Bowlsby takes reins, preaches Big 12's stable

It wasn't just any Friday at the Big 12 headquarters in Irving, Texas.

The conference officially introduced new Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who takes the place of former head man Dan Beebe, in a formal press conference Friday morning.

Board of Directors Chair and Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis did the honors of presenting him to the media crowd.

"Well, this is a big day and we think it's the start of a great new future for the Big 12 Conference," Hargis said. "We were very deliberate and very thorough about this search. We were looking for a leader that we felt could take the Big 12 to the next level in this new era of collegiate athletics. We also wanted someone who had a strong regard for playing by the rules, for the student athlete and for the competitiveness of our conference.

"During our search one name kept surfacing: Bob Bowlsby. It seemed like everywhere we looked you were there. And there's no surprise to that."

Bowlsby immediately responded to the remarks with great humility.

"I am very proud and humbled to be here and very excited to be leading this unbelievably tradition rich organization," Bowlsby said. "It has been extraordinary over the years, not only in athletic competition but also in shaping and building some of the greatest student athletes in the history of American sports...As a student athlete, I actually competed in a few of the venues within the conference and so the history is very much front of mind for me and it's a rich history that I will work very hard to protect, sustain and enhance.

"The Big 12 and it's member institutions are committed to academic excellence and athletic excellence, and I'm coming from a place that does that well. It's that merger of world class academics and world class athletics that attracted me to Stanford and also has attracted me to the Big 12. I am very excited to be here. I'm also very excited to work with a talented group of presidents and chancellors."

The former Stanford athletic director wasted no time ensuring those around the league that his main insecurity about taking the job was actually secure: stability.

First, Nebraska and Colorado bolted the Big 12 to their respective conferences following completion of the 2010-11 academic year. Nebraska left for the Big 10, Colorado for the Pac 12.

Late last summer, Texas A&M announced it would head to the Southeastern Conference.

Oklahoma and Texas, along with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, were rumored to be heading to the Pac 12 for a potential 16-team super conference. That never transpired, but Missouri joined conference-mate Texas A&M in its trek to the SEC.

Both become official members this summer.

At that point, what had expanded to the Big 12 from the Big Eight back in the 1990s with the Lone Star State additional four (Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas A&M) had shrunk back to eight teams and left behind a ton of instability.

So, the Big 12 snatched TCU, previously destined to join the Big East in 2012, and current Big East member West Virginia to get back to 10. Even so, many still believe the conference is extremely unstable and must add in order to keep up with the Big Ten and SEC's expansion trends.

Bowlsby was one of those until officials approached him about the commissioner position.

"I have to admit to you that I came into the discussion with the three presidents with whom I met with some apprehensions because I, like many people, had a vision of this conference as being unstable," Bowlsby said. "And what I found instead was a group of chief executive officers that were very committed to one another and very committed to the best principles of intercollegiate athletics. I was very quickly put at easy relative to the stability of the group and the ongoing commitment to one another, and so that made this process a much easier one."

Significant athletic director involvement at the national level, along with outstanding senior women's administrators, faculty representatives and a committed office staff contributed to that notion, he said.

So, too, did the fact that student-athletes are "doing things the right way and really achieving at a very high level."

The more he met with the leadership, the more comfortable he became in believing stability indeed does exist in the Big 12.

One current facet of the conference he alluded to as demonstrating stability is the round robin scheduling format.

In all sports, the 10 previously north and south separated schools have committed to playing everyone in every sport.

The football schedule, of course, consists of nine conference games and the basketball slate features 18 games, home and way between each school, for example.

Most of the time, especially in basketball as Bowlsby pointed out, coaches and administrators are against the demands of that many conference games. But in midst of the instability, these schools came together in this way.

"A commitment like that speaks volumes about the philosophy of the league," Bowlsby said. "And so the combination of the discussions with the presidents, my own research that I've done privately and some things that are very tangible like the two examples I just mentioned, I think, are all indicative of that mutual commitment."

Upon coming to his own realization that the Big 12 is stable, he now hopes to show the rest of the country it's the case.

