OU, UT exiting Big 12 will cause ‘seismic’ change in athletics, ex-KU interim AD says

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Oklahoma and Texas’ decision to not renew their media rights deals with the Big 12 Conference following expiration in 2025 is “heartbreaking, really,” former Kansas interim athletic director Kurt Watson told The Star on Monday.

“What I would say is I am surprised at the announcement (made official on Monday). I think this is the beginning of change in college athletics that will be seismic,” Watson said. “The Big 12 is what we’ve known: Big Six, Big Eight, Big 12 … to see it potentially disrupted is disappointing. People have talked about realignment a long time. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

As far as the future of KU athletics … it’s been speculated the Jayhawks could remain in a revamped Big 12, apply for admission to other conferences or perhaps join a superconference down the line.

Nobody knows what the future will hold in the rapidly changing college sports world.

“I know that our leadership at KU will be all over this. Our chancellor and new AD … I have great confidence in them,” said Watson, chairman of the board of trustees of KU Endowment. “I just hope we don’t have to live under a cloud a while on what is going to happen. I’d rather it happen more quickly than just drag on,” he added of knowing KU’s future conference affiliation.

“When I was up there in the interim AD role (after Jeff Long resigned until Travis Goff was hired) and talking to all the people about things going on — NIL and the NCAA and college athletics in general — there will continue to be a lot of change. We have to make sure Kansas is in the mix. I have every reason to believe we will be because of our leadership, because of the university. Time will tell on what will happen,” Watson stated.

Watson said he is not upset at officials at Texas and Oklahoma for electing to leave the Big 12.

“I’m disappointed but not mad at anybody. I am disappointed at where we are in college athletics today,” Watson said. “People have to do what they think is right for their situation. We’ll have to hunker down and get this figured out. It’s about all we can do. We have a pretty good brand (at KU).”

Of the possibility of perhaps joining the Big Ten Conference, which has been rumored as a possible landing spot for KU, he said: “It would seem that could be a nice fit for Kansas, geographically and everything else. But who knows what the future holds?”

Here is reaction from some other individuals and institutions regarding Texas and OU moving on from the Big 12.

Ted Owens, former basketball standout at Oklahoma/former head basketball coach at KU

“I was stunned at first, but when you start thinking about it, all of them start looking out for themselves,” Owens said of college athletic programs in an interview with The Star on Monday.

“I have lived through the Big Six when I started in school at Oklahoma. Then Colorado joined, then Oklahoma A&M which became Oklahoma State at the time. You are stunned at first, then when you look at history in changes in conferences and so forth, it’s not that surprising.

“What is surprising is Oklahoma and Texas — arch-rivals sort of partnered up. Strange bedfellows,” Owens added with a laugh.

Owens is wondering what will happen to KU in terms of conference affiliation.

“That is the biggest concern. Immediately when this happened I thought, ‘Oh boy, what’s going to happen to KU?’’’ Owens said. “I’m sure some conference would love to have the KU basketball program. Kansas City as a media area … there are a lot of reasons a conference would want KU,” Owens added.

He conceded that “the Big Ten geographically makes sense (for KU as new home).”

Statement from K-State AD Gene Taylor and president Richard Myers

“With the recent announcement of two of our institutions electing to depart the conference following the 2024-25 season, Kansas State University and the additional seven members of the Big 12 Conference are eager to collaborate and position ourselves for continued success. We have terrific leadership at the conference, university and state board of regents levels, and our fans should know that every effort is being made to put Kansas State and the Big 12 Conference in the best position moving forward.”

ESPN’s Jay Bilas, an attorney and former Duke basketball player

“Well it (OU and Texas leaving) would certainly impact rivalries and would impact schedules but overall basketball is going to follow what football does,” he said in a Twitter video.

“It’s almost a situation of, ‘Here we go again,’ because we saw this 10 years ago with the conference realignment frenzy. You saw a lot of movement and a lot of uncertainty and a lot of backroom dealing. You are seeing the same thing right now. There’s a lot of uncertainty with Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC — exactly when it’s going to happen, what it’s going to do to the Big 12.

“Does West Virginia go to the ACC? That’s certainly going to impact their recruiting and their travel for basketball but the one thing that college basketball has that college football doesn’t is the NCAA Tournament where so many teams get an opportunity to play for a championship that football just doesn’t provide frankly.

“As long as the NCAA Tournament stays healthy, college basketball doesn’t have quite as much to worry about,” Bilas added. “It’s certainly going to be impacted by every decision that’s made for football. This is all about markets and money. The NCAA and their members can talk all they want about student-athlete welfare. This is about money. It shows what this is all about. It’s just a big business.”

