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August 13, 2011

In-Depth with Alden



With Texas A&M appeared heading to the Southeastern Conference and rumors that Missouri will follow, PowerMizzou.com publisher Gabe DeArmond was part of a trio of reporters who had a chance to catch up with Tiger athletic director Mike Alden on Saturday morning. Here is the entire transcript of the 17-minute discussion.

The Longhorn Network has approached some Big 12 schools about televising games against Texas. How would you react if you were approached?

Mike Alden: "That probably wouldn't be something we'd be interested in. Because again, I think that our focus is Mizzou. And so, I don't know how that matches up with what our focus is."

Even though the money is there for it?

MA: "It's a different thing than money. I think philosophically that wouldn't be consistent with what (we want)."

Would there be pressure from other schools to say you shouldn't do it?

MA: "I don't know. That hasn't been discussed. The only one that I knew of that they'd talked to is Texas Tech."

Have any representatives from Mizzou talked to anybody from the SEC?

MA: "No, we haven't. With any of this stuff you guys have been throwing out there and everything, any talk about those types of issues going forward…The answer to your question is no. I want to make sure. No. But I want to make sure, what I don't want is almost on a daily basis, 'Has anybody talked to anybody?' No…Those types of issues are better left to the conference offices. So, short answer, no. I know it's hard for me to answer questions short, I know my trend is always to talk too much, but no."

Any feeling for any school if Texas A&M does leave, you've lost three in two years, if you get an opportunity to go to a league that's stable that you have to think about it seriously?

MA: "Oh, I just think that's all speculation. Our deal is just, I think we've got a league that's getting ready to start the football season and we're focusing on the football season. Anything beyond that is just speculation because, again, this is something that just came up."

You're aware that Deloss Dodds went as far to say I think they're gone and the Kansas AD said they know nine schools are going to fulfill their commitment. Do you have a read of how likely it is A&M is going to stay?

MA: "You know, the nine institutions, ten institutions that we have right now, I know that everybody's committed to the Big 12 that I'm aware of."

Including A&M?

MA: "That I don't know. All I've done is reading about it."

You feel they're likely to leave?

MA: "Do I think they're likely? I don't know. I don't know on that at all. I haven't talked to A&M, but I know that those nine schools are committed to the league."

When this all blew up last summer did schools have to actually sign any sort of a commitment?

MA: "You know, those questions, I have got to refer those to Dan Beebe and the commissioner. The commissioner really needs to be speaking on those types of issues. Mizzou is committed to the Big 12 for our stuff, but as far as those kind of comprehensive things, that's the kind of thing Dan and his staff; we look to our commissioner to be able to talk about that and run all that."

In your opinion is a nine team league viable?

MA: "Yes. I think it is. I think we've got really strong institutions. I think you should be open to perhaps expansion, though. But again, I think that's something Dan and his staff need to talk about. Now we have a conference call at 3 p.m. I got an email last night when I was in Kansas City from Dan that said we were going to have a conference call. There wasn't an agenda attached to it, but my assumption is they're going to talk about those types of things. I do think a nine team league is absolutely viable. Is it something that I think the league is maybe looking to expand beyond that if in fact it was nine? I think they are, but I think I'll know more about that today."

Gary was fairly outspoken about the Longhorn Network and what it might mean. First, did you have any issue with those comments?

MA: "Not at all. Not at all. How was that?"

Second, is there a problem with a league where it appears one team wields so much power?

MA: "Ask that again."

It appears from the outside that there are eight votes that count a little bit and then there is Texas' vote. Is that anywhere close to accurate and is that a problem?

MA: "I wouldn't say that that's accurate. When we're in those meetings and stuff, everybody has an equal vote, everybody has a chance to voice their opinion. I think in every league there's going to be some schools that are traditionally, and actually currently, successful. So in the Big Ten, you're going to have Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State. In the SEC, you're going to have Alabama and Florida. In the ACC you're going to have North Carolina and maybe Duke, or whoever that may be. In our league, it's been Texas and Oklahoma and Texas A&M have traditionally and over the long term had a lot of success. That's a long answer to tell you I don't see that as in reality of one school having more stick than another school. Because I think when we're in those meetings, everybody's voting for their institution so I think that could be the perception, but I haven't seen that when I'm in on those meetings."

But everyone says, we could lose A&M and go forward, but the reality is if you lose Texas or Oklahoma, the Big 12 can't survive, right?

MA: "I don't know. I hate to speculate on those types of things. They're obviously a very, very strong part of the brand. I think that certainly they're important to us moving forward. I don't think there's any question about that. But speculating beyond that, anything else that could happen, might happen, whatever, shoot, I mean I wouldn't have speculated that this was gonna happen, or more officially possibly could happen, 48 hours ago. So I hate to speculate on that part."

What effect could that have on the TV contract? Is that set in stone or if A&M leaves does that change?

MA: "I think that, again, I've got to refer that to Dan and his staff. That will probably be something that we talk about. My understanding is no. That's my understanding. Bug again, I think Dan and his staff, that's what our commissioner needs to answer."

But if A&M does leave, or anyone else, would you feel like they were insincere in their renewal of vows?

MA: "It was as recently as a couple of months ago-maybe not even a couple months ago, you guys probably would have the records better than I would-you have ten CEO's, we're just AD's, CEO's all looking at each other and saying hey, we're committed and we're locked together and everything. I think there's certainly an expectation that when people do that, you want them to stay the course."

