That doesn't necessarily mean making the 10-team league bigger through expansion.
"We have to recruit better. We have to develop better. We have to play better," Bowlsby said Monday in his annual address to open football media days. "We have to win the big games when we have a chance to win the big games."
But Bowlsby doesn't see the league at any real disadvantage with only 10 teams, despite Oklahoma President David Boren suggesting in the last month that the Big 12 is "psychologically disadvantaged" as the smallest of the five power conferences and should strive to again have 12 teams.
It would be the presidents and chancellors - not Bowlsby or the athletic directors - who would make any ultimate decisions on possible expansion.
"My belief is at this point, the majority of them feel like we ought to be at 10 and stay there," Bowlsby said.
"At the present time, I don't think there's critical mass for expansion. It will continue to be a topic about which we spend at least a little time at every meeting talking about it," he said. "But until that majority shifts, it's a purely academic conversation."
The Big 12, going into its fifth season since reducing from 12 to 10 teams, is the only one of the five power conferences with a full round-robin schedule and no championship game.
While Bowlsby expects future deregulation to allow the possibility of a championship game, he believes the round-robin schedule is still the best way to determine the league champion.
"We've put in place a tiebreaker that will ensure that not only do all of our schools play each other, but the title isn't going to be decided by who you didn't play," Bowlsby said. The departures of Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M, along with the additions of TCU and West Virginia, got the Big 12 to its current configuration.
Asked if the conference keeps tabs of possible expansion candidates, Bowlsby said the league doesn't have to since it gets "stuff all the time" from schools inquiring about the Big 12. He didn't reveal any names.
"I think it's because we are different. At the present time, we're sort of the target relative to expansion," he said. "I haven't asked the other (conference) commissioners, but my guess is they are not getting frequent overtures."
A few other topics that Bowlsby addressed Monday, during more than 45 minutes on the podium and then another 30-plus minutes in the hallway after that:
— The Big 12 is taking a different approach than some leagues relative to fans storming the field in celebration at the end of games.
"We are choosing to manage it rather than prohibit it," he said. "We think that, properly managed, those kinds of celebrations can be a lot of fun."
— Big 12 athletic directors have adopted a rule to limit teams to only two days per week of full contact, including games. That is one less than the NCAA rule of three a week.
"There is some evidence that there is concern not just on that concussion that you get during the game or during practice, but the cumulative effect of helmet-to-helmet contact over a long period of time," Bowlsby said.
— The SEC has passed a rule barring its schools from signing any athlete disciplined at another college stop for serious offenses such as sexual assault, domestic violence or other forms of sexual violence.
"I think it's a really good conversation to have, but it's not one we've had yet," said Bowlsby, who just became aware of that SEC rule.