Over the last year, expansion was voted down by Big 12.
Yet that doesn’t mean there weren’t changes. Just this past week, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops set sail and Lincoln Riley was named his successor.
And, behind the scenes, another change was made.
On June 2, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee was voted as the new chairman of the Big 12’s Board of Directors for 2017-18, replacing OU’s controversial David Boren.
That’s significant for WVU, a Big 12 geographic outlier. But it may be more significant for a league that’s seeking a new look. The Big 12 has been torched by criticism over its expansion process, the Baylor scandal and performance from its football teams, primarily regarding the College Football Playoffs, the lack of NFL draft picks and less-than-stellar recruiting.
This week, though, I had a conversation with Gee about his plan of attack. Here are his responses.
On his No. 1 goal as the new chairman:
“The opportunities for the Big 12 are substantial,” he said. “We went through the process last year of expansion and decided against it. We felt standing pat and really committing was in our best interest. We did commit to a football championship at AT&T Stadium [in Arlington, Texas], which will start this year. And we’ll revisit things every few years. But our goal is to secure our place as one of the premier Power 5 conferences.”
On his reported interest in new broadcasting platforms:
“One of the things I discovered going through the [expansion] process is the serious challenges of the traditional platforms: ESPN, Fox, etc.,” he said. “It’s readily apparent to me the world of broadcasting is moving much faster than any of us thought. Because we’re 10 teams, I think we’re better suited to position ourselves on the edge of technology for the next time period.
“Of course, we value our partnerships with ESPN and Fox, but I think they themselves will be looking at how to digitize and present different platforms. We also have to be realistic that Amazon and Google are taking significant new roles. I think the rules are going to change dramatically over the next five to eight years.
“Our television contract now runs until 2025, which is a significant period of time. But if you look at what’s happened the last eight years and what could happen over the next eight years, I’m just saying we need to have prescience. We can do some really interesting things.”
As a proponent of expansion, on whether he might push to revisit the idea:
“No, we went through the process and made the decision,” he said. “We had a significant number of conversations about it. We decided we have a strong conference and we need to strengthen ourselves. We just announced our revenue distribution [of $34.8 million] per school is the third-highest among the Power 5 conferences, just behind the SEC [$40.4 million] and Big Ten [$34.8 million] and substantially ahead of the Pac-12 [$24.7 million] and ACC [$23.8 million]. We’re in a very good position.”
On whether the Big 12 cut a deal with the networks to stay at 10 schools:
“Well, the TV networks weren’t happy about us [possibly] expanding because we had that clause that would have increased our revenues,” he said. “But that wasn’t the sole motivating factor. In the end we really made the determination that, given the landscape, given the options we had, given the things we’re looking at, the teams we had just blended well together.
“Also, I’ll say this very honestly. I really feel very good about the chemistry of our presidents. We have new presidents, but the chemistry is very good — and that makes a big difference as one who has been going through the conference wars for a long time.”
On the criticism leveled at Big 12 football:
“You just have to win,” he said. “By and large, our teams have been successful. We probably have as strong a football league as anyone. We didn’t have a [CFP] team this past year, but we did the year before. We think we didn’t the year before because of [the lack of a] conference championship. Once we have that, I think we’ll be in a different stead.
“It waxes and wanes. I saw that in the Big Ten. I saw that in the SEC. Teams and conferences wax and wane.”
On whether the league will urge schools to re-examine their football recruiting processes:
“I think the [Big 12] commissioner [Bob Bowlsby] is taking a careful look at it,” he said. “You saw Bob Stoops resigned, but Oklahoma has a new coach that’s 33 years old. We have excellent coaches. Tom Herman at Texas was with me at Ohio State. He was a great recruiter. We have a group in the conference that aren’t only excellent coaches, but recruiters. I know because I’ve worked with some of them.”
On whether he’s spoken with Boren about 1) the chair position, and 2) OU’s stance on the Big 12:
“Oh yeah,” he said. “David and I are very good friends. I’ve known him forever. I think he did an excellent job as Chair. He was in place during all the [expansion] conversation and had to walk a fine line. I’ve talked to David, his athletic director [Joe Castiglione] and coaches. They believe we as a league are in a very strong position. Last week they gave a very strong commitment to the league.
“We all just need to get over the [negative] conversations. It’s kind of like West Virginia University, I’ve always felt. I’m a president of an institution that’s much better than people think it is. I think we’re in a league — although it’s a Power 5 league — that’s much better than people think.
“We need to just say, ‘Hey, look, this is who we are. This is what we’re doing. And, by the way, here’s the data in terms of dollars and cents.’ We’re outperforming the ACC and Pac-12 by a long distance and are right behind the Big Ten and SEC. That right there is a sign of good health.”
On the Baylor situation:
“They have a new president [Linda Livingstone],” he said. “They have a new athletic director [Mack Rhoades]. They have new coaches [including head football coach Matt Rhule]. They have been through a process of reevaluating every aspect of their athletic program. We are very satisfied they are working diligently to do so. We had a long conversation about that in our last board meetings.
“We want to have a strong Baylor. Baylor is wonderful academic institution. It adds great value to the league both academically and athletically. What’s most important, though, is they are taking corrective actions. The league is monitoring that [via third-party attorney Janet Judge]. We as a league need to hold ourselves to high standards and we need to be helping each other make sure those standards are met.”
And finally, on the loss of Stoops:
“Bob Stoops is from Youngstown, Ohio,” he said. “He comes from a great football family. He was, obviously, under no pressure whatsoever. He’s 56 years of age. I think he decided to do what very few people have an opportunity to do — which I need to learn to do, too. He decided to walk away from a great job in which he was widely appreciated with both his integrity and ability to do things with his family. I admire him to do it. I imagine how difficult it was for him, but I can certainly understand. There was no issue with his relationship with the University of Oklahoma. I expect they were as surprised as all of us in the Big 12. I’m a great admirer of Coach Stoops. He went out on top.
“And, hey, you never know. He may get bored. Remember, I hired a football coach at Ohio State named Urban Meyer who once walked away from Florida.”