One of the things Beebe has said is that the spirit of the thing has become when there's an issue, we're going to leave instead of when there's an issue, we've got to figure it out. It seems like such a reactionary stance.

MA: "All I know-not all I know, but coming back to your original point-a couple months ago, again it may be less than that, you had ten CEO's that were locked and publicly stating that we're going forward and everything so that certainly should give you confidence in everything. But if in fact, again this comes through and I have no reason to believe it wouldn't, but that wasn't consistent with what was said a few weeks ago."

If you get to the point of the potential of expanding and adding schools, who makes that decision? Is that University presidents that get that vote?

MA: "Yes, that's correct."

Do you know if everyone has to approve it? In the SEC, just two thirds have to approve it.

MA: "I don't know. Because we haven't discussed any expansion in the past. Today, again, I think on that conference call, those types of questions, we would ask those. But in our governing structure, I know the visibility most times is the athletics directors and our coaches. But the people that make those decisions on expansion or make decisions on the television contracts or all that, those are our CEO's. So those are the leaders of our institutions ultimately. In the Texas A&M situation, that's probably why we're hearing most of the comments out of President Loftin because he's the guy that has to make that decision, not Bill (Byrne)."

In your opinion, what is the criteria for adding teams. If you replace Nebraska, Colorado and A&M with lesser schools, at some point aren't you expanding just for the sake of expanding? Where's the line?

MA: "I think you've got to look at what they bring for the brand of the league and what they bring for your brand with television partners. I think those are key things. I think from our fanbase standpoint, it's important that folks don't see any consideration of expansion just to expand. As far as scheduling and playing teams, shoot, you know, we can all work those types of things out. But within a league, I think the key is how's it going to be able to impact your brand? That needs to be in a positive way. Then, secondly, how's it going to impact your television contracts? Those are the key things anymore."

When the conference formed, I know you weren't here then, but if they had decided we're going to pool all the television contracts and revenues equally, is it still a 12-team conference?

MA: "You know, you hate to guess on that one way or the other. The one thing I do know is the most successful leagues, the NFL and beyond, I can go on and on, are those that are predicated on we're all in and we all share equally. Those are the ones, over the course of time, that have been the strongest leagues. I don't know if that would have been done by the founding fathers, that was before I got here, or not, but certainly what we know is in those leagues that are the most successful, that is the model."

Have you heard how contentious an issue that was?

MA: "Way back then? I don't know. I'm guessing it was probably pretty big."

I seem to remember the biggest thing was the Prop 48 and whether you allowed them or not. I don't remember anybody talking about the TV and the revenue.

MA: "The one thing with Mizzou, and I know you guys know this, our league brethren, when we're going into a meeting, they know what our position always is, it's always been. We believe in that (revenue sharing). But we're just one vote."

But if there is nine, how does that change the voting dynamic in having a majority that might want to do it that way?

MA: "I think we'll find out more today. I don't know if that's a topic that will come up today. I'm looking forward to our commissioner getting us together on the league today. Looking for his leadership and his direction on where we're going. For all of us as institutions, we're looking to Dan as our leader and to be able to direct our board, to work with our board, and then direct us to see where we're going to go."

Is the conference call AD's and CEO's?

MA: "No, today, my understanding is it's just AD's. And I don't know if they scheduled a CEO conference call. Brady (Deaton) is the chair of the Big 12. I know he was on the phone a lot yesterday and he and I, of course, are in communication, just like I am with coach. But I don't know if they've scheduled one or not."

Last year Bill Self said football is driving all of this and the rest of us are just along for the ride. Gary says he has no control over it. You said the decisions are made above you. Is there a problem with the people that are most impacted and have the most impact on the issue not having enough input on the decisions and the process?

MA: "I think it would be, I would have been misspeaking, I don't think I would have been answering accurately if I'm saying that you have no control over that. Ultimately the decision is going to be made by the CEO, but I think at our place, just like it would be at Texas or at Kansas or Kansas State, or whatever, we're all in communication, we're all talking, but ultimately the person that votes on what goes on with the conference is gonna be done by Brady, in our case. When I think people like Bill Self was talking about how football drives it, it's not necessarily the football coach or the athletics director or even the president. It's the sport. It's just the sport and because of the command that the sport has on television contracts and attendance and visibility and all of that, that sport dominates the considerations when you're doing this. I'm just going back here, I want to make sure, like in our system, Brady ultimately has that vote, and so it's not like we're sitting on the sidelines. We're all in there together, it's just he's the head coach so at the end of the day he's got to cast the final vote what goes on."

Last year, you guys said very little and were accused by other schools of stirring everything up. This year, you say very little and have fans thinking that means you're not doing enough. Are you in a no win situation?

MA: "Oh, I don't know, I wouldn't judge it one way or the other. I just think on these types of issues, by not saying anything, you would hope that people aren't misconstruing that as you're not working. It's like yesterday, I mean you're burning up the phone all day long, you're talking to people, you've got conference calls, you've got all these things that are going on, but certainly I think that you're always better served to be able to do that, in my opinion, by just trying to limit the conversation because there's just so many questions, so many rumors, whether it's you guys trying to find out, or we may be, I may be. There's so many things. That's again, a long-winded, I know that, answer. But you would hope that folks would recognize that the focus has to be on moving forward and not necessarily talking about it all the time."

Note: After this discussion, Doug Gottleib tweeted and ESPN subsequently began reporting that Missouri, Clemson and Florida State were likely to join Texas A&M in going to the SEC. I asked Alden about that report and he responded: "Where are we going?...We haven't been in discussions with anyone."

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