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Tramel's ScissorTales: Why Mike Gundy believes 'there’s strength in numbers' for Big 12 as a football league

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman

The Big 12 seems likely to be a 14-team conference in 2023-24 and perhaps the year after that. But Mike Gundy says he believes the Big 12 could settle into a 14-team league even after OU and Texas flee to the Southeastern Conference

“We could be at 14 very easily, five years from now, from what I’m hearing,” Gundy said Tuesday. 

“I think there’s strength in numbers. When you watch this thing, the Big 12 always had some issues, because people would say, there’s only 10 (members).” 

Gundy’s assertion is not groundbreaking. Others have mentioned further Big 12 expansion, including commissioner Bob Bowlsby

“We’ll play with 14 for awhile,” Bowlsby told me awhile back. “Then we’ll fall back to 12, and we’ll reassess at that point. That could entail looking at targets for additional expansion, it could entail a strategy to get larger. 

“I feel very good about the four that we’ve brought in.” 

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OSU football coach Mike Gundy says he believes the Big 12 could settle into a 14-team league even after OU and Texas flee to the Southeastern Conference.

Brigham Young is joining the Big 12 in 2023, and Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida will do the same in either 2023 or 2024. 

The results on the fields and courts have been encouraging for the Big 12 — Cincinnati made the four-team College Football Playoff in December, and Houston basketball is back in the Sweet 16 after making the Final Four last season — and the national narrative is that the Big 12 has landed on its feet after the OU-Texas sucker punch. 

Would the Big 12 grow stronger or weaker by moving to 14 permanently? 

“I think there’s strength in numbers,” Gundy said. “I’m speaking out of turn here, because Bowlsby didn’t tell me this. When I just read between the lines, and listen to what people say, including him, even though he’s not speaking directly to the subject, there’s strength in numbers. 

“When you have numbers, it allows you to be a little more diversified in what you do. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re at 14 in five years.” 

Which, of course, leads to which schools could be added? 

Boise State is a natural choice. The Broncos would have been my pick over Houston last year, when the Big 12 expanded. 

Boise State athletic director Jeramiah Dickey told me last September that the Broncos were not discouraged when bypassed by the Big 12 last year.  

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“This time around, it didn’t come,” Dickey said. “We’ll do what we can to improve on our destiny. We think very highly of our brand and who we are. But we’re more excited about where we’re going.” 

Gundy’s football team got an up-close look at Boise State last September, dramatically beating the Broncos 21-20 in Idaho, igniting OSU’s breakout, 12-2 season. 

“Some people, the only issue they would say is, can they grab the northern California television market?” Gundy said. “Because that’s what it comes down to. 

“From a history of success, from what I would call a football school that grabs people’s attention, Boise would be a team that people would be interested in. The administrators and whoever makes the deals money-wise would have to decide whether they can get enough people to watch the games. That’s what it comes down to.” 

Boise State might not need the northern California market. The Bay Area doesn’t go gaga over college football of any kind. But across the country, Boise State indeed is a national brand that attracts eyeballs. 

“Just like BYU,” Gundy said. “Everybody thought BYU was a Power 5 school forever. I used to flip (channels), and I’d stop and watch ‘em. I think Boise does grab people’s attention.” 

Alas, the 14th school is not so apparent. That’s where the Big 12 could be in danger of becoming watered down. Memphis and Southern Methodist are traditional expansion candidates. But Memphis has done little to invest in its athletic department – the Tigers have neither their own football stadium or basketball coliseum – and SMU’s fan base has been minimal going on 40 years, since the Pony Express scandals of the 1980s. 

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The Mountain West Conference might be the fallback position for the Big 12 – Air Force, Colorado State, San Diego State – but none are on Boise State’s marketing level. 

And unlike last year, the Big 12 does not appear vulnerable. 

“This league is showing strength,” Gundy said. “We got very lucky with the teams we got coming. Football wise, they obviously performed at a very high level. 

