Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops ignites more Big 12 vs. SEC debate

05/10/2013 12:50 PM

05/10/2013 3:08 PM

When sharing opinions, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops is more confident than controversial and has often defended the Big 12.

But this latest thrust into the national spotlight — Stoops seemed to question the overall strength of the Southeastern Conference in an interview with the Tulsa World at a fan gathering earlier this week — has touched a nerve nationally.

Stoops was asked about an achievement gap between the SEC, which has won the last seven BCS national championships, and other conferences.

“So, they’ve had the best team in college football,” Stoops said. “They haven’t had the whole conference. Because, again, half of ’em haven’t done much at all. I’m just asking you. You tell me?

“Listen, they’ve had the best team in college football, meaning they’ve won the national championship. That doesn’t mean everything else is always the best.”

I get Stoops’ point. Last year, the Big 12 sent nine of its 10 teams to bowl games, and every game a Big 12 team lost was to a school that played in the postseason. Five of the 14 SEC teams didn’t qualify for a bowl game in 2012.

But in those bowl games, SEC went 6-3. The Big 12 finished 4-5. Included in those records was the Cotton Bowl loss by Big 12 co-champ Oklahoma to Texas A&M, which tied for second in the SEC West.

Last month’s NFL Draft supplied another reminder of SEC dominance with 63 players selected in the seven rounds, doubling the next-highest conference.

Clearly, the SEC reigns in college football, and Alabama’s Nick Saban found himself defending his conference at his own fan gathering.

“Well, we don’t play everybody in the Big 12 or whatever it is, so I don’t really know much about their league,” he said. “We have a lot respect for what they do at Oklahoma, and I really don’t think that people that don’t play in our league (understand) the quality of our league from top to bottom.

“I think there’s probably a lot of animosity out there because of the success we have in our league, but I think that kind of goes with the territory. I understand that. But we certainly respect the great program they have at Oklahoma and the other good programs they have in the Big 12.”

Where Stoops and others in the sport can have a legitimate beef is with the SEC’s league schedule. An eight-game slate in a 14-team league makes for too many strangers in their own conference and creates competitive imbalance. Last season, division winners Alabama and Georgia didn’t play a team from the opposite division that finished in the top three.

By contract, the Big 12, since realigning as a 10-team league, plays a complete round-robin and the two-year results have made for wonderful regular-season drama with late season showdowns determining the champion.

But in both years a Big 12 team took itself out of the national-title picture after upset defeats in November: Oklahoma State at Iowa State in 2011 and Kansas State at Baylor in 2012.

Playing more conference games increases the risks. But it also makes for more compelling action, and, perhaps most importantly for the SEC, means more attractive inventory for television.

That reason, and not anything a coach says, likely will push the SEC into a nine-game conference schedule at some point.

Currently, SEC teams play the six teams in their division and two cross-over opponents, one permanent and one on a rotating basis, a 6-1-1 format.

Without saying he wants an extra conference games, Saban said last month he would like to see a tweak to the schedule.

“One basic theory I have is every player should have the opportunity in a four-year career to play every SEC school,” he said.

That can’t happen in a 6-1-1 format. It can with two rotating crossover opponents in a nine-game league schedule.

That’s where the SEC should be headed.

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