Tramel's ScissorTales: Big 12's Bob Bowlsby & SEC's Greg Sankey together kept a pretty big secret
The circle was small. Just a few people knew. A group of people contemplating the very fabric of college football.
But still, as the gospel of Matthew says, where two or three gathered, it’s hard to keep a secret. Or something like that.
Somehow, the secret stayed safe. No leaks. No nothing.
And then the story broke. A subcommittee was recommending the College Football Playoff be expanded to 12 teams.
The Thursday Scissortales check out an interview with University of Washington athletic director Jen Cohen about potential Pac-12 expansion, check in on Bill Hancock’s Olympic adventure and check off the best No. 16 and No. 18 picks in NBA Draft history. But we start, like always these days, with OU and Texas going to the Southeastern Conference, and the ability to keep a secret.
Tramel's ScissorTales:OSU must make itself attractive to TV networks as OU, Texas exit Big 12
Two weeks ago, I asked Big 12 commish Bob Bowlsby that in this summer of massive change – the explosion of the transfer portal and the launching of the Name, Image, Likeness revolution and the 12-team playoff proposal – which would have the longest-lasting impact.
The correct answer was, none of the above. But Bowlsby didn’t know it. Not yet. He wasn’t in on the big secret.
OU and Texas were contemplating jumping to the SEC, which Thursday is expected to vote on inviting the Sooners and Longhorns, who have applied for admission. Friday, the OU board of regents is expected to vote on accepting the invitation
It’s a whirling series of events, which only a select few knew about until 2 p.m. July 21, when the Houston Chronicle broke the story, apparently courtesy of Texas A&M sources who had been kept in the dark themselves.
And does anyone see the irony? That subcommittee that proposed the 12-team playoff included Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and two other league commissioners. They worked on the project upwards of two years, came up with an out-of-the-box plan and kept it all under wraps until the day before it was presented to the rest of the CFP board of directors.
Tramel's ScissorTales:Don't be angry with OU over the SEC move, with $22 million at stake
Oh, and those two other commissioners in the subgroup? Bowlsby and the SEC’s Greg Sankey. They kept a secret from the world. And for much of that time, Sankey kept an even bigger secret from Bowlsby.
Man, college football can be a ruthless business.
OSU accusing OU of a lack of transparency. The Big 12 accusing ESPN of trying to break up the league. And two colleagues, working side by side on a secret squirrel project, with one knowing their proposal could trigger an even bigger event that would cripple his colleague’s conference.
The 12-team playoff was not the impetus for OU’s interest in the SEC, according to a Sooner source. The OU/SEC goo-goo eyes began much earlier. But when the 12-team playoff proposal was announced, it made the decision to pursue the SEC much easier. The competitive downside to a 16-team SEC is limited playoff berths, for all concerned, including OU, without an expanded playoff.
That downside is gone with a 12-team playoff. If OU is left out of a 12-team playoff, it’s not any conference’s fault.
I don’t believe Sankey pushed for a 12-team playoff just to entice the Sooners. That’s an issue that matters mightily to half the SEC schools, with OU or without. Sankey is looking out for the SEC. Everyone is looking out for themselves. So I believe Sankey trusts that the 12-team playoff is good for the SEC, no matter how much crimson it tints.
But there sat Bowlsby, working on a playoff model, not knowing the ultimate proposal could torpedo his own conference.
Who knows? If the OU-Texas dalliance with the SEC had leaked, maybe the whole subgroup would have imploded. Hard to do business with someone who is trying to steal your two prized members.
“There were only four of us in the room,” Sankey said a few weeks ago on ESPN’s Paul Finebaum Show. “And we swore each other to secrecy. Worked with that spirit.
“We were honest with our colleagues (fellow commissioners) and with the board of managers (school presidents). ‘You need to give us space to think this through.’ I appreciate the respect of our colleagues.”
I have no idea if the 12-team proposal will change, with OU and Texas headed to the SEC.
Will the playoff still make room for the six highest-ranked conference champions if the Big 12 is watered down? Will the playoff still make room for the six highest-ranked conference champions if the Big 12 is gone?
I don’t know. I doubt anyone knows.
But I know trust is in short supply these days in collegiate athletics.
