OU interim president Joseph Harroz optimistic about Big 12’s stability  

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU interim president Joseph Harroz Jr, middle, talks with John Woods, left, and Norman Chamber President Scott Martin during the Norman Chamber of Commerce Legislative Lunch on June 4 at Belmar Golf Club. Harroz recently addressed athletics and the Big 12 conference at a Board of Regents meeting.

For years, realignment and bleak perceptions about its future dogged the Big 12 conference at its annual meetings.

For the first time as University of Oklahoma’s interim president, Joseph Harroz got an up-close look at those meetings. Only, something was different this year.

“The agenda wasn’t that heavy of a lift as compared to some before,” Harroz said following an OU Board of Regents meeting last week. “I mean, big issues that sometimes dominate those agendas just weren’t there.”

It was reported that all Big 12 presidents were present at the meetings for the first time in recent memory. Previously the league battled through some level of instability as larger conferences were pulling in bigger revenue chunks, but the conference landscape has changed.

In summer 2018, the Big 12 announced plans to distribute $365 million to its 10 member schools. Two months ago, ESPN picked up every football title game through 2024 and announced an expanded third-tier rights agreement with the league.

Eight conference schools — OU and Texas already have third-tier deals — will benefit from a subscription-based ESPN platform branded specifically for the Big 12.

“I think the lack of issues that created any tension and the fact that everyone was there, to me, demonstrated that right now it appears that it’s working well. That the conference is in a place that’s healthy,” Harroz said. “We received conference performance numbers in terms of the performance of the teams in the Big 12 relative to other conferences. We received other information about distributions to the schools, which is of increasing interest to me. And those were healthy and good.

“In fact, a little beyond healthy in terms how our teams have performed relative to other conferences.”

Harroz has worked in athletics before as OU’s Vice President of Executive Affairs. He was the university’s lead counsel for two major NCAA infraction cases.

“I was here when [OU athletic director] Joe Castiglione came in 21 years ago. We’ve worked together for a long time,” Harroz said. “One of the things I found most, people have asked what are the your biggest surprises over the last five and a half weeks, I’d say one of those is how familiar some of the issues (in athletics) are and how the relationships there have helped me not be as far behind and be able to catch up quickly.”

Castiglione agrees that the Big 12 is in a good place, and argued that it’s probably been better than most thought all along — in all sports.

He realizes OU’s role as a major player and recognizes the importance of Harroz’s work during its transition to another university president. Former OU president David Boren, whom Harroz served as legislative director and legal counsel during Boren’s time as a senator, was never quiet about conference issues or realignment.

Harroz, dean of OU College of Law, will earn a $500,000 salary while serving an interim role for at least 15 months in the wake James Gallogly’s resignation in May. He will eventually be eligible to become a permanent replacement.

“I just really, I’m so fired up to work with him because I know him as a person of impeccable character and a person that just has such good both self-awareness and understanding the settings he might be in,” Castiglione said. “Great visionary. I’ve seen all these characteristics in him; he’s perfectly suited for this role.

“I’m grateful for what others have done, helping put the university in a really positive position. Like I said, when the transition occurred between President Boren to President Gallogly — you know, we’ve got some great momentum. We’ve got to work on keeping that going certainly within our athletics, which is my focus. But we’re still a big, hopefully great partner to the institution’s mission.”