Undoubtedly, there will be many skeptics out there, and rightfully so. Four teams have been plucked from the conference in two years, so skepticism is probably warranted.

Still, Bowlsby believes getting those around the nation to buy into the Big 12's newfound solid footing is possible, though how is another issue.

"It's a great question, and I think it's a lot of the--it's one of the early initiatives that I need to undertake along with staff," Bowlsby said. "I think we have to work hard to make it known broadly, not only to people that we're trying to enter into business relationships with but also people that are out there in the hustings and are supporters of our universities and observers of our universities."

Bowlsby said it's imperative they "shout it from the rooftops" that the leadership of the schools from the top down are committing to sticking together.

"I'm concerned about making sure that we do the things in branding and in messaging with our conference that demonstrates and proliferates the solidarity that I have found in talking and interviewing with people here," Bowlsby said. "I think public perception is significantly less positive than the private reality."

Though it was a major focal point of his introductory press conference, he made a point to address a number of other issues as well.

No concern about Texas being the "bully" anymore

Conference realignment is so complex and there may have been a number of other factors, but most feel the reason the mega Pac-16 never came to existence was because of the Longhorn Network. The Pac-12 didn't want to deal with the difficulties it presented and with the idea that Texas would be running things.

Texas' powerful antics supposedly pushed Nebraska out the door and Texas A&M as well, though the Aggies have specified the move to the SEC as one to better their national image and prosperity as a university.

Regardless, the thought is still there by many that Texas runs things.

They're the "bully."

But Bowlsby is confident in saying that's not the case.

"I think it's in the past," Bowlsby said. "First of all, I've known DeLoss Dodds for longer than either of us would care to admit. And I have been very impressed with President Powers. I think they're speaking of one voice and I think I have found them to be very thoughtful and very team-oriented in terms of how they view the issues."

In fact, that was one of his concerns upon considering the position.

"I asked some probing questions along those lines because the University of Texas is always going to be an 800-pound gorilla in college athletics and that isn't going to change," Bowlsby said. "But I have been very impressed with the extent to which the folks at the University of Texas are committed to the conference and committed to the best outcomes not only for them, but for the other nine members."

That's some encouraging news, given the Longhorns were widely considered to be the school running Big 12 members off elsewhere.

Bowlsby, additionally, insists he will not serve as a Texas puppet.

"I guess I would just suggest you do a little homework on me, I haven't been very good at being a puppet over the years," Bowlsby said.

Another common thought is Austin ran Beebe during his commish term.

In other words, Beebe was a Texas puppet.

But, although differences did ultimately lead to Beebe's resignation, Hargis came to bat for him with respect to that.

"I don't think that Dan Beebe was a puppet by any means," Hargis said. "And I can assure you that being a puppet was not a part of the qualifications we were looking at and looking for in our job description."

That said, whether or not things were run from the Texas state capital before, they won't be anymore, leadership insists.

Expansion only if it's for the better of the whole

The Big 12 is six teams different than it was at this time two years ago, and there's already rumors flying around about two more teams., a West Virginia blog site, is the latest to report Florida State and Clemson as potential future Big 12 suitors.

Throughout the winter, the two Atlantic Coast Conference schools were talked about and the speculation was quickly dismissed.

But that discussion has resurfaced this week.

Think about the direction of college football and the two schools as additions actually make quite a bit of sense.

FSU and Clemson are football schools in a basketball minded conference, and the Big 12 is committed to staying competitive with the SEC, which might require picking up a couple powerful football programs and getting back to a conference championship at some point.

Maybe not, but maybe so.

Financially, the television revenue would skyrocket. A Big 12 TV contract could be worth as much as $30 million should the two join.

However, it is, as stated, purely speculation at this point, although the landscape of college athletics is as dynamic as it's ever been right now.

"Well, one of the great ironies of college athletics right now is that the Big 10 has 12, the Big 12 has 10," Bowlsby said. "I think that expansion is going to be an ongoing point of discussion for us. I haven't had the opportunity to talk with all of the presidents about this issue, and I haven't had the opportunity to talk with all but a couple of the athletic directors. So, I certainly am not going to presume a direction that we will go."

