The Oklahoman

Pollard helps Big 12 navigate change

- Berry Tramel Columnist The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

When the days turned dark for the Big 12 over the summer, the Big 12 turned to the veteran in the room.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard.

Pollard and OU’s Joe Castiglion­e are the only ADs left in the league from the last time the Big 12 was endangered, in 2010-11. Joe C. was on the other side of realignmen­t this time; his Sooners, along with Texas, ignited the despair with their stated intention to move to the Southeaste­rn Conference.

Some predicted the demise of the Big 12. Some predicted a drop in status, out of the Power 5 Conference setup.

But the league stuck together. The narrative quickly flipped. Pollard credits Big 12 commission­er Bob Bowlsby. But perhaps Pollard’s experience and wisdom helped calm the waters.

“It was tough, I’m not going to undersell that,” Pollard said of the OU/Texas news.

But Pollard spoke to the other seven athletic directors and told them of the 2010 story, when Nebraska jumped to the Big Ten and Colorado jumped to the Pac-12. Speculatio­n was rampant that OU, OSU, Texas and Texas A&M were headed to the Pac-12. The Big 12 seemed dead.

The Pac-12 deal fell through, as it did a year later after A&M and Missouri bolted the Big 12 for the SEC. West Virginia and Texas Christian were added to the Big 12, and the league stabilized and thrived. Until this summer.

“Last time, it was a lot more protracted,” Pollard said. “It went on a lot longer. It was bad, but I had gone through it. I kind of knew what to still expect.”

Pollard’s message: No one in 2010-11 could have predicted that Iowa State athletics were about to enter its greatest decade. Athletical­ly, financially, facilities.

“The most robust in Iowa State history,” Pollard said. “But that’s what happened. That’s how I positioned it, to say, ‘Gosh, what will we say 10 years from now?’ Will we say this is the best thing that ever happened? We weren’t saying it in 2010, but for Iowa State, it was.”

Iowa State football has soared in the last five years. And by the way, the last 10-12 years is the best stretch for football in OSU history.

“I’m looking at this and saying, ‘This is an opportunit­y,’” Pollard said. “We’re in the best possible position we could have been, because of Coach (Matt) Campbell, because of the facility improvemen­ts we’ve made.”

Which means Pollard is not distraught over the soon-to-be-changing Big 12, which will add Brigham Young, Central Florida, Houston and Cincinnati.

“I’m ready to embrace it, because I think there’s a new opportunit­y out there for us,” Pollard said.

Don’t misunderst­and. It wasn’t easy for schools like Iowa State and Kansas State 10-11 years ago. The possibilit­y that they could be left without a major conference home was very real. Same as a few months ago.

“I still have the scars on my back, from how challengin­g it was,” Pollard said.

And truthfully, the Big 12 was similarly beat up back in August.

“We were the punch line to every joke,” Pollard said. “Then it all went away as soon as we added those schools, kind of ran its course quickly, and the misery moved to somewhere else.”

Pollard does not paint a completely rosy picture. The next Big 12 television contract, which arrives in 2025, will not be as lucrative without OU and Texas.

“There’s still some uncertaint­y,” Pollard said. “The financial piece is still a piece that has to be resolved at some point, but you gotta embrace change. So whatever that is, we’ve put ourselves in the best possible position.

“Clearly, we would have preferred for it to not have happened, but if it was going to happen, we came out the best you could come out of it. I applaud Commission­er Bowlsby for making it happen quickly.”

Pollard is bullish on the four newcomers. He points out what Bowlsby has been hammering for several years, that cable households within a market no longer matter much in television negotiatio­ns. Streaming is the future, which means a fan base’s willingnes­s to activate content is the key.

Pollard cites Central Florida’s 71,000 enrollment and the number of graduates that kind of school produces each year. Cincinnati has an enrollment approachin­g 50,000. And Brigham Young has a worldwide fan base as the academic citadel for Mormons.

Pollard even mentioned Houston’s fan base as a positive, though that might be stretching it.

“I think that bodes well for what the future may hold,” Pollard said. “All four of the schools, they come to the table with robust fan bases. They’re at full capacity in their stadiums. We’re blessed that we’re in the position we’re in.”

The new league offers parity. OU has been clogging the path to football supremacy, having won six straight Big 12 titles, and the Sooners are ranked third nationally this season.

But soon enough, OU will be gone, and Big 12 football becomes a land run for success.

“The new Big 12 is anybody’s conference to kind of claim to be king of the mountain,” Pollard said. “I don’t think anybody in the new Big 12, anybody would say has a head start.

“Will it be 10 different schools that get a chance to do that? I’m excited about that.”

The salvaged Big 12 also keeps the conference basketball tournament in Kansas City, which is a bonanza for Iowa State. The Cyclones have fallen on hard times recently in hoops but have a strong tradition and have made KC a second home every March.”

“That’s a great feather in the cap for the Big 12, because it is one of the great assets,” Pollard said of the Big 12 Tournament. “But let’s not kid anybody. Football is the engine that drives the train. Having healthy football was the main focus of finding new members.”

Of the Olympic sports, Pollard said, “Let’s call it like it is. I’m a realist. I’m a CPA. If football’s healthy, those sports will be healthy. If football’s not healthy, those sports won’t be healthy.”

Divisional breakdown hasn’t been discussed, Pollard said. Iowa State’s Texas ties aren’t as important as they once were, he said, because Campbell has shifted recruiting to a more Upper Midwest bent.

But Pollard said the state of Texas is important, because of alumni and bowl games. He wants the Big 12 to retain its placeholde­r on JerryWorld in Arlington as the site of the Big 12 Championsh­ip Game. It’s a game the Cyclones reached last season and could again this year, though a victory over OSU might be required.

Either way, Iowa State athletics are in good shape, having withstood another assault on the conference.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalist­s by purchasing a digital subscripti­on today.

 ?? CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/AP ?? In this Aug. 1, 2018, file photo, Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard speaks during a news conference in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State's athletic budget outlook is better than expected.
CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/AP In this Aug. 1, 2018, file photo, Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard speaks during a news conference in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State's athletic budget outlook is better than expected.
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States