Big 12 Commissioner to step away from role, pave way for new blood

FILE - Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days...
FILE - Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)(LM Otero | AP)
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 3:30 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Commissioner of the Big 12 will step down later in 2022, paving the way for new blood.

The Big 12 says Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced on Tuesday, April 5, that he will step away from the Commissioner’s chair later in 2022 after a decade of leading the league and securing its long-term future as one of the five major collegiate athletics conferences.

The Conference said Bowlsby is a steady, influential voice for intercollegiate athletics and will remain Commissioner until the appointment of a new one. Then, at the request of the Conference, it said he will remain transition to a new interim role - subject to the mutual agreement of Bowlsby and the new Commissioner.

“After more than 40 years of serving in leadership roles in intercollegiate athletics, including the last 10 with the Big 12, and given the major issues that college sports in general and the Big 12 specifically will address in the next several years, I have reached a natural transition point in my tenure as Commissioner, as well as in my career,” said Bowlsby.

The Big 12 noted Bowlsby was appointed Commissioner in 2012, and under his stewardship, the league has seen tremendous growth in its national brand, television exposure, distributable revenue for member institutions, and competitive success.

Most recently, the League indicated Bowlsby guided the Big 12′s addition of four future members - BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston - who will join no later than the 2024-25 academic year.

“The Big 12 will soon bring in our four new members and negotiate a new grant of rights and media rights agreements. I truly believe the Big 12 and our member institutions are in a strong position now and as we look into the future. As such, this is an appropriate time for me to step away from the Commissioner’s role so that the next leader of the Conference can take the reins on these significant matters that will come to the forefront before the end of the term of my employment agreement in 2025 to set the stage for the Big 12′s future ongoing success.”

Over Bowlsby’s tenure, the Big 12 said it has won 25 NCAA team national championships, including Monday night’s men’s title game victory by the University of Kansas Jayhawks.

In 2020-21, the League noted it captured 5 NCAA team national championships, including a Baylor University basketball title. Also, for four straight years, it said it has placed men’s basketball teams in the Final Four.

In football, the Big 12 said it has placed teams in the College Football Playoff New Year’s Bowls throughout its 7-year history. It said it is home to two fo the last five Heisman Trophy winners and was the only Conference to place a team in the Final Four and CFP semi-finals in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

“On behalf of the Big 12 Conference, I want to extend my sincere appreciation to Commissioner Bowlsby for his outstanding leadership over the last decade,” said Chair of the Big 12 Board and President of Texas Tech University, Lawrence Schovanec. “Bob has consistently driven distributable revenue growth for the Conference’s member institutions, has stood strong during turbulent times in the world of collegiate sports, has led innovation within collegiate athletics, and has worked tirelessly to ensure the stability and future of the Big 12 Conference. Bob’s leadership contributed to the opportunities afforded to our students and their success beyond their athletic experiences. The Conference will continue to excel, and we are confident of an even brighter future. I appreciate that during this transition, Bob will continue to be a trusted resource for the Conference in whatever appropriate role on which he and the new Commissioner mutually agree.”

The Conference indicated it has interviewed and engaged with an executive search consulting firm to help in an extensive national search process for the new Commissioner, which will start in the upcoming weeks.

As one of the first achievements of his tenure with the Conference, the Big 12 said Bowlsby finalized a 12-year comprehensive media rights agreement with ESPN and Fox Sports - one of the most lucrative television deals in college athletics. Subsequently, it said he oversaw the expansion of the ESPN relationship with the 2019 debut of the Big 12 NOW digital distribution platform on ESPN+ - on which hundreds of additional Big 12 sporting events and original programming are distributed on a global basis.

The league said Bowlsby played a key role in the formation of the College Football Playoff, which began in 2014-15, the first postseason playoff in the history of Collegiate Football. Additionally, it said under his leadership, the Big 12 Football Championship Game was reinstated beginning in 2017.

In 2014-15, the Big 12 said it introduced “State of Collegiate Athletics” forums to analyze pressing issues college athletics face. It said seven events were held in cities across the nation with panelists of respected experts who addressed topics like “Race and College Athletics,” “ESports on Campus,” and “Where Do We Go From Here: The Future of College Sports.”

The Conference said the award-winning Big 12 Champions for Life program - another initiative of the Conference now in its seventh year - has featured over 400 students and alumni from its members’ sports programs in a series of public service announcements that highlight the positive impact athletics scholarships have and their stories of personal growth and success.

On the national stage, the Big 12 said Bowlsby served as a member of the United States Olympic Committee from 2007-to 2014, is a member of the NCAA Presidential Task Force on Federal and State Legislative Issues, and has testified in Congressional hearings on various matters which relate to collegiate sports. It said he has served on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee, including serving as Chairman for the 2004 tournament in San Antonio and the 2005 tournament in St. Louis.

The League noted that Bowlsby was appointed to the inaugural NCAA Divison I Council in 2015 and served as chair of the Football Oversight Committee, which oversees all aspects of collegiate football and reports directly to the NCAA Divison I Council. It said he also served in leadership positions on various other NCAA committees and task forces.

Before his role at the Big 12, the Conference said Bowlsby spent 6 years as Athletics Director at Stanford University, preceded by a 15-year stint as the AD at the University of Iowa and 7 years in that role at the University of Northern Iowa.

“I have been honored to serve the Big 12 Conference membership, and I am tremendously proud of the incredible professionals in the Conference office and in the extraordinary coaches and athletics departments of our member institutions with whom I have worked to serve the student-athletes who participate in our member’s sports programs,” said Bowlsby. “When my transition is complete, I will miss the daily interaction with these wonderful colleagues and with the student-athletes but will welcome the opportunity to spend more time with my wife, my children, and my ten grandchildren. I have consistently sought to align my professional actions with the best principles of higher education and intercollegiate athletics. Now, I look forward to the next chapters of my personal and professional activities and, as I do so, I am very confident in a vibrant, highly competitive, and prosperous future for the Big 12 Conference.”

The League indicated the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics named Bowlsby a regional AD of the year in 2001-02. The Sports Business Journal then chose him from the four regional award winners as its National Athletics Director of the Year, which celebrates the commitment and positive contributions to campuses and their surrounding communities made by the recipients of the award.

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