“Basketball does play a role. Obviously not as big, financially. But it does. Kelvin (Sampson)’s down at Houston. He’s going to win. Central Florida’s going to be a problem, because when they put that logo on their shirt and go recruiting down there, they’re going to be an issue. And Cincinnati traditionally can win in basketball also. BYU will grab a 7-foot-2 guy in a heartbeat and then they can win 20 games, right? That’s what they do. 

“That’s going to help this league, and I think it’s only going to get stronger. So we were very fortunate in what we fell into, in my opinion.” 

A 14-member Big 12 would be culture shock for many. It would include only six original Big 12 members – OSU, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas. 

But culture shock has become the norm in college athletics. 

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Kelvin Sampson way still works 

Kelvin Sampson no longer wears those trademark blue denim shirts that paced the sideline at Lloyd Noble Center all those years ago. 

College basketball coaching wardrobes have changed, and Sampson has ridden the wave. He wore a University of Houston red polo Sunday during the NCAA Tournament game against Illinois. And then Sampson took it off. 

The fifth-seeded Cougars, tough as ever, Sampson-tough, whacked the fourth-seeded Illini 68-53 to reach the Sweet 16 for the third straight year

Is anyone surprised? Sampson has turned Houston basketball – coming to a Big 12 near you – into a real thing, and the only surprise was Sampson going shirtless in the celebrating Houston locker room. 

Not that anyone is hankering to see Sampson shirtless. He’s 66 years old; three times older than most of his players. He was hired at OU almost 28 years ago.  

Donnie Duncan made a lot of moves as the Sooner athletic director. Some great, some not so great. Duncan hired Patty Gasso and Sherri Coale. Duncan also hired Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake. 

But pin a star on the late Duncan’s reputation, and let Sampson be the tiebreaker. In April 1994, Duncan tried to hire away Tubby Smith from Tulsa, got rebuffed at the midnight hour and had Sampson as a backup plan. 

Sampson was seven years into coaching Washington State, which is a better witness-protection program than the feds ever devised. But coaches knew good coaching when they saw it, and the likes of Roy Williams and Dean Smith phoned OU in support of Sampson. 

Sampson came aboard and was tremendous in Norman. Twelve seasons. A Final Four. Three Sweet 16s. A Big 12 championship. Three Big 12 Tournament titles.  

Sampson left for Indiana, got into NCAA trouble, was exiled to the NBA and now has revived his status at Houston, winning the same way he won in Norman. 

Check out these quotes from Sampson after UofH beat Illinois. 

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Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson, center, holds up the championship trophy after his team defeated Memphis 71-53, to win an NCAA college basketball game for the American Athletic Conference tournament championship, in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, March 13, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

“Our kids are tough kids. This is a tough program. That's how we've achieved to this point. All of our players buy in, stand on the shoulders of the kids that came before them.” 

“The story of this game is just our toughness, how hard we play and defense. We defend. We don't always shoot it great, but we were plus-six on the boards with 15 offensive rebounds and we held that team to 34 percent.” 

“The way our kids play, some of you probably haven't seen us play this year, but that's the way these kids practice … our offensive rebounding always gives us a chance to play when we don't make shots. You have to have a contingency plan for winning. You can't just depend on making shots.” 

That’s how Sampson talked as a Sooner, and that’s how the Sooners won. 

And when you look down the Houston bench, you see all kinds of familiar faces. Son Kellen is Sampson’s chief lieutenant. Quannas White and Hollis Price, the backcourt of those grand 2002 and 2003 teams, are on the staff. 

This is a remarkable season for Houston. Leading scorer Marcus Sasser (17.7 points per game) and key reserve Tramon Mark (10.1 ppg) have been lost for the season due to injury. And yet the Cougars are back in the Sweet 16. 

“Our kids, they really believe in the culture we have created here over the years,” Sampson said. “And we've lost four starters every year for so long, it just seems natural that we have a brand-new team this year. 

“Last year we started Quentin Grimes, DeJon Jarreau, Marcus Sasser, Justin Gorham, Brison Gresham, and all those guys are gone. We got a brand-new bunch. But the culture never changes. Because they're great kids and they're high-character kids, they buy in.” 

