Tramel's ScissorTales: How have Nebraska's & Texas A&M's Olympic sports fared post-Big 12?

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman
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Nebraska’s softball team is in Stillwater this week for an NCAA regional, and Texas A&M is in Norman for the same. Those assignments made me a little melancholy. 

It’s been a little more than a decade since the Cornhuskers and Aggies left the Big 12. Colorado went to the Pac-12 when Nebraska went to the Big Ten in 2011, and Missouri went to the Southeastern Conference with A&M in 2012. 

But the real losses were Nebraska and A&M. Those are irreplaceable brands. West Virginia and Texas Christian are every bit the equal of Mizzou and Colorado; in some ways better. But the Huskers and Aggies are different. 

Excellent tradition. Widespread success in a variety of sports. 

And with OU and Texas soon headed to the Southeastern Conference, I wondered if there are any lessons to be learned from the Aggies or Cornhuskers.  

Football, we know well. 

Both A&M and NU have largely been in their new conferences what they were in the old. The Aggies have had an occasional breakout year — 11-2 in 2012, 9-1 in 2020 — and did the same in the Big 12, winning the league championship in 1998 and tying for the Big 12 South title in 2010. A&M’s recent recruiting uptick could change that, of course, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

The Huskers have been mostly mediocre in the Big Ten, though they made the conference title game in 2012 out of an inferior division, same as they did in the Big 12 in 2010 and 2009. After making the 2001 national championship game, Husker football in its final nine Big 12 seasons was mostly just so-so. 

But what of the other sports? Has a new conference been a bonanza for Nebraska or A&M? Let’s look. 

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Texas A&M's Destiny Pitts (3) wipes her eyes as she leaves the game during a loss to Vanderbilt in an NCAA college basketball game at the women's Southeastern Conference tournament Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Texas A&M 

Men’s basketball: The Aggies finally had it going in the Big 12, making six straight NCAA Tournaments from 2006-11, before their final Big 12 season was a dud. But A&M has slid in the SEC, with only two NCAA Tournament trips (2016, 2018) and a 44-56 conference record the last six seasons. 

Women’s basketball: A&M was a national power in the Big 12, even winning the 2011 NCAA title, and has remained so in the SEC. The Aggies won the SEC in 2021. 

Baseball: The Aggies were a national power in the Big 12, making the College World Series in 2011 and winning the Big 12 in 2008 and 2011. A&M returned to the CWS in 2017 and won the SEC Tournament in 2016. A&M rarely missed the NCAAs in either the Big 12 or the SEC. 

Softball: A&M made the Women’s College World Series in 2007 and 2008 out of the Big 12, then again in 2017 out of the SEC. The Aggies haven’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 2001. So no discernible difference. 

Men’s golf: The Aggies were NCAA champions in 2009 and won the Big 12 in 2012. A&M was NCAA regional champion in both 2018 and 2019. So high quality in both leagues. 

Women’s golf: A&M won the Big 12 in 2006, 2007 and 2010. The Aggies won the SEC in 2015 but have struggled in recent years, so probably a step back. 

Track: In 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Aggies won both the men’s and women’s NCAA outdoor titles. That’s a remarkable feat that’s hard to replicate. The Aggies have remained a national power, winning the men’s indoor in 2017 and men’s outdoor in 2013, and the women’s outdoor in 2014. But A&M’s highest reach came in Big 12 days. 

Women’s volleyball: The Aggies reached the NCAA Tournament every year from 2000-05, then again in both 2010 and 2011. But not since. So the program has declined, but it was already declining. 

Swimming: The Aggies have been solid. The men’s program is about the same in the SEC as it was in the Big 12. The women’s program is more successful in the SEC. 

Tennis: A&M is a national power in both men’s and women’s. The Aggies won big in the Big 12, but both programs have been even better in the SEC. 

