussion and column inches devoted to the topic is viewed as meaning that change is imminent, that expansion must occur, that the Big 12 is dead. And that's dangerous, because it could spur actions that fly in the face of the facts, or at least of common sense.

To be clear, I'm not against expansion. Like Tramel, though, I maintain that it has to make sense from a monetary standpoint. Expanding just to get back to 12 teams, without backing logic, simply makes no sense. However, as we've seen time and again, perception is nearly an undefeated champion when it squares off against the facts.


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