So in the victorious Houston locker room in Pittsburgh on Sunday, a 66-year-old took off his shirt and danced with players who had bought in. 

“He's an emotional coach, you know,” said Cougar Jamal Shead. “I'm so happy to play for him. It's a joy to play for him. We love each other so much that when those emotions are high, we got to let 'em out.” 

Houston plays top-seeded Arizona on Thursday night in the South Regional. The Cougars will defend and rebound and charge up whatever hill Sampson instructs them to. Same as the Sooners from a generation ago. 

March Madness 2022:Men's NCAA Tournament schedule and results on the road to the national title

NCAA women break attendance record 

Through two rounds, the NCAA women’s basketball tournament has been a success on two fronts – increased attendance and increased parity. 

Those two metrics have been opponents in the past. 

The NCAA in 2015 restored the model of top-four seeds hosting first- and second-round games. That helps attendance but harms parity. From 2005-08, the first two rounds were held strictly at neutral sites, which helps parity but cripples attendance. 

Before 2005 and from 2009-14, the NCAA had predetermined sites but placed home teams at those sites when possible. 

But parity slowly is increasing. This year, 11 of the 16 host teams advanced to the Sweet 16, and in 2020, just 10 of 16 host teams advanced. 

The number was four in both 2019 and 2018, three in 2017, five in 2016 and three in 2015. 

The 2022 NCAA women’s tournament has been notable for 10th-seeded South Dakota’s upset at Baylor and 10th-seeded Creighton’s upset at Iowa. 

The latter game was played in front of a capacity crowd of 14,382 in Iowa City, which helped set a first-week record for the women’s NCAA — 216,890, breaking the previous record of 214,290, set in 2004. 

Carlson:OU improved the offense, won close games and made the NCAA Tournament. So, what's next?

The Oklahoma bench reacts in the second half during a women's basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.,Monday, March, 21, 2022.  Notre Dame won 108-64.

That’s a long-standing record and does not fully support the idea that interest is growing. There’s also not great evidence that the men’s tournament is growing. 

The 2004 record was set when sites were predetermined, which allowed ticket-sellers to get a big jump on marketing. OU hosted two sessions, Saturday and Monday, and had less than a week to rally the troops. 

And the tipoff times were abysmal. OU played Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis (IUPUI) at 9 p.m. Saturday, then played Notre Dame at 5 p.m. Monday. That’s a Goldilocks schedule. One game is way too late, the other way too early. 

But that’s the price of doing business with ESPN and running the tournament opposite the men’s March Madness. 

The increased parity was encouraging, but still, the women fare poorly when comparing parity with the men, who play strictly on neutral courts. 

The men’s tournament this year has six teams still alive seeded below fourth. In 2021, the number was nine. 

And for the second straight year, the men’s tournament had a 15-seed break through to the Sweet 16, with St. Peter’s following Oral Roberts’ lead from 2021. 

And since 2007, nine women’s teams seeded 11th or lower have reached the Sweet 16. On the men’s side during that span, 28 teams seeded 11th or lower have reached the Sweet 16. 

So it’s a series of small steps for the women in both parity and attendance. I still would sacrifice the latter for the former. 

Carlson:OU overcame lack of height all season, but against Notre Dame, it was too big a deficit

Odds to win the NCAA championship 

Sixteen remains in the NCAA Tournament. Here are the Las Vegas odds for each of those 16 teams to win the title: 

1. Gonzaga 11/5: Seems about right. The Zags should be the favorites.  

2. Arizona 9/2: Again, close to the mark. ‘Zona withstood a major scare against Texas Christian, but sometimes that’s a sign of future success. 

2. Kansas 9/2: Seems a little low. The Jayhawks don’t seem to have quite the power of past great KU teams. 

4. Houston 9/2: Whoa. This is fascinating. The Cougars are a 5-seed, which makes them the 11th-highest seed remaining. But Sampson’s team is among the top four favorites. 

