On Friday, Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby was introduced as the new commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, officially making his move away from the Farm after six years at Stanford.
Bowlsby’s successful tenure at Stanford was marked by 10 national titles as well as the hiring of coaches Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw and Johnny Dawkins, but now the Iowa native takes over a conference that has been in turmoil for the past three years.
The Big 12 has lost four of its members in the last two years — Nebraska to the Big Ten, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC — all of which led to the firing of former commissioner Dan Beebe in 2011. But the man hired to replace Beebe told reporters at his introductory press conference that the Big 12 is in a good place for the future, as it added TCU and West Virginia to the conference this year to replace recent departures A&M and Missouri.
“I, like many people, had a vision of this conference as unstable,” Bowlsby said Friday in Irving, Tex. “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 ease relative to the stability of the group and the ongoing commitment to one another.”
Bowlsby, who will take over as commissioner on June 15, was seen as the ideal candidate for the Big 12 job because of his exceptionally successful tenures at Stanford and at the University of Iowa, where he worked from 1991-2005. He also contributed significantly to the lucrative media deals of both of those schools’ conferences, particularly the Pac-12’s current $3 billion, 12-year television contract with ESPN and Fox. Additionally, Bowlsby was present for the birth of both of those conferences’ television networks — the Big Ten Network, which launched in 2007, and the Pac-12 Network, which will launch in August 2012.
Bowlsby’s role in the media network expansion of the Big Ten and Pac-12 was critical to his hiring as Big 12 commissioner because the turbulent conference is currently working on a new television deal of its own.
“He’s been very involved in the television aspects of conferences he has served, from the formation of the Big Ten network to the Pac-12 network and, of course, the related television agreements,” Burns Hargis, the president of Oklahoma State, told ESPN. “Obviously that’s a very valuable talent that we intend to take full advantage of.”
Bowlsby’s other challenge will be determining if the conference needs to expand, as the Big 12’s major quirk is that it currently only has ten member schools, which prevents it from staging a conference championship game. Conference championship games generally require 12 teams, and they serve as major boons to any conference’s pocketbooks; the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 all have title games. However, Bowlsby said he currently didn’t know where exactly the conference would go with its membership.
“I’m not going to presume a direction that we would go,” he said. “There’s nothing magic about 11 or 12. I come in with no preconceived notions of what the right number is…I’m pretty excited about the 10 institutions that we have.”
And while the move was a no-brainer for Bowlsby, as he will quickly become one of he most powerful and influential people in all of college sports, Stanford is now forced to try and find a successor to replace him as athletic director.
For now, the list of candidates whose names have been mentioned includes Yale athletic director Thomas Beckett, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl executive director Gary Cavalli, UC-Irvine athletic director Mike Izzi, West Coast Conference Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, Utah athletic director Chris Hill and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, father of former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. All of these candidates have major connections to the Farm, as Beckett, Cavalli, Izzi and Zaninovich have all previously worked for the Stanford athletic department.
Additionally, former Secretary of State and Stanford political science professor Condoleeza Rice has been suggested as a potential wild-card candidate to replace Bowlsby, as she is a dedicated Stanford sports fan and has said that her dream job would be commissioner of the NFL.
The athletic department has not yet suggested a timetable for finding a new athletic director or intimated whether it would hire an interim commissioner when Bowlsby packs up for the Big 12.