After University of Oklahoma president David L. Boren on Wednesday issued a statement to the Oklahoma Daily about his desire for the Big 12 Conference to go beyond merely adding a conference championship game, Tulsa World sports columnist John E. Hoover spoke with Boren for nearly 25 minutes on Thursday evening. Here is a transcript of that Q&A:
Q: In the statement, you said the disadvantages of having 10 teams, having no CCG and having no conference network should be addressed at the same time – what solutions or proposals do you have for Big 12 membership to consider to address all three?
A: “I have been pushing, and I still very strongly, that there’s the Big 12, which has only 10 members, and when you look at the big five conferences, we’re the one with only 10 members, we’re the one without a playoff, we’re the one without a conference network. And when you look at the long-range stability and the well-being of the conference, I think we’re disadvantaged by being the ‘little brother,’ so to speak, by being smaller. I think expansion is crucial.
I think that with expansion comes a very strong possibility and a need for a Big 12 Network — we’re leaving money on the table in terms of the interests of most of the members of the conference, and we can always find a transition distribution that will help Texas not be disadvantaged from their current setup as we transition from the Longhorn Network. But over the next 5-10 years, having a conference network is very important. Having 12 members is very important.
“And then I think having a playoff (championship) game adds to the possibility of both more revenues and, in most years, it will add to our ability to have stronger consideration for the College Football Playoff. I think the College Football Playoff, just psychologically, is going to have a tendency, the committee will have a tendency to look at a conference that’s much smaller, that doesn’t have a playoff game. The network’s not so important from that point of view, but it’s important financially, I think, in the long run. So I’m hoping that the idea of the playoff (championship) game will not be considered in isolation. I hope it will be part of a comprehensive reform of the conference. I really think this is an opportunity to do that. I think we could work out the details in goodwill, working with each other.
“But I think if you’re just talking about a playoff (championship) game in isolation, some years that’s gonna be a benefit to certain schools like OU, or some years it’s going to be a disadvantage. If you don’t have 12 members and you don’t have two divisions, playing the same team twice is not always beneficial. You might win the first time, lose the second time. So it’s debatable if you consider it only in isolation as to whether or not it’s advantageous. I think it’s only slightly advantageous, but sometimes I think it’s going to be disadvantageous.
“So I think coupled with the playoff (championship) game, we really, really need to seriously get focused on getting expansion accomplished at the same time—at least two more schools—and we need to get the Big 12 network stood up, and that means dealing with the Longhorn Network. We have a Sooner Network, but of course we were very willing, for the good of the conference, to make sure that can be folded in in a way that’s not disadvantageous to us financially. We’re certainly willing for Texas to have some compensation. But we need to be willing to get all three of those things done, and I think trying to do them separately is not wise. I think we really ought to push for a comprehensive solution right now when the board gets together in February.”
Q: So what’s the solution you’d like to see come February?
A: “Well, I’d like to see us add two more teams, and we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that, which teams fit, which teams are additive to our conference — and I mean schools that have very strong athletic programs as well as very strong academic programs, that fit our profile. And there are several schools potentially around the country that would be additive. You don’t want to just add schools for the sake of adding schools. So they need to be — put it this way: they need to be the right schools.
“And then get a Big 12 network, and then add a conference championship game. All three. That’d be the three things I think we need to do. And then I think we would be a much stronger conference. I’ve been pushing for these kinds of steps for a long time, but I think the timing is more propitious now. And as I’ve talked to more of the presidents, they seem to be more open today. They have had a better chance to look at what this could mean to each school financially, what it means to our image in the College Football Playoff, and I think the timing is right for us to move forward with this kind of comprehensive reform.
“And I think if we try to do it piecemeal, we’re just gonna kind of end up with just a band-aid on top. I think we need a comprehensive plan to strengthen the conference and give it equal status with the other Power 5 conferences.”
Q: So let’s get that conversation started now: If the Big 12 does expand, which two schools would you start with and why?
A: “Well, I don’t want to start naming schools, because we have private discussions about that. But there are definitely more than two schools that would be additive. We’ve done enough national study to know that. I’d rather not. I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to name schools as one president. We have been, as a group, looking at expansion, discussing expansion, and we have had outside consultants helping us look at what schools are the possible best fit. So there are more than two out there that could be a good fit. There may be six or seven, and we could pick from that group the right two. We have to be very careful. We don’t want to go out and get Okefenokee A&M or something just to have a name. Just any old school, just go get anybody to have 12.
