As the academic days of the 2016 spring semester have finished and the stretch drive of college athletic competition for the school year 2015-16 continues, Oklahoma State Athletics Director and Vice-President of Athletics Mike Holder has plenty of reasons to smile. Eight big reasons are the eight Big 12 Championships won by Oklahoma State teams this year so far. The eight is tops for conference titles in a single year for the school in its history.
On top of that other sports have achieved well including football winning 10 games and going to the Sugar Bowl for just the second trip to New Orleans in OSU history and the last was in the 1945 season.
Most recently, Holder had to replace men's basketball coach Travis Ford and he got his man in former Kansas State player and assistant coach and most recently ultra successful head coach at Stephen F. Austin in Brad Underwood. A Kansas native, Underwood almost went to Oklahoma State. He feels OSU people are his people and Underwood has been an immediate success off the court in getting acquainted with Oklahoma State people. It is a budding love affair with the new coach and a renewed optimism with basketball at OSU.
This all comes as the Big 12 is again making headlines for reasons other than competition. The Big 12 is undergoing another season of examination within and from the outside. Should the league expand and get back to 12? Is it wise to go back to divisions and have a football championship game? Finally, there are a number of schools in the league, at least one school's president (David Boren of Oklahoma) and one head football coach (Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State) along with a lot of Olympic sport coaches throughout that would like a Big 12 television network. They would really like it if Texas and its less than successful ratings but revenue aplenty Longhorn Network would morph into the Big 12 Network.
Holder is fresh off attending the Big 12 meetings last week in Phoenix with senior women's administrator and soccer coach Karen Hancock and head coaches Gundy of football, Underwood from men's basketball, and Jim Littell of women's basketball.
We spoke with Holder about the success this school year at Oklahoma State, but we know you want to know his comments on the Big 12, possible expansion, possible changes, and pursuit of a television network, so here we go as Holder was as candid on these topics as I can remember in awhile. The interview first aired on Triple Play Sports Radio and Sports Talk with Robert Allen and Friends.
RA: Really general question here, how did you perceive the mood and the information presented at the Big 12 Meetings in Phoenix?
Holder: I think we've learned a lot and I think there is a lot more to learn in the meetings that we are going to have in Dallas at the end of the month. Navigate (Research) and Chris Bevalacqua's firm, BHB, I think that's what it is. Navigate has done all the number crunching and it is overwhelming the amount of data that they put together. When you start making decisions with real numbers in front of you it really helps the process, so we had some constructive discussions about nonconference scheduling and how to best position yourself to win at the highest level with nonconference schedule in football. I think it was very informative to all the football coaches. That has been very positive. I enjoyed learning about what the additive numbers are if we bring some people into the league and relatively speaking what each one of those universities, if you put a value on them, what they bring to the table. I don't think anyone has made up their mind on what the best course of action is for the Big 12 right now. We're not in a bad place. I cannot believe all the negativity in the media about the Big 12. When you look at us, we probably have the best basketball league in America and we're not too bad in football. We got a team in the playoff. Then across the board in our Olympic sports we are competitive with everybody. We're not nearly as much doom and gloom as everybody out there in the media likes to portray us. We are at a small number at 10 that stands out compared to the other conferences but in quality we are pretty darn good across the board. The decision (to add schools) is long term and you had better make sure that is the right thing to do. Again, I don't think anyone has made up their mind on what the best course of action is. The meetings in Dallas will be good. We'll get some more numbers, more information, have some good discussion, but I really don't expect a decision to be made on any of those issues coming out of that meeting. I know we'd like to look like the rest of college athletics but more important is you have to make the right decision and I'm not sure that is really obvious right now.
RA: You said you haven't decided what you think the best course of action is but the publicity on all this does drag the Big 12 down. The media isn't going away until the Big 12 has some sort of answer.
Holder: If people are uncomfortable being talked about negatively by the media and they are going to make decisions based on that then that is not effective leadership. The media is not always right. Just because you are a little different doesn't mean what you are doing is wrong. You know the schools we lost (Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Missouri), so name me one candidate (school) out there that brings anywhere close to the same value, and value can be measured in any number of ways, but any kind of value if we add them to the conference. The sad truth is you can't replace Texas A&M, Nebraska, Missouri, or Colorado. We were much better off when we had those schools in our conference and the strength of those institutions. You look at the schools mentioned and each of them have strength but they have areas that aren't as strong. We found with West Virginia, and they are a great partner for our conference, but we've learned that it is a long way to Morgantown, West Virginia. Just imagine what it's like for all their teams to travel. Very, very complicated issue in trying to decide who you would want to add to our conference. The schools I would like to add are firmly entrenched in the Big 10, the SEC, or some other place and it is not practical to think you are going to get them to leave their conference and rejoin or join us. I've probably said too much.
RA: Garth Brooks was on College Sports on Sirius and I know I agree with him, he wants to add Arkansas. I know Texas A&M is going to stay the course in the SEC, but I've heard Missouri has had some second or third thoughts about the SEC and leaving the Big 12. I would love to have those two schools, Arkansas and Missouri.
Holder: You can conjure up a lot of good options and theories. One of the sad things that has happened with conference realignment is that Texas and Texas A&M aren't playing anymore. My wife's family is made up of a lot of Aggies. They don't have any affinity to the SEC yet and they don't get as excited about playing any of those teams as they did when A&M played Texas or Texas Tech or any of the teams in the old Big 12, so I just hope for the long term that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State stick together no matter where that is at. They make us better and I like to think that we do the same for them and you know, every time there is a competition between those universities that it captures the attention of our state in Oklahoma and spreads out beyond our borders. I don't want to let that go and I want to develop more of those rivalries.
RA: The Longhorn Network and a possible Big 12 Network are an issue. I know Kevin Klintworth and C.J. Lickert have done a great job of developing Orange Power Studios, so where do you stand on the television issue and is the revenue aspect nearly as important as the exposure for your programs, especially the Olympic sports?
Holder: Selfishly, I'd love to have one (conference network). I think it would be good for OSU even if you didn't make much money off of it. The exposure for all of our Olympic sports would be great. It helps your recruiting nationally when you know even if they are a long way from Stillwater those parents of that student-athlete can see their game on television. That really helps recruiting. I'd love that and I don't know if it is feasible. I don't know what is going to happen, but I understand the difficulty of the Longhorn Network, and Oklahoma has done a good job with their third tier rights and I read something this morning that West Virginia and Kansas have done the same thing. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to do the same thing. We have had some exposure for our Olympic sports from our studios, which puts out a great product. I am so proud of that when I tune in because I think our product is as good as anything on the Longhorn Network and what OU puts out. It is just we haven't been able to get the exposure like those other schools and the platforms we'd like to have. Selfishly, I'd love for OSU to be part of a Big 12 Network but I fully understand the challenges of making that happen and I don't know what the future holds, maybe it does have a Big 12 Network. If it doesn't then we'll figure out how to compete without one.