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Berry Tramel

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Big 12 football: David Boren in the eye of the hurricane

by Berry Tramel Published: December 27, 2011

David Boren stood in theOklahomaheat almost four months ago, discussing conference realignment, and said, “I don’t think OU is going to be a wallflower when all is said and done.”

As more and more anecdotal evidence emerges about how we’ve arrived at where we are, the more we know that Boren was telling it straight. The Sooners were indeed no wallflowers.

In fact, depending on the source, OU played a huge role in 1) Keeping the Big 12 together; and 2) Tearing the Big 12 apart.

The sources are as varied asUniversityofMissourichancellor J. Brady Deaton and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

Earlier this month, Brownback told theManhattan(Kan.) Mercury that Boren was bluffing about OU going to the Pac-12, that Boren was trying to get concessions from theUniversityofTexas.

It’s an interesting take. I think Boren was trying to bluffTexas. But was he bluffing in an attempt to get the Longhorns to make concessions, or was he bluffing to make the Longhorns join OU in going to the Pac-12?

The OU mindset was varied on conference realignment. The regents clearly favored going to the Pac-12. Athletic director Joe Castiglione clearly sought to save the Big 12. Bob Stoops last year seemed excited at the Pac-12 prospect but this year expressed a preference for the Big 12. Boren never really showed his hand.

But clearly, the Pac-12 didn’t want OU and OSU withoutTexas, and OU and OSU didn’t want the Pac-12 withoutTexas. But Boren at least made it seem possible that the Sooners would go West.

Texaseventually agreed to some concessions, particularly on equitable revenue sharing of the conference television package, which Big 12 members also hoped would enticeMissourito stay.

Talking about conference realignment, Brownback said, “I think we’re going to have the best or second-best conference in the country. It’s set now. The Okies played poker this last time around, tied the Texans down.”

Brownback tells a great story about those days.

“I was calling president Boren at OU,” Brownback said. “And I couldn’t get him to return my calls. I could get ahold of the governor ofOklahoma, but I couldn’t get ahold of the president of OU.

“I called Bob Dole (former Republican nominee for president) and said, ‘Will you email Boren – they were in the Senate together. Tell him we really like you guys.

“Boren finally called back. Said, ‘Look, I couldn’t call you back. I was playing poker.’ Because he didn’t have a deal, as we saw later. He was trying to get them (Texas) to commit, get them to stay.

“It was a bluff. Boren told me it was. ‘I couldn’t call and tell you. I was playing poker with ‘em. I had to get it tied down or it wouldn’t work.’”

So again, I totally agree that Boren was playing poker. I just don’t know exactly what the bluff was.

Either way, Brownback is excited about the new Big 12.

“We’re going to be better,” he said. “West Virgina’s addition, nice. Gets us in a nice TV zone. There’s nobody you watch for college football in the D.C. market area. Virginia Tech maybe. There’s just not a good college team you’re watching in there.

“Now you’ve got the Big 12 teams coming through toWest Virginia. Which plays in the D.C. market area. I think it’s going to be nice. I think it’s going to better for us.

“I just wish we hadn’t lostMissouri. That’s going to hurtKansas Citya lot. But I think we’re in much better shape now than we were a year ago.”

Conversely, Boren’s fingerprints were all over the departure ofMissourito the Southeastern Conference.

Earlier this month, Deaton told a group of writers that the turning point for Mizzou in seeking out the SEC was Sept. 2, that day that Boren said OU would not be a wallflower and was evaluating whether to stay in the Big 12 or move to one of the conferences expressing interest in the Sooners.

Just five days earlier, Deaton and Boren had traveled toCollege Station,Texas, in a quest to persuade Texas A&M to remain in the Big 12.

Deaton told the writers that he was optimistic about the Big 12 as September arrived. “Hey, we can make this thing work out,” he said. “We might even be able to talk A&M into coming back. We knew we had some other prospects (to join the Big 12), so everything was still gung-ho.”

But Deaton said he reconsidered after hearing Boren’s comments. The Pac-12 clearly wanted OU, OSU,Texasand Texas Tech to join its conference, which would have dropped the Big 12 down to five schools:Missouri,Baylor,IowaState,KansasStateandKansas.

“I think there was some negative term that we’d been labeled at that time: ‘The Forgotten Five,’ I think it was,” Deaton said.

So the next day, Sept. 3, Deaton and athletic director Mike Alden talked during the Mizzou-Miami (Ohio) football game and discussed their options.

Even when the OU bluff was exposed – the Pac-12 announced on Sept. 20 that it would not expand – Deaton did not regain faith in the Big 12.

“It was clear that every move we were making was a struggle, and an uncertain one, that was sowing potential seeds of dissension from school to school,” Deaton said. “It was sort of like you were sitting there saying, ‘OK, who’s going to be the next one to say they’re going here, there or elsewhere because of one of these little glitches that are occurring in the discussion process?’”

Deaton denied that Mizzou’s interest in the Big Ten in summer 2010 started the entire flux of the Big 12. He said by September 2011, “for us the question was do we continue to struggle? Do we continue to try to be the good citizens that we think we have tried to be all along, knowing that in spite of our absolute best efforts, four institutions or more are willing to just fly off and try out something different?

“And it was clear, we thought, certainly, it was going to happen again at the next opportunity that arose.”

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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