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Mitch Vingle: The Big 12’s profile, spin and Oklahoma’s Dave Boren

AP photo
Oklahoma President David Boren (left) and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby laugh during a news conference after the Big 12 Conference meeting in Grapevine, Texas, on Oct. 17, 2016.

It was interesting to speak with WVU athletic director Shane Lyons this week and then read comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

While issues swirl around the league and darts are thrown at it, Lyons said the conference’s recent meetings “were back to typical.”

“It was,” he said, “focused on the normal day-to-day operations.”

There does, however, appear to be a concerted effort to blunt criticism of the league.

Bowlsby was asked by CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd about the Big 12’s poor showing in the recent NFL draft.

“I don’t know if I have a reaction to it,” said the commissioner. “We’ve had years when we’ve had a lot [drafted]. We’ve had years when we haven’t had many. I guess it’s not astonishing.”

“I think the media overplays it,” said Lyons. “There are the ebbs and flows of the draft. One year it can be up and one year it can be down. My personal feeling is right now the Big 12 is the target of the media and it happened to be a down year so it wanted to take shots at us and say the conference isn’t performing at a high level. But two years ago why wasn’t it written about the high numbers we had?”

It’s tough to defend this season’s Big 12 number of 14 draft picks taken compared to 53 from the SEC, 43 from the ACC, 36 from the Pac-12 and 35 from the Big Ten. Yet the numbers Lyons spoke of were presented in this space a couple weeks back. The Big 12 averaged 2.6 NFL draftees per school last year and 2.5 the year prior. The problem is, the number this year — 1.4 — was matched in 2014 as well.

One would think, especially hot off the NFL draft, the league would at least mandate each school to re-examine its recruiting process, correct? Yet let’s return to Lyons.

“You’re going to have up and down years,” he said. “That’s not only in the Big 12, but it’s in the Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC, SEC, all of it. So it doesn’t bother me. I think we have great football. I think we perform well in the bowl games. That’s the tell-all.”

Indeed, the Big 12 finished the 2016-17 bowl season at 4-2, second among Power 5 conferences to the ACC’s 8-3 record. In 2015-16, though, the Big 12 was 3-4. In 2014-15 it was 2-5. In 2013-14 it was 3-3.

Whatever the case, the Big 12’s profile has been suffering, whether because of less-than-stellar recruiting classes (especially of those mining Texas players), the lack of success in regard to the College Football Playoff, the embarrassing non-expansion process, the NFL draft numbers, the mind-numbing situation at Baylor or Oklahoma president Dave Boren.

Oh yes, in case you haven’t heard, Boren is at it again. ESPN Radio and SEC Network personality Paul Finebaum apparently claimed OU is “desperate” to leave the Big 12 and Boren was asked to respond.

At first, Boren handled it well in the eyes of Big 12 members, saying “Oh, no, no, no. I would say no.”

But then, according to the Tulsa World, he went on.

“I would just say that we’re, at this point in time, hoping the Big 12 will improve and succeed.”

Get that? At this point in time. He continued by saying “I think we’re really looking ahead at a whole wave of realignment as these [media rights] contracts come to an end. I think we’re four or five years away from it.”

As the Tulsa World pointed out, the Big Ten’s media deal runs through 2022-23. That of the Big 12 goes through 2024-25.

Boren, you might remember, made waves by stumping for a league-wide network, criticizing the Longhorn Network and asking for expansion and a football championship. He got the latter.

“We wouldn’t walk away from the Big 12 lightly, I’ll put it that way” Boren said. “We don’t have any plans to leave right now. There’s not any active conversation going on.”

Again, notice “right now.”

Lyons was asked about Boren’s comments.

“At the conference meetings we didn’t have discussions about our future and where everybody sits,” said the WVU AD. “We’re, what, eight years off from our media rights expiring. I think everyone around the table is happy with the league and the direction we’re going, the payouts we’re getting. My understanding is it’s the highest behind the SEC and Big Ten. Our revenue streams are just as strong as any others out there.”

Forbes has claimed each Big 12 member made $30.2 million in 2015-16, not far off the Big Ten’s $30.8 million and the SEC’s $36.8 million.

“We have to worry about our own,” Lyons said. “People want to compare. But this will be the first year the [football] championship is back. It’s easy for people to look at Oklahoma and Texas and say, ‘Will they stay or leave?’ But it’s more complicated than that.”

There are questions like, is it indeed wise? Is it easier for Oklahoma and/or Texas to win in the Big Ten or SEC. The answer is no. And how have things been going for Nebraska since breaking away? Colorado?

“I think [Boren is] just safe-guarding himself by using those words, I assume,” Lyons said. “I don’t know. You never say never. But I don’t hear anything within the league meetings from them and Texas. In front of me they appear content and happy with the league and the direction we’re heading.

“I don’t think it’s a topic right now.”

“We really believe the public perception and private reality are two different things,” Bowlsby said at the Horseshoe Bay Sports Club in Texas, according to DailyTrib.com. “Pundits suggest we’re going out of business soon. It isn’t going to happen.”

Only time will tell.

Contact Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827 or mitchvingle@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @MitchVingle.

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