NORMAN, Okla. --
Joe Castiglione, OU Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, shares his thoughts on the Big 12 Conference, new commissioner Bob Bowlsby, new members TCU and West Virginia, football's postseason and the Big 12's new deal with the SEC.
Castiglione also reflects on the current era of OU Athletics, both in terms of the athletic and academic achievement of OU's student-athletes in this interview from Norman.
Q: Why is this such an exciting time moving forward for the Big 12 Conference?
"Because people are looking forward instead of miring in issues that we're not going to address, that aren't productive. We have our membership together now, we're all focused on the future.
"We're not forgetful of what's gone on in the past couple of years. It still takes some time to work through a few issues but, by and large, we've focused on the things that matter most. We're making decisions about our future that increase our long-term stability, whether its new television contracts or unique relationships with other conferences or dealing with the postseason football, at least what it's going to look like in the future.
"I think those kind of things help bring our conference together. Moreover, we're looking at all the sports that we're sponsoring and how we can make them better. That's been the best part of some of these meetings that have been most productive."
Q: Give us your perspective on new Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and what he brings to the conference.
"Strength, stability. This guy is a visionary-type leader. He's been at every type of table - using that as a metaphor - where big decisions are made. He knows all of the players. He's real. He has presence. Probably won't have much of a learning curve.
"Yes, you have to understand the culture of the schools and the Big 12 and get more ensconced with things that are helping our conference grow. He is the real deal for us. I have known him for a long time. Whether it's been as an athletic director, he's been the chair of all of the toughest and biggest committees in the NCAA, a consummate professional. He's also had a great deal of experience internationally as he serves on the United States Olympic Committee board. He's hired people. The guy is the total package.
"Maybe my excitement is kind of coming out like that. I really think we got it right in hiring Bob Bowlsby. The best is yet to come for the Big 12 under his leadership. I don't think we would've been able to attract a guy of that caliber if we as a conference didn't demonstrate the stability that we have as a group and know that we're focused moving forward. All that's been exciting and we're anxious to work with Commissioner Bowlsby as we move forward."
Q: Moving forward with new Big 12 membership in TCU and West Virginia, how will they positively impact the Big 12?
"They're both outstanding institutions. We look at the success of those institutions over a five or 10-year period and it's been remarkable. Obviously one is in the footprint of our conference, TCU, and then West Virginia has been a power in a lot of sports, not just football - basketball, women's basketball. They're a very strong program, a flagship institution of that state.
"It added to the initiatives that we needed to take to get back to that long-term stability model. We're excited about working with them. We've met a lot of their leadership, President [James] Clemens and [Director of Athletics] Oliver Luck at West Virginia and Chancellor [Victor] Boschini and Chris Del Conte, the A.D. at TCU. Just really outstanding leaders.
"The part I like about where we are right now is that there's energy. There's a chance for now us to express the passion that we have. Not that it wasn't there before, but it sort of got lost in all those conversations and the realignment and the universities leaving and coming and going and all that stuff. It really got away from the core of what we have been about since we started in the 1996-97 academic year.
"This conference is strong. We have to get back to accentuating those strengths. We're competitive in every single sport that we have teams competing. Not just nationally competitive, but we're winning national championships. That's the kind of thing that this conference is about.
"I'd kind of liken it to even have a little bit of a maverick kind of personality. I think that's a healthy thing. We're willing to take some risks, but not to take the kind of risks that incongruent with the missions of our institution, our core values, what we stand for in higher education. But trying new things is what I'm trying attempting to differentiate. We're willing to try new things to help our programs get stronger. I like that. That's the energy in the room right now and we want to keep it going forward."
Q: There's been a great deal of conversation on the future of college football's postseason. Give us your thoughts on where that stands, as well as the Big 12's new bowl partnership with the Southeastern Conference?
"I know my leadership philosophy is to sort of begin with the end in mind. That's a little bit tough in the area of postseason football when we're not quite sure how the national championship is going to be settled. We're getting a better idea as time goes on and perhaps when someone sees this video clip some things may have already be settled - so I apologize for the timeliness you may be watching.
"As it stands right now, today when we're taping this, I think postseason football would be best served by first understanding what we're trying to do is make sure college football's regular season, which is the most exciting in all of sports, not just college sports but all of sports. College football's regular season has to be the primary focus. Then you're saying, 'Wait a minute, I thought you were just talking about the postseason.' Yes, that is correct. I am talking about the postseason. Our focus is if we make sure that the regular season is stout where every Saturday matters, we will have a great postseason. Let's start with that in mind.
"If you want to know what model I favor and we favor in our conference, it's simple. It's the best four teams. We like some preference given toward the conference champions, but we can't say it has to feature all conference champions for one reason - every conference settles their championship differently. There are all kinds of variables. You may get a conference champion, but maybe not even the best team in that conference, in the mix. I think we have to work through that balance. It has to be the four best teams with some appreciation for how hard it is to win a championship.
"Secondly, the games - while I was open-minded and still am that the semifinals and final games could be contested outside the bowl system - I'm still a pretty big traditionalist. I think the general feeling out there is that it would be better for the semifinal games to be contested more or less in the bowl system as people understand it. It may be tweaked somewhat, but by and large that's what we're talking about.
"And then the championship game would occur. I think that game will be bid out. We won't see any double hosting like we did in the previous BCS arrangement. It might mean that that championship appears in one of the traditional bowl cities, maybe even in a city that hosts one of those traditional bowls. But that would come about through a different type of process.
"To summarize, four best teams at the end of the year, preference to conference championships if you can, but till has to be the four best teams. A four-team playoff if you will. Semifinal games within the bowl system, championship game following.
"Now, the next most important part of that process has to be the methodology to determine which four teams get to that playoff. That is probably the most complicated part of this whole discussion. While there's opinion polls and computer polls and there's all kinds of analytics that we can come up with, I still think that at the end of the day we can use all those like we have, but we have to introduce the human element. Maybe it's a selection committee. Maybe it's eight people. Maybe it's 20, 30. We'll let the conversation vet all that out. The human element in deciding all this has to be a part of the process."
Q: Can you comment on the current era of OU Athletics, both in terms of the athletic and academic achievement of OU student-athletes and our teams in the recent years as it has been pretty marvelous?
"It certainly has. I'm not sure if we're ready to call it a golden era. Maybe you do that when you have a historical prospective looking back. Certainly recognizing how much success has been achieved by all of our teams.
"We had a vision to create an athletic program that is a model by which all others are compared. I'm not saying we're there yet. We haven't necessarily reached that goal yet. Hopefully people see the development of comprehensive excellence as an indicator that we're moving in the right direction. Not just the athletic performance, but seeing our student-athletes have the best experience of their lives while they're here, then be prepared for what they're going to face in their livelihood moving forward.
"You talked about some of the academic improvements that have taken place, our graduation rates are getting better, our APR scores are getting better and we're seeing more student-athletes do better in the classroom. Just this semester completed, we finished with a cumulative GPA of 3.01. For the second time we've reached our goal of having all of our student-athletes achieve a 3.0 GPA average or better.
"Those are indicators. They're not destinations, they're just stopping points along the way that demonstrate to a degree that we're moving in the right direction. We're attractive to the best and the brightest student-athletes. That's part of our world. We want to make sure that the student-athletes that are with us are having a great experience, but we also know that if it's good for them it's going to be attractive for the best and the brightest to join us.
"At a university you have to keep thinking about the future. That's what our fans do, that's what our leadership under President Boren does, our board. Everybody that's involved in supporting this initiative all focus on how we can make this place great. If we do a good job in the present it's going to be good in the future."