Oklahoma president’s bluster distracting from Big 12 basketball

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Shame on you, David Boren. Shame on you for distracting us from another fine night in the Big 12.

Shame on you for deflecting attention away from what the conference should be known for at the moment. That would be the nation’s best basketball league.

No. 6 Kansas beat No. 10 West Virginia here Tuesday 75-65 creating a three-way tie for the conference lead. There are now six Big 12 teams within 1 1/2 games of the top. There are at least that many teams projected for the NCAA Tournament.

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield is the runaway favorite for national player of the year.

You may have heard. Or Boren may have shouted over all of it. If you haven’t noticed, Oklahoma’s president has became the de facto spokesman for the conference for all the wrong reasons.

The 74-year-old former governor likes to hear himself speak. His favorite topics are conference expansion for the 10-team Big 12 and euthanizing the hotly debated Longhorn Network.

It’s all about money and leverage and power. All the things that shouldn’t matter on a night when Kansas beat the Mountaineers and setting up a battle for first place Saturday at OU.

The first meeting produced college basketball’s game of the year — 109-106 Kansas in triple overtime on Jan. 5. Let’s hope you heard about that.

“We have a new hunger about us that we’re bringing down there,” KU’s Landen Lucas said after a 16-rebound performance against West Virginia.

That Kansas isn’t running away with its 12th consecutive conference title by now is news. It would be bigger news if there weren’t this general malaise hanging over the entire league.

A fan holds a cutout of Oklahoma President David Boren. (USATSI)
A fan holds a cutout of Oklahoma president David Boren. (USATSI)

Boren originally coined the term “psychologically disadvantaged” last year describing the Big 12, the smallest conference in FBS. No one really knows what that means except Boren, who loudly and forcefully portends doom and gloom. Continually.

When Boren talks, he lowers everyone’s IQ. The constant carping has sucked attention and energy away from the conference in general. The league has enough problems publicizing itself. If this were the old Big East being No. 1, we would be talking magazine covers.

Instead we’re talking hotel lobbies. That’s where the attention was focused last week in Dallas. Scores of media flocked to league meetings to see if the conference would act on any of Boren’s desires.

It didn’t. In fact, the biggest piece of news might have been a muzzling of Boren. The league decided all future communications on such matters would come from commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

For a conference that almost broke apart twice during conference realignment earlier this decade, Boren’s words were beginning to cause nervous tics. Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said last week the perception of Big 12 instability drives him “bananas”.

“I don’t necessarily understand why it’s out there,” Schulz said.

Check your Norman counterpart, Kirk.

Boren’s words obscured his own school’s run last season to the College Football Playoff. In the process, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield became a Heisman candidate.

In basketball, the Big 12 is No. 1 in the RPI. Six teams are ranked. Thirty-six of the league’s 53 games have been decided by 11 points or fewer.

Oh, and did we mention 60 percent of the league’s coaches have been to a Final Four?

“It’s the best league I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in some pretty good leagues,” said one of those — West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, the third-winningest active coach in Division I.

There is nothing quite as mundane as an empty suit, especially when the players and coaches should be the draw. Instead of building a tournament résumé, we’re consumed with Big 12 deconstruction.

There is hope. The Big 12 tournament is a month away. David Boren — his mouth, his views, his overbearing presence — can’t reach us there, can he?

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