Women’s soccer: The Aggies were national powers in the Big 12 and have remained so in the SEC. They’ve reached at least the NCAA quarterfinals in 2001, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2014, 2015 and 2020. The Aggies won the Big 12 in six of their last 11 years in the conference and have won the SEC in 2013 and 2014, in addition to the 2017 SEC Tournament. 

Synopsis: The Aggies overall haven’t been hurt by moving out of the Big 12 and on the whole probably are even more successful in the SEC, though it’s close. The main bummer has been men’s basketball, which is showing signs of a revival under coach Buzz Williams. 

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Nebraska 

Men’s basketball: The Huskers have made the NCAA Tournament only once since firing Danny Nee in 2000 – that came in 2014, Big Ten days. The Huskers’ only two winning conference records during that time came in the Big Ten, 11-7 in 2014 and 13-5 in 2018. But Nebraska is 9-50 in conference play over the last three years. Husker basketball is a bust in either league. 

Women's basketball: The Huskers made the NCAA Tournament in four of its final 12 Big 12 seasons (2000, 2007, 2008, 2010) and has made six of the 10 NCAA Tournaments since. So that’s a decent improvement. 

Baseball: The Huskers made the College World Series in 2001, 2002 and 2005. They also made the NCAA Tournament in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In the Big Ten, NU has made five NCAA Tournaments and won the conference in 2017 and 2021 but never has reached the heights of the mid-’00s. 

Softball: NU made the WCWS in 2002 (Big 12) and 2013 (Big Ten). The Huskers were NCAA Tournament regulars in the Big 12, but this is their first NCAA appearance since 2016. 

Wrestling: The Huskers became nationally relevant in the Big 12, six times placing in the NCAA top 10 from 2000-11. Nebraska has placed in the NCAA top 10 five times during Big Ten days, so similar, although the highwater mark came in the Big 12 (back-to-back fourth-place finishes in 2008 and 2009). 

Volleyball: The Huskers are one of the nation’s best programs. No matter the conference. They won the NCAA title in 2000, 2006, 2015 and 2017. NU made the final four in five of their final 11 Big 12 seasons and have done so in five of their 11 Big Ten seasons. 

Men’s gymnastics: Old-timers still think of Nebraska as a national power, but the Huskers actually have been mediocre for decades. That hasn’t changed in the Big Ten. 

Women’s gymnastics: A very good program in both conferences. The Huskers made the NCAA’s Super Six in eight of their final 12 Big seasons and have returned there twice under the Big Ten flag. NU has won four Big Ten titles. 

Tennis: Not particularly dominant in either men’s or women’s. The Huskers won Big 12 men’s titles in their final two seasons, 2010 and 2011, but haven’t won in the Big Ten. The women’s team didn’t do much in the Big 12 but won Big Ten titles in 2013 and 2020. 

Golf: Not a contender on the men’s side in either league. The women won Big 12 titles in 2000, 2003 and 2006, but nothing since. 

Track: The men won Big 12 titles in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2010, then won the Big Ten in 2013 and 2016. The women’s only 21st-century titles were 2000 and 2005. 

Rifle: The Huskers made the NCAAs every year but one from 2004-10 and has retained a similar success rate in the Big Ten, though the conference doesn’t sponsor the sport. 

Women’s soccer: Not much difference. The Huskers made six straight NCAAs, 2000-05, then didn’t make it again until going four straight years, 2013-16, but they haven’t been back. 

Synopsis: Truthfully, about the same. Women’s hoops is up, baseball is down. Maybe a little overall slippage. 

So what have we learned about A&M and Nebraska since they left the Big 12? They have made more money in their new conferences. A&M’s non-football programs have mostly held steady or risen a little. Nebraska’s non-football programs have mostly held steady or slipped a little. Their football is about the same, though there’s reason for optimism in Aggieland, not so much in Nebraska.  

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Mailbag: What’s success for Venables? 

A few weeks ago, I ranked all the college football hirings from the off-season. I had Lincoln Riley at Southern Cal ahead of Brent Venables at OU. That drew some responses, of course, but some of it was well-considered. 

