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In our latest episode of As The Big 12 Turns, we try to answer the simple, but important question: What does University of Oklahoma president David Boren think about Big 12 expansion now?
In one corner, we have “David Boren no longer supports Big 12 expansion.”
It appears now that Boren has come full circle on his expansion beliefs, adding another layer of uncertainty to the already muddled Big 12 expansion exploration process. Interviews with multiple sources around the Big 12 in the past week revealed a belief around the league that Boren has reversed course on his view of expansion.
Additionally, via Dallas Morning News reporter Chuck Carlton:
Can confirm report, via sources, by @SIPeteThamel that Oklahoma, Boren now negative on Big 12 expansion, a potential game - changer.— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) September 27, 2016
Both statements are on the heels of Boren’s comments a few weeks ago, when he surprised observers by saying that expansion “is not a given.”
In the other corner, we have, well, Boren himself. In a statement today:
"I do not know where the speculation came from, but Oklahoma has not taken a position on expansion," Boren said in a statement.
And then, we have Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman:
Boren has not reversed his stance on expansion. He periodically wavers in his enthusiasm, one way or the other, and sometimes he does feel a longing for 12 members in a league that has 12 in its name.
But the truth is, Boren and every other cautious Big 12 administrator would embrace expansion, if two good candidates presented themselves.
Confused yet? Either somebody isn’t being entirely straightforward here, or the Big 12’s loudest voice is actually Schrodinger's university administrator, supporting, opposing, and demurring, all at the same time. It’s no surprise Boren used to be a politician.
But why should anybody care what Boren thinks?
Well, for starters, he’s banged the expansion drum within the Big 12 louder and longer than any other administrator. His remarks about being “physiologically disadvantaged” helped launch this debacle to begin with. He’s also the chair of the Big 12 board, and in a conference with multiple university leaders recently changing over, he’s one of the longest tenured and most influential voices in the room.
And, also according to SI and the Dallas Morning News, he was a supporter of BYU’s Big 12 hopes, perhaps the most influential one.
Since a team needs eight votes to get into the Big 12, it’s hard to see a scenario where BYU gets into the conference without the support, and probably enthusiastic support, of David Boren. My hunch here is that his denial isn’t so much a denial — I doubt that Thamel and Carlton, or their sources, are just making stuff up here — but some sort of leverage play.
For what, though, isn’t clear. Maybe it’s to try to mitigate potential negative fallout for him if the conference doesn’t expand? Maybe it’s to push other administrators by threatening to blow expansion up if he doesn’t get his way? Something else entirely?
Boren may have yet to find a microphone he didn’t like, and he probably talks too much for the liking of his administrator peers, but he isn’t stupid.
My best guess after reading all of this is that Boren’s enthusiasm for this whole operation is waning, perhaps in the face of additional opposition to the Cougars, and that’s bad news for BYU. The idea that the conference would go through this entire prolonged public drama only to not expand at all seemed unlikely back in July, but sure seems more likely now.
But Big 12 expansion updates have also been like midwestern weather; if you don’t like them, wait a few hours, and things will change. We’ll see what twists and turns are in store before the Big 12’s next meeting on October 17.