The List: NBA picks 16 & 18
The Thunder has the sixth, 16th and 18th picks in the NBA Draft on Thursday night. Chances are Sam Presti will make some deals. But while most of the Thunder speculation has centered around that sixth pick, draft history has provided some quality players at picks 16 and 18. Here are the top 10 best in history:
10. Dana Barros, 1989, 16th to the Warriors: Solid point guard, despite his 5-foot-11 frame, who averaged 10.5 points a game and shot 41.1 percent from 3-point range.
9. Ricky Pierce, 1982, 18th to the Pistons: Mostly forgotten, but Pierce had a lot of good seasons in Milwaukee and Seattle. Averaged 14.9 points a game over 16 years, while starting just 269 of 969 games.
8. Hedo Turkoglu, 2000, 16th to the Kings: 15 seasons in the NBA as a sweet-shooting forward.
7. Calvin Murphy, 1970, 18th to the Rockets: The NBA’s original little man, the 5-foot-9 Murphy averaged 17.9 points a game over 13 seasons.
6. Nikola Vucevic, 2011, 16th to the 76ers: A contemporary center, now with Chicago, but a good player for a long time in Orlando. Borderline all-star.
5. Ron Artest, 1999, 16th to the Bulls: Metta World Peace, if you prefer. A mercurial wing who played incredible defense and could score.
4. David West, 2003, 18th to the Hornets (now Pelicans): Not a star, but a good player for a long time as a solid-shooting power forward. Seasons 3 and 4 were in Oklahoma City, with the displaced Hornets.
3. Joe Dumars, 1985, 18th to the Pistons: 14 seasons, all with Detroit, making 944 starts and teaming with Isiah Thomas to form one of the NBA’s best backcourts ever.
2. Mark Jackson, 1987, 18th to the Knickerbockers: You know him as the ESPN analyst alongside Jeff Van Gundy, but Jackson was a superb point guard, ranking fourth all-time in NBA assists.
1. John Stockton, 1984, 16th to the Jazz: The NBA’s all-time assist leader (15,806, a lead of 3,715 over runner-up Jason Kidd). One of the all-time greats.
Washington AD talks expansion
Washington athletic director Jen Cohen gave the Seattle Times an interview Tuesday that didn’t shed a ton of light on the Pac-12's interest in expansion, but she didn’t squelch the idea, either.
“There’s always change in our industry,” Cohen said. “There’s been a lot that’s been happening — a lot of rumors -- around realignment that have been floating for a long time. With that being said, it’s always surprising.”
The departure of OU and Texas to the SEC has put the remaining eight Big 12 schools into dire straits. The league’s television contract options will be severely cut. By far the best option would be landing in another Power 5 Conference.
For OSU, that likely means the Pac-12, which in the past has considered a Pac-16, with an eastern division. The Pac 11 years ago sought OU and Texas as the lynchpins of such expansion, but the Pac’s status has slipped in the last decade.
The Pac might not be able to be so picky now, if it deems expansion necessary.
“I love college football,” Cohen said. “You love college football. I’m all about evolving and adapting, but I also wonder where there’s the line for greed and winning at all costs and what’s best for individuals versus the greater good. I’m thinking a lot about that.
“I’m not necessarily saying that just in reference to the realignment, but just in all these things that are going on -- whether that’s expansion, things around how you balance team in the locker room with NIL (Name, Image, Likeness). There’s a lot on my mind on this. I think we’re stewards of college football, and we need to make sure we find that right line between growing it and making sure that it’s in a really good position for opportunities down the road.”
But Cohen knows the Pac-12 has potential marketing issues. Could four schools from the Big 12 help?
Certainly getting into Texas, with Texas Tech and maybe Texas Christian, would be interesting. Getting a consistent winner like OSU would help the Pac’s status. Kansas State would fit nicely in geography with Colorado; Manhattan, Kansas, is almost the same distance to Boulder, Colorado, (513 miles) as is Boulder to Salt Lake City (499).
And think about this. The loss of OU and Texas from the Big 12 greatly hurts Fox’s efforts to market its Big Noon Kickoff, the television window in which Fox has had its greatest success combatting ESPN/ABC for ratings.
That’s the bane of particularly Sooner fans, the 11 a.m. kickoffs, most of which are on Fox, including the OU-Nebraska game on September 18. In the last three seasons, Fox has aired 15 Big 12 games on its Big Noon Kickoff slot; 11 involved OU or Texas.
