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EXCLUSIVE: Oklahoma’s Ties to Big 12 History Run Deep for Joe Castiglione, Brent Venables

The Oklahoma Sooners were a founding member of the Big 12 Conference, which started back in 1994 when the Big Eight Conference extended an invitation to four schools from the Southwest Conference: Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech.

The conference officially started athletic play as the Big 12 in 1996, when the Texas Tech vs. Kansas State football game became the first sporting event for the conference.

Since then, we have seen the Sooners play a major role in this conference, especially on the football field. Of the 27 total Big 12 football championships in the conference’s history, Oklahoma has won 14. In the Big 12’s near 30-year history, OU has been the best team in the conference more than half the time.

 

While the Sooners are officially leaving for the SEC in 2024, the legacy that Oklahoma leaves behind will forever be interwoven into the fabric that makes up the Big 12. As much as some of the other teams in this conference would love it, Oklahoma’s fingerprints won’t just disappear from the Big 12 when they leave. There’s just too much history between the two.

When the Big Eight started to look at ways to strengthen itself amid conference realignment in the mid-90s, then-Missouri athletic director Joe Castiglione was at the table. He was part of the group that helped raise this conference from its infancy into what it is today.

“For me, personally, there’s a lot of great history and a lot of great memories,” Castiglione, now Oklahoma’s athletic director, said. “I was fortunate to be at a table when the whole idea [of creating the Big 12] was hatched.

“We had to basically recognize what was taking place in college athletics at the time, conference realignment, and what we needed to do to strengthen the Big Eight and (we) created an entirely new conference. I remember the push and pull and all the battle of semantics. Were we expanding the Big Eight, or is it a new conference? It was really a new conference because we merged the records of the schools from both leagues and created an entirely new league. So being part of that from the earliest possible moment, and we are now, in the 28th year of the league, it’s pretty special.”

 

Castiglione also reflected on some of the great friendships and rivalries that he will remember from his time in the Big 12, which spanned nearly three decades.

“It’s the memories, friendships, and relationships,” Castiglione said with a smile. “The schools that all worked together to create great competition, some fierce rivals, and fan bases, the people you meet along the way.

“And of course, the competition, where you get to a position to play for championships, which is always part of our yearly goal, and so, that’s special. In the case of football, we’ve won 14 in the last 27, so hopefully we can win the 15th. We’d like to be right back here [in AT&T Stadium] in December.

“I’ll always remember that, and most importantly, the people that helped make that happen. It’s never about one person, and it never will be about one person. There are a lot of people that contribute to that [level of success] so you realize how much effort goes into all that.”

Brent Venables, who is entering his second year as Oklahoma’s head football coach, has been around this league for the majority of his career. While he spent 2012-21 as the defensive coordinator at Clemson, the former Kansas State linebacker started his coaching career in the Big Eight and Big 12.

In 1993, Venables became a graduate assistant for Bill Snyder at Kansas State until he was hired as the linebackers coach for the Wildcats ahead of the 1996 season. The same man that will lead Oklahoma football into the SEC was also a part of the first Big 12 football game.

 

“I was at Kansas State in the first game in the history of the Big 12, Texas Tech and Kansas State,” Venables said.” And, I’m here for the last one for Oklahoma, so that’s pretty cool.”

When going through his top memories in the Big 12, the 1998 season at Kansas State and the 2000 season at Oklahoma were at the top of his list.

“At Kansas State, it was 1998,” he said. “That was an amazing season. I know we didn’t get the result we wanted at the end — we lost in triple overtime in the Big 12 Championship (game) — but that was one that coach Snyder continued to build upon.

“Obviously, winning that first one [with Oklahoma] out of nowhere. The way we won it in a blowing snowstorm to go to the Orange Bowl. With a walk-on kicker to kick a knuckleball to go up 27-24 against K-State in 2000. Then, the last one I was a part of in 2010, in this stadium (AT&T Stadium). It was the biggest comeback at that point in time, I think it was a 21-point deficit that we came back against Nebraska and won that game in 2010.”

Ultimately Venables looks back on his time in the Big 12 and sees the impact that its had on him as a coach, and how it helped shape him into the man he is today.

“This conference, the coaches, the players, and the experiences that I’ve been able to have is what’s helped shaped me and form me and given me the kind of experience that you know, quite frankly, I don’t deserve,” he said.

Oklahoma football sports information director Mike Houck has also seen this league morph and change over his 28 years with the Sooners. In his first two decades, Houck served as the SID for men’s basketball, and spent time working with coaches Kelvin Sampson, Jeff Capel, and Lon Kruger.

“So, my first 20 years at OU I was the men’s basketball SID, and my first year was also the last year of the Big Eight,” Houck recalled. “So the first 19 years of the Big 12 [Conference]. We had a lot of really good teams during those 19 years. We won three straight Big 12 postseason championships, from 2001 through 2003 under Kelvin Sampson, who’s obviously at Houston now.”

Then, in 2015, Houck made the switch over to football, where he was a part of that run of success for the Sooners.

“Then I made the move to football right before the 2015 season, and we won Big 12 championships in my first six years from 2015-20, the last four of which were right here on this field,” Houck said with a bit of a smile. “So, obviously, a lot of fantastic memories. I just think back to the great players we had and, you know, great competition in the league over that time. To work with two Heisman Trophy winners in back-to-back years, Baker [Mayfield] and Kyler [Murray] and make four straight trips to New York for Heisman weekend with finalists was the real highlight for sure and something that I’ll always remember.”

Later, Houck said something that many voiced over the two days’ time at Big 12 Media Days. It’s still wild that it was the final Big 12 football media event that the Sooners, and their rivals Texas, would ever attend.

“I have a ton of great memories in this league and you know, just kind of crazy that this is the last year for us,” Houck said. “It’s been a great run, and we’ve obviously had a ton of success in football winning 14 of the 27 league championships thus far.

“Hopefully, we’ll make it 15 of 28.”

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