Statement from TCU athletic department on Monday

“TCU will continue to make decisions in the best interests of our student-athletes, our community and the long-term vitality of our athletic programs. Athletics are a part of TCU’s national reputation and build upon our core strengths of academic achievement, scholarly pursuit and an unparalleled student experience. We have nothing to announce at this time but have been engaged in deliberations with our conference colleagues and others and continue to support the Big 12 and its members.”

Statement from Oklahoma State president Kayse Shrum issued Monday

“Earlier today, OU delivered a document to the Big 12 Conference office which indicated they will not renew their grant of media rights with the Big 12 following the 2024-25 season. This action was strategic, deliberate and results from months of planning with the SEC. These conversations, which developed over a long period, are a clear breach of the Big 12 Conference bylaws and broke the decades-long bond of trust between our universities. It is difficult to understand how an Oklahoma institution of higher education would follow the University of Texas to the detriment of the state of Oklahoma.

“Nevertheless, we are looking to the future and what is best for Oklahoma State University. Over the last few days, I have received countless phone calls, texts and emails from high-ranking officials and members of the Cowboy family showing their support for OSU as we navigate the road ahead. Regardless of what comes next, OSU is dedicated to the state of Oklahoma. We remain confident OSU is in the strongest position ever, and I am excited about the future of Oklahoma State University, our land-grant mission, world-class faculty and top-notch athletic programs.

Statement from West Virginia AD Shane Lyons on Monday

“For the past nine years, West Virginia University has been a loyal member of the Big 12 Conference. We have valued the partnership with the other nine members and have served the league as a prestigious academic institution and a nationally recognized athletics program. We are disappointed that two of our Big 12 institutions have indicated their intent not to extend their media rights beyond 2025.

“West Virginia University’s top priority continues to be our student-athletes. We are focused on ensuring that we provide opportunities to elevate their academic and athletic experiences at WVU. However, in addition to our student-athletes, we also understand the impact this announcement has on our University, our state and our Mountaineer fans around the world. We will continue to be highly engaged and extremely diligent in finding connections that strengthen our academic mission and allow our student-athletes to thrive in one of the most successful athletics programs in the country.

“WVU is proud to be a proven academic leader ranking at the highest level of research activity in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. In fact, we are among a select few that are land-grant, doctoral research universities with a comprehensive medical school. The University’s faculty are increasingly recognized for excellence, and our legacy of student achievement includes 25 Rhodes Scholars, 25 Truman Scholars, 46 Goldwater Scholars.

“We also are proud that during these past nine years, our athletic programs have competed at the highest levels, winning multiple championships and crowning numerous student-athletes on the biggest stage of their respective sports. We have excelled in the classroom and built an infrastructure that is attracting elite student-athletes world-wide. We have created an atmosphere of Mountaineer hospitality, rooted in sportsmanship and fellowship. We thank each one of you for being a part of what makes Mountaineer Nation so special.

“As was stated earlier by the Big 12 Conference, athletics is an ever-changing landscape. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Big 12 and across the country to navigate this new terrain. Together, we will continue to Climb Higher!”

Statement from Kansas Board of Regents chair Cheryl Harrison-Lee

“The Board continues to monitor developments regarding the Big XII athletic conference and the impact on the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.

“The Regents recognize the importance of conference affiliation for the experience of all students and have Board policy to ensure that conference membership supports our strategic goals. Per that policy, if any state university wishes to change athletic conferences, the university CEO must obtain expedited approval from the Board Chair and President and CEO prior to entering any negotiations. This provides important Board oversight, while also protecting the time sensitive and confidential nature of these negotiations.

“Chancellor Girod and President Myers will seek approval from Board leadership prior to beginning any negotiations and we will inform the public at the appropriate time of any such request.

“We will continue to work with the university leaders to prioritize the fiscal stability and academic standards of our universities consistent with the goals of our strategic plan to support Kansas families, businesses and economic prosperity.”

Statement from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s spokesperson, Reeves Oyster

“Governor Kelly appreciates the Big 12 remaining committed to the continued success both academically and athletically for members of the conference. She and her office are in regular communication with KU, KSU, the Kansas Board of Regents, and the Big 12 Conference to ensure our universities and the state of Kansas will be in the best possible position following the decision from UT and OU.”

Statement from Texas Tech chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell on Thursday

“Like many across our state and within the footprint of our league, I’ve been extremely disappointed by the actions and intentions of our friends in Austin and Norman. From day one of the Big 12 Conference’s existence, Texas Tech has been a proud and trustworthy partner. As the landscape of collegiate athletics shifts, I can promise Red Raider Nation that our leadership will diligently pursue all options to best position Texas Tech for long-term success.”

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