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Big 12 territory: Historical perspective shows benefits of expansion

Perhaps history should be the teacher.

Big 12 expansion drama took an interesting twist this week when a member of the University of Oklahoma board of regents publicly second-guessed his own president, David Boren, chairman of the league’s expansion committee who is trying to maneuver the politics of such a move.

Regent Max Weitzenhoffer, a 76-year old member of the seven-member board, then did a 180 after CBSsports aired his comments, issuing a press release praising Boren’s leadership and pledging support.

It was just one more example of how divisive the issue is and why the Big 12 continues to be the smallest Power 5 conference in terms of thinking, progression and status as poach bait for other college conferences.

That an expansion even needs a study, a major debate or all the hand-wringing that’s going on between league members is a head scratcher. Especially after Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M bolted for greener pastures and out of the shadow of the University of Texas.

Expansion historically was a no-brainer in Big 12 country back in the days of settlers, pioneers, sod busters, Indian wars, land grabs and even the death of Davy Crockett in San Antonio’s Alamo fighting to hold territory against a Mexican army.

Expansion is what John Parker had in mind when he boldly and bravely built Parker Fort on the outskirts of civilization and the new frontier. His family was massacred in 1836 in a Comanche raid, but Parker’s foray into unsettled territory near what is now Fort Worth led to the famed stockyards and success of massive cattle drives that piggy-banked the Texas Republic, ultimately leading to oil wells and massive wealth.

Expansion is what the Oklahoma Territory saw in the first Land Run of 1889 when more than 50,000 people on one single day raced across the area, many of them freemen and descendants of slaves, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants. They staked their claims and built their dreams in an epic migration of people known as Sooners. There was even a Broadway play and movie made about it, “Oklahoma,” with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, romanticizing cowboy love triangles.

Expansion in Big 12 country displaced a complete culture of Indian life, a people who roamed those plains for hundreds of years. The progress killed buffalo herds described in the day as 30 miles long, 40 million head, an act that ultimately ended the terrorizing reign of the Comanches, something even the Texas Rangers could not do. So, was all that in vain? What did the state of Oklahoma get out of it? Statehood and fortunes.

Expansion? Ask T. Boone Pickens, CEO of a Dallas-based hedge fund, who donated $165 million to Oklahoma State athletics, the largest donation to athletics at any university in American history.

Wonder what Indians who inhabited Stillwater and its environs in early 1800s would have thought of such a gift for … games.

Expansion. That was the idea when Humble Oil dug up ground in Houston, when Texaco hatched out of Chevron and put down stakes in Beaumont, Texas, site of the great gusher in 1901 at Spindletop, land once owned by Mexico.

Expansion. The TCU campus sits on one of America’s greatest natural gas reserves in Forth Worth. That area was settled as an outpost to guard against Native Americans. Nicknamed “Where the West Begins,” a key treaty was signed by several Indian tribes and the Republic of Texas in 1843 at Bird’s Fort, establishing a “safe” swatch of land for an army of settlers over the next century.

Expansion. The Kansas Territory and Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 opened that land for settlement. The Kansas, Pawnees and Osage tribesmen were “resettled” by the federal government in Missouri, ceding their land.

All this history can be a lesson for presidents and their Boards of Regents who will decide expansion issues when they meet later this month. They’ve all benefited from expansion in Big 12 territory, sacrifices and land grabs that were made more than a century ago so they could enjoy their way of life, the lofty luxury of book and lab play at institutions of higher learning.

This is why I cringed when I read the original quote by regent Weitzenhoffer, the University of Oklahoma board of regents chairman, who has put down expansion candidates like BYU, Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn, Central Florida, Houston, Boise State, Colorado State and whoever else he chose to insult.

Here’s the quote: “Those are the ones I keep hearing. They have no seating capacities in their stadiums. They really don’t build them up. They really don’t have any TV. I really don’t know what we have to gain by that. The problem with Cincinnati is … then they start getting all this money. Then what do we do? We build up somebody we don’t want to build up.”

Really?

Mr. Weitzenhoffer, what sacrifice is the Big 12 really going to suffer from expansion?

Tell me, in a historic context. Please.

Expansion never did anybody any good, right?

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com.

TWITTER: Harmonwrites