Oklahoma president David Boren announced he will retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year, assuming a successor is in place. It’s hard to fathom how much impact Boren had on the Big 12’s image over the past two decades.
Boren joined Oklahoma in 1994, right as the Big 12 Conference was forming. Since then, he has remained a prominent and irreplaceable voice in the direction of the conference.
From the beginning, Oklahoma was never shy to throw its weight around. As one of two true blue-bloods left in the conference, the Sooners had influence. Even though he hired Joe Castiglione as athletic director in 1998 – perhaps the best in the nation – Boren was never shy to make his opinions on athletics known.
Boren has alternated as the Big 12’s greatest antagonist and greatest apologist. Back when the Big 12 started to fall apart in 2011, Boren made clear that Oklahoma was more than happy to look around for new suitors.
“I don’t think OU is going to be a wallflower when all is said and done,” Boren famously said in 2011.
Many attribute comments like those to increased questions about the future of the Big 12 Conference at the time. Within months, four programs left. Oklahoma eventually got enough back from the conference that it decided to stay.
Boren has been even more vocal since then, especially since the College Football Playoff has started. He convinced the Big 12 to explore expansion possibilities. Most notably, he said the Big 12 should explore expansion because the league is “psychologically disadvantaged” by being a smaller conference.
Those comments set the Big 12 off on a wild chase for expansion candidates. Ultimately, a dozen schools – most from the American Athletic Conference – went to the Big 12 offices and made their case. The conference declined all of them.
Some found Boren’s incessant comments about Big 12 athletics infuriating. Castiglione and Bob Stoops’ success ensured Born never lost his platform. But regardless, when David Boren spoke, the nation listened. He leaves as one of the nation’s most notable university presidents.
Love him or hate him, Boren is one of the figures who defined the Big 12. Finding figures in administration with his clout level is difficult. He will forever be an integral part of the Big 12’s story.
When Boren finally leaves the job after the 2018 school year, it will be difficult to find another figure as important in conference affairs.