So we have to really carefully decide which are the best ones, and we’ll look at the fan base, we’ll look at the size of their programs, we’ll look at the academics of the institutions. We’ll look at them comprehensively as to which is the best fit. And also we’ll consider geography to a certain degree. I think West Virginia is kind of out by itself. You know, I was for adding Louisville. I obviously did not prevail, and they have now gone into another conference and they’re not available now. But they’d have been a good fit. They’d have been close to West Virginia, and you have to think about them and their travel and the rest of it. So I think we have to consider all those factors: fan base, academics, geography. But we’re in a position to do that. But I think just to add a championship game is just a band-aid, and a debatable band-aid. Because some years I think it could be advantageous, other years not. I think that’s only part of the problem.
“We’ve got the name Big 12, and we should live up to that. And we should have a network and reap the benefits. All the schools should share the benefits. And I think it would end up, if we have a Big 12 network, it would ultimately, five or 10 years down the road, it’s gonna be greatly beneficial to all the schools financially to have a Big 12 network. And yes, if we can do that, and have two divisions, then I’m in favor of a championship game. But I think we need to do it all.”
Q: Just to be clear, you have your own two schools that you would personally like to add, or not?
A: Well, I have two schools I would lean toward, I would say. It may be three or four other possibilities, at least a couple more possibilities that I think are strong. But I would not let it hang up on whether I personally get my way about which two schools. I think we ought to add. As long as they’re additive. As long as they add strength to the conference athletically, academically and financially, they need to add to the conference in all three of those ways. And I just think we can do it.
“I’ll put it this way. I’m very frustrated that we have not taken these steps previously. And boy, I was very frustrated, for example, that we let Louisville get away and we let other schools get away. We had opportunities at one time several years ago before all these schools gave up their rights, their legal rights and their financial rights, we had a real opportunity I think back then to even snag some of the bigger-name programs in the country, and we let the opportunity pass us by — in spite of some of us expressing our frustrations.
“But I think now there’s good cohesion on the board. There’s a lot of very sensible, ‘We’re looking at this in a very scientific way,’ not just sort of, ‘I like so-and-so school.’ We’ve tried to really look at this from a scientific point of view and let the facts determine and look at the facts when we’re trying to determine who would add the most to the conference.
“But it’s way past due. We’ve been way behind. I think we have an excellent commissioner now. I think he’s very capable. And I think we have a real opportunity to do something like this. I just hope we won’t keep putting it off. You know, the old saying, ‘Don’t hold your ticket ‘til the show’s over?’ Well, I think we held our ticket until Louisville and other schools perhaps even better got away from us. We ought to quit holding it any longer or we’ll have even fewer choices when we do try to expand. We won’t have as many opportunities. So I think we ought to move out right now and get moving on it.”
Q: Which scenario do you think is in the best long-term interest of the University of Oklahoma? Staying in the Big 12 or pursuing membership in another conference?
A: “I think if, if we can get the Big 12 on the right track, if this comprehensive plan could be adopted, then I would rather stay in the Big 12. I think that would be to our advantage. But it’s something that we really need to have happen. But we just need to wait and see what develops. Certainly, my first choice, if we can get the right things done in the Big 12, the right steps taken, especially these three, then I think we ought to stay in the Big 12. If it just doesn’t happen, then I try to think long-term. It isn’t just a matter of Oklahoma or whatever, I just think the stability and strength of the Big 12 will not be well-served if we don’t take these steps to strengthen it.”
Q: I understand the Big Ten Conference essentially has a standing invitation to OU. Can you say if that’s true or not?
A: “Well, I wouldn’t comment on that. I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment. I would say that there are no official outstanding invitations from anyone right now, but there are always, always informal conversations that we get approached (with) from time to time, and I think the strength of our program, we’re always considered a Top 10 program in the country. So we’re always attractive to the conferences. We have comprehensive strength. We’re talking about football, we’re talking about basketball, we’re talking about gymnastics, other things. We have a very strong, comprehensive program. Our brand, I noticed in one of the magazines recently, they measured the worth of the top brands in the country, as they saw it, athletically, and we were in the top six, ranked in that fashion. So I think there are always opportunities for Oklahoma.
