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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Basketball coaches weigh in on conference realignment

Despite the absence of Colorado and Nebraska, coaches say the conference will remain strong.

If there was any doubt remaining that basketball played second fiddle to football in college athletics, the whirlwind of realignment talk surrounding the Big 12 conference earlier this month erased it. But for all the uncertainty and focus on football, Big 12 basketball coaches understood how the situation would play out.

The issue of football and television rights almost resulted in the conference's disintegration earlier in the month, and the talk centered around the Pac-10, Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference attempting to lure Big 12 schools to their conferences. Ultimately, two teams departed; Colorado to the Pac-10 and Nebraska to the Big Ten. Despite weeks of uncertainty, Missouri coach Mike Anderson said he never felt the conference would fall apart and the conference would benefit from the changes.

"I even made the statement to someone, 'They shook us, but they didn't break us,'" Anderson said. "I think with the way things are going in this world right now, money can come in and make things really unsettled. I think the difference is that the Big 12 had the power to put everything together, and I think the 10 that are remaining will be an even stronger conference."

"It's always been that way," Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. "I know who makes the money for the university. The scary thing was a school like Kansas -- because I played there -- their tradition and them not having a place to go. That was a little bit sobering."

The coach at the helm of Texas A&M's basketball program believes the television deals that, in part, drove the conference realignment discussion dealt far more with football than basketball.

"I think I was realistic about things," Turgeon said. "But I think we all realized that football brings money into the institution during the year, and that's why it drives these TV deals the way it does."

The deciding factor that helped keep the conference together was the guarantee of a television deal. Although the deal has not been finalized, Kansas coach Bill Self said they are working diligently on it and expressed his confidence in the future of the conference.

"I feel better about our league today than I have in the last seven years I've been in the league," Self said. "I think there's been a commitment by all 10. No team has one foot in, one foot out. I think this is a long-term deal, without question. This could be a situation where we're locked in longer than any other established leagues have been locked up."

With 10 teams remaining in the conference, the basketball schedule is expected to change into an 18-game round-robin format requiring each team to play each other on their respective home courts. The consensus from Big 12 basketball coaches was this will make for a much tougher schedule, but they were also enthusiastic about the challenge.

"Before, we coaches were against 18 games because there was no way to do it with 12 teams," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "Now, with 10 teams, it makes sense, and it's going to be absurd how difficult it's going to be. But if you're a competitor, that's how you want it to be. Anything that's easy becomes a dead end, and anything that's hard gives you a chance to flourish in the end. The harder it is the better the teams in that environment become."

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