BIG 12 Today

Barnhouse: Leaked talking points memo on Big 12 expansion vote says volumes

Oklahoma University president David Boren probably won't be around to witness a move to the SEC, if it even happens. (Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire)
Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire

Why believe anything they say?

David Boren, the president of the University of Oklahoma and the chair of the Big 12 board of directors, used the word “unanimous” four times Monday in describing the conference’s decision to not add members. His opening statement at the news conference was 1,134 words, lasted nearly 10 minutes and was just a fraction of his palaver at the podium.

And we now know there is little reason to believe anything anyone in the Big 12 says going forward.

A 710-word “talking points” memo, obtained by Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, was distributed to the higher ups at the member schools. The first two items instructed officials to “Indicate the board arrived at a “Unanimous Consensus” and “The Board was unanimous in its desire and commitment to stay at 10 members.”

Boren didn’t lie when he said the vote against expansion was unanimous. He wasn’t sworn in by a judge but his comments weren’t the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There might have been 10 hands raised to vote “no” but it’s now clear that a few – Two? Three? Four? – were less than adamant in their decision. Go with the flow, you know.

The Big 12 pays several hundred thousands of dollars each year to a Dallas media relations firm to help get its message distributed through various outlets. But no amount of spin will change the facts.

And the facts are the Big 12 expansion process was a joke because of how the presidents wanted it conducted. The decision to stand pat was one of the best decisions made by the conference in years. It was met with derision. But any chance to move beyond being a clown show was lost when the clown show was renewed for another season thanks to the leaked memo.

Boren, 75, is a former governor of and senator from Oklahoma. His ego is matched only by the love of his own voice. One can only imagine the board-room filibusters where Boren bores his fellow CEOs into submission.

Boren’s influence has increased with the departure of former Kansas State president Kirk Schulz, a respected leader who brought balance and sense to the board. Plus, there’s an interim president at Baylor, new presidents at Texas Tech and K-State and an outgoing president at Kansas.

Let it be noted that the leaked memo included the admonition to not use the words “psychologically disadvantaged.” It was 18 months ago that Boren used those two words to describe the Big 12 and there has been unrest ever since.

One can only imagine the anger and bile that boiled up when professional college administrators read the memo that basically told them what to think and what to say. If you have to instruct your membership to be loyal and say loyal things, you’ll foster the opposite – disloyalty.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard spit some hot truths during a radio interview Tuesday. He said (correctly) that without Texas and Oklahoma the Big 12 is the Mountain West. He pointed out (correctly) that Boston College (in the ACC) and Rutgers (in the Big Ten) were “add-on” schools that bring no fan interest and are competitive as door mats.

But he nailed it with this:

“I don’t fault anybody for making a mockery of the process from the outside, because if you were on the outside, that’s what it looked like,” Pollard said. “I think the best thing that could happen for the Big 12, is that everybody who’s talking about what they think they know is the right answer to quit talking about it, and just let the ADs go do what they need to do.”

The schools in the Big 12 don’t trust the administrators they hire … so the Big 12 hires people to tell it what to do. (Remember, the choice of West Virginia over Louisville was influenced by television consultants.)

The Big 12 pays hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for legal advice from a Kansas City-based law firm. No doubt the wish to avoid any possible litigation or tampering charges was the main reason the expansion process was an all-skate. That might explain why nearly two dozen schools went through an embarrassing  and senseless process.

Jim Delany didn’t worry about lawsuits when he pursued Nebraska and Maryland. Mike Slive was on the sly when he courted Texas A&M. John Swofford helped grow the ACC and kill Big East football. Those commissioners were given a mandate by their membership and they got the job done.

The Big 12’s shotgun marriage between the Big Eight and four Southwest Conference refugees includes the DNA of both conferences. The Big Eight and SWC had a history of treating their commissioners like errand boys. That has continued during the Big 12’s 20 years.

Kevin Weiberg saw the future and proposed the Big 12 start a network. Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M didn’t want socialism for their third-tier rights. Weiberg left for the Big Ten and helped launch the Big Ten Network, then helped the Pac-12 Network get up and running. Instead of cutting edge, the Big 12 is cut out when it comes to its own network.

Dan Beebe replaced Weiberg and tried to herd cats as the original Big 12 disintegrated. Despite keeping the 10-team league together in the wake of Nebraska and Colorado departing, Beebe was Caesar to Boren’s Brutus and was unfairly canned.

Bob Bowlsby has 30 years of experience as a college sports administrator. At one time was considered as a candidate to be the NCAA president. That’s on the collegiate “worst jobs” list but it’s better than being “Big 12 commissioner.”

Had Bowlsby been able to do his job in the manner of his peers, he could have covertly reached out to the usual suspects for expansion, gauged their interest and reported back to the presidents. Certainly news would have leaked; it always does. But the process could have taken less time and been resolved in a more elegant fashion.

Two years ago, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman interviewed Weiberg about the stillborn Big 12 Network idea. The low-key and classy Weiberg didn’t throw anyone under the bus. But he said this: “There wasn’t a willingness to participate in the common conference approach.”

Those 11 words tell you what you need to know about the Big 12 and are more honest and on point than a million words from any politician turned school president.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top