Suffice it to say it's an option, whether it's FSU, Clemson, Louisville, Cincinnati or another school the Big 12 should happen to pick up. Whoever the team or teams may be, though, the decision to go that route will only be made if it serves one purpose.

"I think as you consider expansion, it has to be expansion that has, as its roots, the enhancement of the league," Bowlsby said. "There's nothing magic about 11, 12 or 10. And to the extent that we can do things to advance our agenda, we ought to at least consider that, but I come in with no preconceived notions as to what the right number is.

"And from what I can gather, I think we and the people in the conference are pretty excited about the 10 institutions that we have right now."

Grant of rights extension not ruled out

Big 12 universities agreed to a six-year grant of television rights back in early October soon after Texas A&M and Missouri announced their intentions to leave the conference.

The grant of rights proposal, of course, included other provisions such as individual institutions not showing high school games or highlights and the necessity for approval by both institutions and Conference telecast partners in the case of telecasting beyond the one member institution retained football game, among other things.

Neither Bowlsby nor Hargis would rule out the possibility of lengthening that at some point.

"Well, the grant of rights is certainly the essence of any ongoing media package and the longer we go, presumably the more stable we are," Bowlsby said.

Hargis expanded onto that.

"Before we signed our rights, the six years signing rights when we entered into the Fox agreement for cable, our cable, I think everybody realized that that's the beginning of the permanent Big 12 Conference," Hargis said. "So, now as Bob says, It's likely we'll even extend that. And certainly there is a commitment to do that in order to maximize the Big 12's exposure around the country. So yes, I think that both in terms of substance and the objective interest of the conference, the Big 12's here to stay."

The mutual responsibility and commitment with regards to this six-year grant of rights has been pleasing, Bowlsby said.

But because of the number of long term contacts out there, it's important to look through the lens of various options and take the long view as well as the short view, he reiterated.

So, that's what the conference officials will likely do, think about it with respect to the other contracts out there.

"They're between 12 and 15 years and we will [consider that]," Bowlsby said. "I mean, they're always ongoing conversations about the media environment and we will certainly continue those and engage vigorously. But there again, I don't know that there have been any decisions made, and I think there will be some options that present themselves."

The Bowl Championship Series and the direction it heads will be impactful as well with how OU's grant of rights turns out, he added.

Playoff push provides incentive for Bowlsby

Speaking of the BCS, last week's meetings in Hollywood, Fla. concluded with the BCS likely moving away from its current system very soon.

What exactly will that change entail? That has yet to be determined.

It could be a four-team playoff with three conference champions and a "wild card," which would serve as a team like Alabama last year that failed to win its conference but was in the top two of the BCS.

It could be a four-team playoff with only conference champions inside the top six of the BCS. If four conference champions aren't in the top six, the remaining spots could be up for the highest ranked teams.

The playoff could feature home games. It could feature games on neutral fields such as the current system.

All of that is yet to be decided but will be soon.

One thing's for sure: being a part of that decision-making process attracted Bowlsby to his position.

"I think that that's one of the reasons that's attractive about this right now is there's an opportunity to participate in shaping that agenda and having something to say about the outcome," Bowlsby said. "I'm very much looking forward to that opportunity."

He said he doesn't really have a preference at this point and has no preconceived notions on the format and the direction it will take.

But discussions with some of the other conferences' commissioners has allowed him to come to at least some sort of conclusion.

"I've had some conversations with [Pac 12 Commissioner] Larry Scott and [Big 12 Interim Commissioner] Chuck Neinas and with [Big 10 Commissioner] Jim Delaney," Bowlsby said. "And I certainly think that some form of a playoff is coming down the pipe whether it's on campus or within the bowls or at neutral sites or whether it's an intermittent process, whether it involves conference champions or at-large selections, whether there's a committee or non-committee. I think all of those are still in play."

And with the new gig, he'll be a play a big part in the decision when it stands to be made.

Lots of decisions still need to be made to maintain stability in the Big 12 and have an impact on the national landscape; now, at least, the Big 12 has its guy.

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