David: “I imagine you will get plenty of inquiries about why Lincoln Riley is more of a home-run hire than Brent Venables, but my question is from a different angle. What exactly will be required of Venables in the next five years to make him a home-run hire? Obviously, if OU wins one or more national championships, that alone would be plenty enough, but what short of that would make him a home-run hire? You have already established he's coaching for a national brand and I would assume you'd say he's been handed a turn-key operation much like Riley was, so starting with those huge advantages, what's the least he can do in the next five seasons to earn your ‘home-run hire’ status? I realize joining the SEC sometime during that time frame could make your answer a little more difficult, but I would think OU is likely the odds-on-favorite to be no worse than the second best (third at worst) program in SEC when they do leave the Big 12. Assuming 60 regular season games in five years, is somewhere north of 45-50 wins a lofty enough standard? Assuming OU stays in the Big 12 for three more seasons, does that need to include at least three conference championships and/or three trips to the Final Four (over five years) in the final analysis of being a homer-hire for the Sooners?” 

David: Riley went 55-10 in five OU seasons. I'd say that's about the standard. We might give Venables a little runway, since he hasn't been handed the kind of team Riley was handed in 2017. But still.  

Three years in the Big 12, followed by two in the SEC, and shouldn't Venables be able to get around 55 wins? That's 11 a year. 

It's hard to improve on the OU standard, so maintaining the OU standard should be the goal. 

Conference titles soon won’t be a good gauge, because of the league switch, and final fours might not be, because we don’t know what the playoff format will be. It’s easier to get to the final four when the final four is the only four. Soon enough, teams are going to have to win their way into the final four via a playoff game, rather than through conference success. 

But I’d say win total and conference titles are the prime barometer. 

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Big 12 sets Big East challenge games 

The Big 12 on Thursday announced the matchups for its annual basketball challenge series against the Big East, and one game popped out immediately. OU at Villanova. 

What? The Sooners, facing what appears to be a massive rebuild after transfer portal defections of Elijah Harkless and Umoja Gibson, at one of college basketball’s national powers? I mean, yes, Jay Wright has retired from ‘Nova, but does anyone expect the Wildcats to fall much under new coach Kyle Neptune, a Wright protege? 

I immediately thought the Big 12 might be sticking it to the Sooners, who themselves are headed out the door, to the SEC in a few years. Giving OU basketball an apparent automatic defeat is one of many passive-aggressive options available to the Big 12. 

But the headaches of scheduling the challenge series against the Big East and the SEC make it unlikely that the Big 12 has an ulterior motive in sending the Sooners to Villanova. 

In general, the conferences attempt to match opponents that haven’t yet met in the challenge, which began in 2019. And they try to make schools alternate home and road. 

Doesn’t always work out that way. OU played on the road, at Creighton and at Xavier, the first two years, before hosting Butler last December. West Virginia also played two straight road games. 

OSU hosted Georgetown in 2019, played at Marquette in 2020, hosted Xavier last season and plays at Connecticut in December. That’s a fun scheduling rotation, giving Big 12 fans a chance to see some notable programs that rarely come into this part of the country. 

John Williams, the Big 12’s director of basketball, works with coaches to forge the dates and matchups. 

Coaches can be grouchy at times, of course. They are accustomed to controlling their own schedules and don’t like to share that duty with others. But the conference agreed to the challenges series, so the coaches have to relent eventually. 

The Big 12 seeks possible dates from the coaches, then lines up opponents, and often the coaches, rather than say they don’t want to play a certain team, responds by saying the date doesn’t work. 

But it all gets smoothed out in the end. 

Another factor: the Big 12 tries to balance the series – teams playing on the road in the Big East Challenge play at home in the SEC Challenge. 

ESPN controls much of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, since it holds the rights to all those games. But ESPN shares the Big East Challenge with Fox, so the leagues sort out most of that scheduling. 

And Williams said the Big 12 does not project. Doesn’t try to figure out who will have the best teams, who’s bringing back who, that sort of thing. Williams said checking all the boxes in terms of balance makes projections a waste of time. 