5. Texas Tech 10/1: Maybe the American sports fan sees what I see. A team that’s very difficult to take out. 

6. Villanova 11/1: I’m surprised ‘Nova is this low. I would have guessed Villanova would have ranked third or fourth on this list. 

7. Duke 12/1: Same with the Blue Devils. I can see being behind Gonzaga. But what’s the case for having five other teams ahead of Duke? 

7. Purdue 12/1: I like the Boilermakers, but it’s hard to generate excitement over a big-time program that hasn’t been to the Final Four in more than 40 years.  

9. UCLA 14/1: Clearly not a Final Four favorite, but the Bruins have a track record of getting the job done in March. 

10. North Carolina 20/1: Remember the old Satchel Paige saying? “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” That’s UNC. Watching them belies their seeding. How high would you seed the Tar Heels if you didn’t know how highly-seeded they were? Watch out for Carolina. 

11. Michigan 50/1: Seems low. Sort of North Carolina light. 

11. Providence 50/1: Better than we thought, and probably better chances than this. 

13. Arkansas 60/1: The Razorbacks are not all that likeable. They come from the Southeastern Conference, and their coach, Eric Musselman, is not warm and fuzzy. So their odds probably are too long. 

13. Miami 60/1: About right. The Hurricanes will combust if someone doesn’t get around to just beating them. 

15. Iowa State 75/1: Probably too high. There seems no conceivable path for the Cyclones to win four more games. 

16. St. Peter’s 100/1: Seems high. Probably 100/1 for the Peacocks to make the Final Four. 

Opinion:Men's NCAA Tournament has been a disaster for the SEC with one team left

Mar 19, 2022; Fort Worth, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brady Manek (45) celebrates a basket against the Baylor Bears during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Dickies Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Mailbag: Brady Manek & North Carolina 

Brady Manek’s transfer to North Carolina seemed no big deal last spring. But it’s a big deal now, since Manek has scored 54 points total in UNC’s NCAA Tournament wins over Marquette and Baylor. 

Manek made even bigger news when he was ejected from the Baylor game, due to a flagrant foul that ignited a Bears’ comeback. 

Gary: “While I wish him success, not a Brady Manek fan. I recall his temper tantrums on the sidelines, throwing towels, pouting, etc., that did not represent the University of Oklahoma on national TV very well. I knew one of the assistant coaches who said Brady was difficult to manage, I can see why. May have been a part of the spoiled high school recruit, have have been a result of some of Lon's coaching or lack thereof. Forgive? Sure, he has been successful under new leadership. Forget his antics? Hard to do.” 

Tramel: OK, people. I claim ignorance. Someone else asked me about OU fans’ lack of connection with Manek, and I have no idea what’s going on. Was Manek an unpopular Sooner?  

Granted, Manek was not a rah-rah guy who played with a big smile and got everyone excited. And yes, he got frustrated on occasion. His four-year OU career was good, though it came with some bumps. 

But I don’t ever remember thinking that Manek was some sort of problem child.  

Manek came from Harrah and was not a national-type recruit. According to 247, his four primary schools were OU, OSU, Tulsa and Mercer, the latter then coached by Oklahoman Bob Hoffman. 

Lack of coaching by Lon Kruger? When the sun scorches the earth and the moon has turned to dust, Kruger will remain one of the finest coaches ever. Are we going to rewrite history and say that because Kruger didn’t rant or rave, he wasn’t a top-flight coach? 

Manek didn’t always play basketball with apparent joy. Where’s the crime in that? Lots of players are that way.  

Manek averaged double-digit scoring each of his four years at OU. That makes him a rarity in Sooner lore. He’s gotten even better on Tobacco Road, averaging 15.1 points a game for the Tar Heels, including 18.4 points a game since February arrived. 

The flagrant foul was uncool but was a heat-of-the-battle response. Manek should not be chastised for his OU days. He should be celebrated. He’s flying the Oklahoma flag in the NCAA Tournament. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. 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.