“But I think our first choice will always be to remain in the Big 12 — if we can make the Big 12 into or strengthen the Big 12 in a meaningful way. We should continue. That’s what we’ve got to do. But yes, there have been—and particularly back during the period of time in which, as you recall, all that discussion about the Pacific, the Pac Conference and so on. Yes, there certainly was a lot of chatter and interest in us from other conferences. But our goal is not to move on to another conference. Our goal is to stay in the Big 12. So we’re concentrating all of our efforts right now not on even thinking about going anywhere else. We’re concentrating all of our efforts on strengthening the Big 12. And hopefully we’ll be successful.
“Let me say, there are three or four other schools in particular that are really — and presidents of other institutions; I won’t name them, I don’t think that would be appropriate — they feel as strongly as I do about getting something like this done. So it’s not just Oklahoma that’s pushing this effort for a comprehensive program. We have some very strong allies and I’m just optimistic. We have a good commissioner to help implement anything we decide to do. He is very savvy about finances, about television and networks, about how the College Football Playoff works and how it functions.
“I think we’re, you know, it’s just the right time to do it. It’s the right time to make the move. So I hope they won’t just take this one and say, ‘Oh well, we’ve got permission to do a playoff (championship).’ We can do a lot more than that. It doesn’t make sense to do that in isolation.”
Q: As a man who knows the law, how strong are these Grant of Rights agreements?
A: Uhh, well, I think that’s really interesting. … I think it’s probably not — I think it’s strong enough that most schools that have given away their grants of rights … I think most of them will be reluctant to test the strength of that legally. So I think we have to zero in that would be additive to the conference where there’s not a grant of rights problem.
“Now, if that doesn’t work and we feel we can find somebody to test that, then we’d have to consider that. I would say it’s a significant legal problem. But it may not be, until it’s tested, we don’t know if it’s gonna be 100 percent binding or not. I think we’re all operating under the assumption that it is binding. And I think other schools are now, too, and they’re not willing to risk the buyout provisions they might face, the amount of money they might have to put on the table it they did try to leave. And so we’ll be looking at schools that will not have that problem — at least initially — for expansion.
“I think the grant of rights was very important in saving the Big 12 Conference and making sure everyone was dialed into it. But it’s not a 100 percent insurance policy. It greatly strengthens the stability of the conference and the likelihood it will continue with its current members—hopefully more. But it’s not yet 100 percent, because there have not been adequate legal tests to say with certainty. I talk to lawyers a lot about it. I think it’s strong enough to go on the assumption that, ‘Let’s look at possible other schools to join us that don’t have that problem.’ And many of them, you’d just have to say psychologically that people that have signed away their rights like that in other conferences are probably pretty reluctant to try to leave those conferences.
“So you go out and there are the dream schools that you’d like to try to get, but if they’ve signed away their grant of rights, I think it’s gonna be pretty hard to get them in play. It doesn’t mean it’ll never happen, but I think it’ll be pretty difficult. Hopefully that makes us stronger and more stable. But I think in the long run, if the Big 12’s gonna be here 25 years from now and be a major power conference in the world of athletics, I think the Big 12 just needs to take these three steps — at a minimum. Get moving on it. We’ve wasted too much time already.”
Q: So just put it on the table and go to work, basically?
A: “Put it on the table and go to work and try to get the votes to get it done and not give any s—well, I’ll just leave it at that.”
Q: OK, if you’re sure.
A: “Haha, yeah, I won’t say anything about any of these schools. To get this done, we want everybody to support us. And hopefully—and I truly believe this—I don’t think there’s a single school in the Big 12 Conference in whose interest it is not to take these three steps. I think it’s in the interest of every single school in the Big 12 Conference to take these three steps and have a comprehensive plan.”
Q: Including Texas?
A: “Including Texas.”
Q: That would mean giving up the Longhorn Network, right?
A: “Well, but as I said, there are ways to find a transition formula for revenue distribution and so on. It’s going to be so much of an advantage to other schools for that to be ended and for us to have a Big 12 Conference. I would say also, rumors are that it loses quite a bit of money every year for ESPN, so I don’t think they would be sad to see a change. And I think the other schools would see enough long-term advantage that they would be willing to keep it revenue- neutral for Texas, so that Texas would not be making a huge financial sacrifice under the right transition plan to get it done. I think it’s such a long-range advantage to everybody that we can have a transition plan that will work.”
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