The Oklahoman

Bowlsby: SEC move a ‘personal betrayal’

- Brian Davis Hookem USA TODAY NETWORK

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Big 12 Commission­er Bob Bowlsby speaks in measured tones about Texas’ and Oklahoma’s decision to leave for the SEC. Asked if he’s still pissed off, the answer is nuanced but clear.

“Being, to use your term pissed off about it, I can’t allow myself that,” Bowlsby said. “I have to get over the sense of personal betrayal and do what’s necessary for our eight continuing members. And that’s what we did.” Personal betrayal.

That’s what he feels Texas President Jay Hartzell and his OU counterpar­t Joe Harroz Jr. did when they schemed behind the scenes earlier this year to change conference­s. Bowlsby fully expects both the Longhorns and Sooners to remain in the Big 12 until June 30, 2025. But you’ll forgive him for keeping the contract close, just to be certain.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with the American-Statesman at Big 12 men’s basketball media day, Bowlsby laid bare his feelings about UT and OU’s move. “We’re going to have to find ways to get along,” he said. “We have to work together, and we will. But I would say trust is at a relative low.”

So why does Bowlsby believe the two schools are leaving?

“Haven’t the vaguest idea,” he said,

sitting in the bowels of T-Mobile Center. “To this day, they've given us no answers to that question. Either one.” Why not?

“You'll have to ask them that,” Bowlsby said. “I've asked repeatedly, and they never made us aware of any concerns in advance. When we've asked the question since then, we've gotten no response.”

Does Texas and OU know the competitio­n will be much harder in the SEC? It's widely believed it would be much easier to reach the College Football Playoff in the Big 12 than the SEC, where Alabama reigns supreme and everyone else struggles.

“That's not my responsibi­lity to explain that to them,” Bowlsby said. “They've got 50 years of experience. They ought to be able to figure that out for themselves.”

Texas' top officials, like Hartzell and UT System Board of Regents chairman Kevin Eltife, still have never gone in depth about why they wanted to leave the Big 12. Their only public comments have been carefully crafted statements about UT's long-term future.

“They're thinking they're going to recruit better and they're going to get more money,” Bowlsby said. “Anybody that thinks Texas' football problems have been a result of league affiliation are completely delusional.”

Texas fans have long complained about the home schedule. For example, few fans are excited about Kansas coming to Royal-Memorial Stadium on Nov. 13.

“Well, here comes Vanderbilt,” Bowlsby said. “Every league is structured similarly to what ours is. There's three or four bell cows and there's the rest.”

Ever since the news broke In July that Texas and OU were leaving, Bowlsby has been on the defensive. He was hurt by UT and OU's feeling of deception, a close friend of his told the Statesman.

High-ranking UT sources told the Statesman this summer that the decision was driven in part by TV negotiatio­ns. The networks did not want to extend their current TV deals, something Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

But the Big 12 asked its members to sign a five-year extension of the grant of television rights, according to UT sources at the time. Bowlsby said flatly on Wednesday “that's absurd.”

“We never asked them to extend the TV contracts. There was never an ask for an extension of the grant of rights,” Bowlsby said. “There was never any negotiatio­ns with ES. There was never a request to extend the contract. It was a routine look-in, and I wasn't at all surprised or disappoint­ed that they said four years was too early to begin negotiatio­ns.”

Hartzell was part of a three-president committee to study the league's TV contracts. Did his knowledge of the TV situation prompt Texas' decision?

“Well, we have two presidents that are very new in their chairs,” Bowlsby said, referring to Hartzell and Harroz. “So, you'll have to ask them what they felt like they knew and what they didn't know.”

Hartzell appeared before a panel of Texas state senators on Aug. 2 and said the move became clear “into the summer” about leaving the Big 12. Bowlsby told that same panel the Big 12's television contracts would be cut in half with Texas and OU leaving.

“I want to set the record straight: we have and will continue to honor all agreements,” Hartzell told the panel of state lawmakers. “We have not violated any Big 12 bylaws.”

Bowlsby said Wednesday the Big 12 has not initiated any legal proceeding­s against Texas and OU.

Having lost the Big 12's two bell cows, Bowlsby became motivated to keep the league afloat, his friend said. Texas and OU were somewhat banking on the Big 12's possible implosion, so they could leave immediatel­y without paying any stiff penalty — possibly as much as $80 million each. The Big 12 recently extended invitation­s to Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida and BYU. Those schools gladly accepted and will join the league for the 2023 football season. Basketball­wise, the Big 12 becomes a fantastic league. But football drives all financial decisions. Cincinnati is currently No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 football poll.

“They're good football programs, they're good basketball programs. They're good broad-based programs. And they're really fine universiti­es,” Bowlsby said.

A high-ranking Texas source told the Statesman in September that UT and OU were allowed to vote on whether the Big 12 could expand. “They both abstained,” Bowlsby said.

There's a growing belief that Texas and OU will find ways to join the SEC in 2023. But asked if he expects to have a 14-team Big 12 in 2023, Bowlsby said, “Yeah. They've told us they're staying until June 30, 2025. I take them at their word until they demonstrat­e something contrary to that.”

Can you take Texas and OU officials at their word? “Well, between what they've told us their intentions are and what our written agreements state, that's what I rely on,” Bowlsby said.

Bowlsby, who turns 70 in January, thought he was on a glidepath to retirement. Now, he'll stay on as long as the remaining conference members would like. “I'm not going to leave our members hanging,” he said.

Just don't expect to see him in Austin anytime soon.

“Probably not.”

 ?? STEPHEN SPILLMAN/FOR THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN ?? Big 12 Commission­er Bob Bowlsby says he has to get over the ‘sense of personal betrayal.’
STEPHEN SPILLMAN/FOR THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN Big 12 Commission­er Bob Bowlsby says he has to get over the ‘sense of personal betrayal.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States