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July 1, 2013

Castiglione says he regrets letting Louisville get away

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University of Oklahoma director of athletics Joe Castiglione expressed regret the Big 12 Conference wasn't able to secure Louisville as a member of the league last summer.

"I absolutely did (regret it). There is a piece of me that said that and I did say it," Castiglione said. "I understand why others felt the way they felt, but I don't think there's any secret (we wanted Louisville)."

The Big 12 certainly missed out.

Louisville enjoyed their most successful year of athletics in school history. A season where the Cardinals pounded SEC foe Florida in the Sugar Bowl. A season where Louisville stormed their way to an NCAA men's basketball championship. A season where Louisville's women's basketball team made the NCAA Final Four and their baseball team made it to the College World Series.

The Cardinals dominated NCAA play like no other school in the 2012-13 sports calendar..

So why did the Big 12 allow Louisville to slip through their fingers?

"We have to respect the nine other members in the conference and while there were others that shared our perspective, it didn't get enough traction," explained Castiglione.

The Big 12 Conference has been very united publicly about their desire to remain at 10 teams. They've never ruled out expansion in the future. But this is the first time Castiglione has publicly shared his disagreement with other conference members over the handling of Louisville.

"People can disagree with me, that's OK," he told SoonerScoop.com during an interview late last week. "I don't think there's any secret how our president David Boren and I felt about the University of Louisville. We were very supportive and even somewhat proactive at trying to build a case or a perspective for them as a member of the Big 12."

Castiglione's passion about the school that got away is also a strong indication of where Oklahoma stands in regards to future expansion.

The OU athletic director now has to watch as Louisville takes their affiliation to the ACC, but his respect for their institution is evident.

He saw the infrastructure of a winner last summer.

"If you were to go and see the University of Louisville's facilities, you look at their financial resources, you look at their success across the board, you look at how they've improved academically and the growth of that campus and accessibility, and the fact we had another member institution in that area, there were reasons why we felt it made some sense," he explained.

It made sense to Oklahoma, but not to the majority.

"We get it and we're doing well," said Castiglione of other conference members not being ready to add the Cards. "When we move forward that's the benchmark we're using to make decisions."

[ RELATED: Coaching salaries proof that current Big 12 is paying off for Oklahoma ]

Castiglione is on board with the current structure of the Big 12. Coaches at the university are experiencing record salaries due to the revenues being pulled in through television contracts and OU's new Sooner Sports TV partnership with Fox.

The Sooners just awarded softball coach Patty Gasso one of the biggest paydays in NCAA softball history raising her yearly base salary $125,000 to $350,000.

They have a football coach in Bob Stoops making more than $4 million a year, a men's basketball coach in Lon Kruger making more than $2 million a year and a women's basketball coach in Sherri Coale making $1 million a year.

Oklahoma also remains one of just six self-sustaining athletic departments in the country.

"We would have rather not gone through conference realignment, twice in the last whatever number of years," Castiglione said. "But we have absolutely taken the best opportunities we've had and made the most out of them."

"By any measure it's working (at 10 teams). I know people want to speculate, but we're always looking at (expansion). We're always evaluating. If there's a reason why we should change, we will be the first to make the decision to do so. But right now there hasn't been a compelling reason."

Except for that magical season by the team the rest of the conference let get away.

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