Big 12 stresses one public voice, but battle in boardroom is ahead

OU president David Boren has made it clear that he favors expansion, a conference title game and a Big 12 network. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

IRVING, Texas -- Last week’s Big 12 meetings delivered less action than a Woody Allen film.

Over more than eight meeting hours covering two days, the league’s presidents and athletic directors didn’t vote on a conference championship game. They didn’t even set a date on when they might vote on a conference championship. And, sorry BYU or Cincinnati, they didn’t compare individual expansion candidates, either.

In fact, the only “news” to come out of the conference office was the league’s newfound so-called public “unanimity” among the leadership.

No longer would Oklahoma president David Boren be sounding off about the conference being “psychologically disadvantaged,” they said. Instead, going forward, the conference would present one voice, and that would be that of commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

"At some particular point, sort of like a family argument, is it better to do it in Applebee's or is it better to do it at home?" explained Kansas State’s Kirk Schulz, who, as the Big 12 board chairman, was the only president to address reporters. "I think we're at a point that we decided that when we have the family argument, we're going to do it at home with the door shut.”

That’s all fine and good. And no doubt, the Big 12’s public perception would be well-served if the bickering were saved for the boardroom.

But whether it happens in an Applebee’s, a Ruby Tuesday’s or behind closed doors of the conference office, the battle for the future of the Big 12 still lies ahead.

In Irving, Boren accommodated the theme of unanimity, declining multiple interview requests while deferring to Bowlsby and Schulz. But in the weeks leading up to the conference meetings, Boren had already, emphatically, given his opinion about the state of the Big 12 and what direction it needed to take.

“I have been pushing, and I still feel 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 [a championship game], we’re the one without a conference network,” he told the Tulsa World. “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.”

Curiously, Schulz noted he didn’t get why outsiders have come to believe the Big 12 to be disadvantaged.

“Frankly, it drives me bananas,” Schulz said. “I don’t necessarily understand why it’s out there.”

Well, it’s largely because Boren has been terming the Big 12 just that in the press for months. And just because Boren apparently played Kumbaya last week doesn't mean he will in the future.

As he has stated several times, Boren clearly wants Texas to give up the Longhorn Network in favor of a conference network.

He wants the Big 12 to expand back to 12 members.

And he wants a conference championship game.

And he wants them all at once, together -- or else.

“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,” he told the World last month. “I think that would be to our advantage. But it’s something that we really need to have happen. 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.”

Though Bowlsby and Schulz didn’t disclose the nature of the discussions, they did acknowledge that they went around the table and allowed each university representative to air his or her concerns before the room. That evidently included a desire for Boren to pipe down publicly. But it also allowed everyone to know where the other members stood.

“All 10 CEOs are open to the idea of looking at the number of schools, a championship game and what a [conference] network might look like,” Schulz said.

“A lot of smart people sitting in a room laying their cards on the table and talking about what will make the conference stronger going forward,” Bowlsby called it.

Boren’s cards have been on the table for some time.

The Big 12 came out of Irving wanting to paint the facade of unanimity. But until Boren’s fight is had, the Big 12 will continue to be anything but behind the door.