Without the Big 12, Fox would have to rely solely on the Big Ten for marquee games on its Big Noon Kickoff. And just like with the Big 12 and the Pac-12, Fox shares Big Ten rights with ESPN, so it doesn’t automatically get the Big Ten’s best game each week.More:Pros and cons of each conference the Cowboys might land in
Getting some Central Time Zone teams into the Pac would give Fox more options. I don’t think Fox wants a rash of Tech-Kansas State game on its Big Noon Kickoff, but there would be some options for quality games.
I’ve written extensively about OSU beefing up its non-conference, and that goes for all the Big 12 teams. The SEC seems to have an appetite for improving its non-conference schedules; take advantage of that.
Meanwhile, schools like Southern Cal and Oregon could play in Stillwater or Fort Worth. USC-OSU or Oregon-TCU would be a fine Big Noon Kickoff.
That’s the kind of thing OSU needs to market to the Pac-12.
And Pac-12 leaders like Cohen would be receptive. It’s still not an easy sell. The gravitational pull to 16-team conferences is not as great as it was a decade ago.
“We’ve just got to be nimble and open and keep trying to adapt, but also be true to who we are,” Cohen said.
“That’s going to depend on what we really want to gain from adding. If we’re going to add, we have to generate more revenue and more exposure so that we can win a national championship in our league. That’s the bottom line.
“So what would that look like? If you evaluate it based on that, you can answer that question. But it’s too early to tell if any of that is even going to play out. Are there schools that make sense? I’ve heard the commissioner (George Kliavkoff) talk a lot today about that. He’s definitely getting interest, and he and the presidents are going to continue to evaluate the current landscape and situation that we’re in. But I think they’re going to be selective and smart about it.”
Bill Hancock’s Olympic adventure
Another Olympiad has arrived, and you know what that means – daily dispatches from everyone’s favorite Oklahoman, Bill Hancock.
The Hobart native who has carved a career as director of college sports’ biggest events – the Final Four for decades, now the College Football Playoff since its 2014 inception – is a long-time Olympic volunteer, going back to the 1984 (summer) and 2006 (winter) games.
Hancock writes a daily letter to family and friends, giving them an inside look at Olympic life. He and his wife, Nicki, are in Tokyo.
“July 28 (Wednesday): (Please excuse the typos and bad writing in this friendly message to family members. They are sweethearts and so will not object to sloppiness. Must hurry, because there is a vast Olympics to explore.)
“Commute by bus from the Hotel Sunroute Ginza through the thrilling city, then across the graceful Rainbow Bridge -- 50 minutes to the Media Transport Mall, then seven more easy minutes on a different bus to the Main Press Center.
“Breakfast: Fruit cocktail, carrots, corn, three tasty little sausages, eggs, roll with butter and jelly and BPSE (the best potato salad ever.) I sent Mitsuki and Shuzo, the attendants, into peals of laughter by grabbing my own salt shakers from the shelf where they keep it.
“When I accidentally called her ‘Mitsuka,’ she bowed politely, smiled and said, ‘ski.’ It was as if I had called Nicki ‘Nicka.’
“Experimental Japanese Food du Jour: Little bourbon cookie. Not tolerable.
“I suppose NBC is showing magnificent aerial shots of Tokyo. We are lucky to see it at ground level. It’s a tidy place and it has to be because of the millions of people who have squeezed themselves in.
“The intricate system of freeways is barely noticeable from the street, unlike ours in America that created great chasms in cities. Okies will recall Oklahoma City’s infamous Crosstown Expressway that sent big trucks through the heart of Oklahoma City and led to the awful nickname for the city, ‘World’s Largest Truck Stop.’ These Tokyo highways gracefully weave in and out and occasionally duck beneath town. Sometimes they pass within a first down of apartment buildings.
“I’m not an urban planner, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express, er, Hotel Sunroute Ginza last night, and I officially certify that they knew what they were doing.
“Volunteer du jour: Hideki, helping people find cars and such. ‘I speak English,’ he said proudly. Where did he learn it? ‘I went to school in Bahston.’ Why is he working at the Olympics? ‘For a little extra money this summer.’
“Remember, when it’s 9 a.m. Monday in Hobart, it’s 11 p.m. in Tokyo. The time zone here is ‘JST.’ I’ll bet you can figure it out.
“Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Oreos.
“Allow me to say this: even for us who love Wimbledon, the Olympics is the greatest sporting event in the world.
“Most journalists in my little world are supportive of Simone Biles. Me, too.
“Covid Countermeasure of the day: On a Zoom before the games, someone said, ‘Pay attention to your clothes.’ That’ll get your attention. Then I realized that we have Covid Liaison Officers (CLO). In fact, each group has one -- each newspaper company, television crew, etc. The CLOs keep us informed, make sure we are doing our daily testing. It’s a smart way to organize the process. One reporter is the only person from his newspaper, so he is his own CLO. Another big newspaper’s CLO is responsible for 38 people.
“Yes, this continues to be the best phrase in Japanese so far, even more important than donde esta el bano would be in Barcelona: ‘Watashi wa negatibu ni tesuto shimashita.’ It means, ‘I tested negative.’
“Weather: Still warm. High 90, low 75. A little hazy. Windy.
“Question from home: It looks like there are fans at swimming and gymnastics. Who are they? Answer: Yes, a few people do attend. They’re coaches and other athletes. They do make a little noise.
“Japan Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me: Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) is the highest league in Japan. There are 12 teams. I wondered what is the playoff format.
“Cecil Bleiker from Texline, Texas, suggested we visit the judo arena. He is the press officer for judo and knows we like stadiums and neat places like Texline, Texas. So we took off to see ‘Nippon Budokan’ and catch a few innings of judo. (It means something like, ‘Martial Arts Arena.’ Or maybe ‘Really Cool Place.’) It’s in Kitanomaru Park (wish I could tell you how to pronounce that.)
“The media bus stop was in the park. Golly, this is one awesome park. We enjoyed the stroll from the bus to the PSA (‘pedestrian security area’) so much that we wished the bus had parked farther away. The tall trees swayed in the breeze. The manicured greenery seemed to talk to us. The dirt footpath through pine straw reminded me of Augusta National except there was no pimento cheese.
“The Budokan was built for the 1964 Olympics. The Beatles played here. Muhammad Ali fought here. Pro wrestling is here. Two out of three ain’t bad.
“The national championship of judo is here. Everyone is in one class, so it’s sort of the Hinkle Fieldhouse of Japan.
“We were on the edge of our seats for three bouts. Judo is as traditional as the Kentucky Derby without the juleps and the huge losses from uninformed wagering. It’s as dignified as the lady fingers. In short, judo is great fun.
“And then the always-helpful Cecil called a taxi for us. (Cecil is so agreeable that we decided he must be part Japanese.)
“The park is green and fragrant and feels like Japan. It sounds like The Masters on CBS only these bird songs are real. Or maybe they’re real cicadas. Anyhow, the place hums like a summer evening.
“Whose woods these are, I think is Japan’s. The trees are tall and elegant and vaguely unfamiliar -- no mesquite nor bois d’arc nor cottonwood. Walking toward the taxi stand in the dusk, I wanted to pause on one of the frequent little benches and make out with my sweetheart like it was 1968 all over again. (Did I just embarrass my grandchildren? Did I just embarrass myself?)
“The cab ride to the Hotel Sunroute took past the gaudy lights of Ginza. Stunning!
“Dinner: Excellent noodles from the Family Mart. I don’t know what flavor they were; the writing was in Japanese characters. But there was a drawing of a chicken on the cup.
“What a privilege to be here! Every day is an adventure. Sayonara, for now.”
Mailbag: What if a player splits like OU did?
The conference realignment talk is evergreen.
Keith: If (Spencer) Rattler is offered 10k more by a car dealership in Columbus we would all understand his leaving? The monetization of everything in ‘amateur’ sports is not good. Motto for college athletics: loyalty from thee but not from me. Would you be as sanguine and accepting of going for the money as you seem to be about the move to the SEC?”
Tramel: Sure. Why would I hold a grudge about where a college athlete goes? I would be disappointed if either Spencer quarterback, OU’s Rattler or OSU’s Sanders, took off three months before the season started. But I was a champion for NCAA free agency long before the immediate-eligibility rule change. And before anyone gets to it, the only reason I was upset with Kevin Durant was not that he left, but where he went. He ruined the NBA for 2½ years.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.