Twenty-five years ago this week, the school presidents from a dozen universities officially adopted a name for a kind-of new conference.
The Big 12.
The name sounded fine. Had the same stateliness as, say, the Big Ten. Big is a strong word. Short, powerful. Twelve is a good word. One syllable. For all its many problems, one thing you can say about the Big 12: Its name is never abbreviated.
The name played to history. Two thirds of the original Big 12 came from the Big Eight. The Big 12 was a nod that despite all the clamor that this was a new conference, separate and distinct from the old Big Eight, the historical ties remained strong.
And the name fit. There indeed were 12 schools. Don’t sleep on that.
You know the history. The Big 12 now is 10 schools, including just eight that were in the original dozen and just five that were in the old Big Eight.
The Big 12 name was retained for the same reason it was adopted. No one could come up with a better alternative. Scrap the Big 12 name, and what happens if expansion looms? Scrap the Big 12 name, and rebranding starts all over.
And in an age when the Big Ten has gone from 10 members to 11 to 12 to 14, nobody is really focused on mathematical precision. The Big 12 name is more problematic for its connotation with drama and instability than any kind of marketing issues.
The Big 12 has become part of the lexicon. In the old days, it was common for a lot of us to misspeak and say “Big Eight.” Those days are gone. Anymore, when you’re talking about the Big Eight, we often misspeak the other way and say “Big 12.”
Twenty-five years ago, we had great fun, debating the league’s name. Big 12 was the early leader and seemed to be virtually certain to be selected. But fans and media alike still knocked around all kinds of options.
When then-Colorado chancellor James Corbridge announced the name, he offered some of the suggestions: Big Crop Conference, Big Top, Big Star, Wild West, The Big A, The Big Doz, Conestoga, Frontier League, Pioneer, Tall Grass Prairie and Big Harvest.
“None of them had the allure of Big 12,” Corbridge said. “We really didn’t consider seriously any name other than Big 12 when it got down to it.”
I always thought Big Southwest would have been a nice compromise, nodding to the Big Eight and the four schools from the Southwest Conference. Trouble was, while you might could make an argument that the Kansas schools could be somewhat connected to the Southwest (cattle drive days), or even Colorado, on a sort of frontier basis, Missouri and Iowa State had no chance.
Some suggestions were downright funny.
Tornado Alley Conference, which would have been difficult for recruiting.
Big Eight superiorists liked Magnificent 8 & Their Stepchildren Conference.
Poison Ivy League appealed to those who thought the consolidation was scandalous because of the Southwest Conference schools left out and the NCAA problems with a variety of schools. Or the Dirty Dozen.
Some who didn’t see the coming geographic expansion of all conferences offered the “In Between South America & Canada Conference.”
We ran a reader survey in those pre-Internet days and received 620 suggestions.
The most popular name was the Great Plains Conference, followed by the Dirty Dozen, the Big 12, the Mid-America Conference and the Heartland.
I liked the Wild West and the Big Country Conference. Big Country — this was in the wheelhouse of Bryant Reeves’ OSU career — was a great name. Would have worked then, would still work now. If the Big 12 ever has to scrap the name, Big Country is the way to go.
Here were some of the responses:
Keith Litchenburg of Oklahoma City wanted the Heartland Conference because of “Nebraska corn, Kansas wheat, Iowa and Oklahoma beef, along with Texas fertilizer.”
Eric Dixon of Oklahoma City suggested the Big Eight and Who? Conference.
Mark Goodwin of Oklahoma City offered the Anything Without the Word Southwest In It Conference.
Bill Hollins offered the Tonya Harding Conference, the If We Can’t Beat ‘em, Cheat ‘em Conference.
Ryan Day of Oklahoma City suggested Duncan’s Dirty Dozen, referring to Oklahoma athletics director Donnie Duncan, the chief architect of the expansion.
Kent Maxwell of Oklahoma City suggested the National Collegiate Athletic Broadcasting Conference.
Matt Dean of Oklahoma City offered the Mighty Dollar Conference.
Phillip Pitts of Ada suggested the Lil’ Dixie Conference.
Jim Blake of Ponca City offered the Grapes of Wrath Conference.
Bob Abernathy of Hugo wanted the Beavis & Bubba Conference.
Dale Crowder of Oklahoma City offered Dust Bowl Dozen.
Ken Uffen of Oklahoma City and Ronnie Kessler of Amber wanted the Big Foot Conference.
Steve Billings of Okemah suggested the Split-T Conference, in honor of Bud Wilkinson’s offense and in tribute to the Texas schools splitting from the SWC.
Jake Jacobson offered the Six-State Conference, even though seven states actually were represented, but that would have been problematic, since now we’re down to five states.
I had a little fun with all the suggestions.
An anonymous reader called for the Mainland Conference (apparently by someone who never wants Hawaii to join the league).
Fred Cornell of Yukon offered the New Frontier (if expansion ever stops, they could call it the Final Frontier, I said).
Several readers suggested the Midwestern Athletic Conference so it could be called the Big Mac, and others offered the 12 Pack, though James Trent of Norman pointed out “this does not refer to an alcoholic beverage.” 12 Pack would have been a mess, since now we have the Pac-12.
Bill Thomas of Chickasha picked the 12 Elves Conference.
Virgil Tate of Warr Acres wants the V-12 Conference. All these years, wow! We could have had a V-8.
And Marilyn Ehlers of Oklahoma City wondered what all the fuss is about. This whole expansion thing is really just the Six of One and Half a Dozen of Another Conference.
I’m telling you, those were heady times. When the Big 12 fractured and fell back to 10 schools, we went through the name thing all over again.
Bevo and Pals. Texas and the Nine Dwarfs. Texas and the Pips. The Ripe For Picking Conference. The Life Support Conference. The Marriage of Convenience Conference. The Endangered 10. The Tentative Ten. The Timid Ten. The Temporary Ten.
The We Know Better Than to Use Numbers in our Name Conference. The Flyover League. The Bigger 10. The Beebe Bunch, named in honor of doomed commissioner Dan Beebe.
But the Big 12 name was kept. It’s still surviving, after 25 years and lots of changes, mainly because no one has thought of anything better. Not for lack of trying.