Williams did admit the leagues try to create marquee matchups. 

Kansas, for example, typically plays one of the better teams from both the SEC and the Big East. KU’s Big East opponents in the series have been Villanova, Creighton and St. John’s, and KU is scheduled to play Seton Hall in December. Only St. John’s would be considered sub-par. 

Here are the Big 12 home games against the Big East this season: Providence at TCU, Georgetown at Texas Tech, Creighton at Texas, Seton Hall at Kansas and St. John’s at Iowa State. 

Here are the Big 12 road games: Baylor at Marquette, Kansas State at Butler, Oklahoma State at Connecticut, Oklahoma at Villanova and West Virginia at Xavier. 

And another reason there’s no reason to believe a conspiracy on OU being scheduled to go to Villanova: the Big 12 wants to win the challenge. The Big 12 lost 8-2 in 2019 and has gone .500 against the Big East each of the last two seasons. Putting OU in Philadelphia, just to poke the Sooners, would not be good policy. 

Now, if Porter Moser wants to complain to the Big 12 office, I could see Williams offering little condolence. The Sooners made their bed. They’re SEC bound. Soon enough, they’ll be on the other side of the Big 12/SEC challenge.  

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The List: Athletes with military first names 

Junior-college quarterback General Booty is headed for OU, and Booty’s name definitely precedes him. Military first names are rare among athletes, but there are some. Here are the 19 I found from major-league sports, plus college football and college basketball: 

1. General Crowder: 11-year MLB pitcher – given name Alvin Floyd Crowder but went by General – had a 167-115 record in the 1920s and 1930s, with the Senators, Browns and Tigers.  

2. Major Wright: NFL defensive back from the University of Floria played seven seasons for the Bears and Buccaneers, making 51 starts and nine interceptions.  

3. Major Harris: West Virginia quarterback led the Mountaineers to the 1988 national championship game.  

4. Major Applewhite: Texas quarterback from 1998-2001 was the Big 12 player of the year in 1999.  

5. Captain Munnerlyn: South Carolina defensive back had five interceptions and 127 tackles from 2006-08.  

6. Major Jones: From Albany State, Played six NBA seasons – brothers Caldwell, Wil and Charles also were in the league – and averaged 4.4 points, mostly with Houston in the 1980s as a power forward. 

7. Major Ogilvie: Alabama running back rushed for 1,718 yards and scored 26 touchdowns from 1977-80.  

8. Admiral Schofield: NBA power forward from the University of Tennessee has played 71 games over two seasons; was in camp with the Thunder a year ago but was waived.  

9. General Stafford: Baseball utility player in the 1890s – given name James Joseph Stafford – had 2,137 at-bats and hit .274, mostly for the New York Giants.  

10. Admiral Schlei: Catcher from 1904-11, with the Reds and Giants, hit .237 over 1,918 big-league at-bats. 

11. Major Everett: Five-year NFL tailback from Mississippi College who rushed for 158 yards with the Eagles and Browns. 

12. Admiral Walker: Negro Leagues pitcher in the 1920s for the Milwaukee Bears and Kansas City Monarchs, with a record of 4-6.  

13. Ensign Cottrill: Baseball pitcher who threw 37.33 innings from 1911-15 for the Pirates, Cubs, Athletics, Braves and Yankees.  

14. Major Wingate: University of Tennessee basketball center averaged 6.4 and 3.2 rebounds over three seasons, 2003-06.  

15. Major Hazelton: From Florida A&M, NFL defensive back, 1968-70, who played in 26 career games for the Bears and Saints. 

16. Major Burns: Defensive back played at Georgia in 2020 and Louisiana State in 2021. 

17. Colonel Snover: Pitched in two games for the 1919 New York Giants. Colonel Snover was his real name. 

18. Major Tennison: Alabama tight end had six catches from 2017-21.  

19. General Jackson: One recorded game for the 1947 Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro National League; given name Robert Jackson. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

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