IRVING, Texas (AP) — Bob Bowlsby was admittedly apprehensive when he first met with a group of Big 12 school presidents about becoming the league commissioner.
Like many other people, Bowlsby's image of the Big 12 was a league in danger of falling apart after losing four schools over a two-year period.
"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," Bowlsby said Friday, when he was formally introduced as the Big 12's new commissioner. "I was very quickly put at ease."
After two summers of uncertainty when it appeared that the Big 12 was on the brink of collapse, and did lose four schools to three other conferences, the BCS league has gained a sense of stability moving forward with a new leader.
"I wouldn't have been interested if I had arrived at the interview and found that there was fragmentation," he said.
Bowlsby, the athletic director at Sanford the past six years, takes over the Big 12 on June 15. He will succeed interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas, who replaced the ousted Dan Beebe nine months ago.
"Bob Bowlsby is exactly the right person for the job. He's talented, a great communicator and cares deeply about student athletes," said University of Texas President Bill Powers, one of the three presidents who met with Bowlsby last week. "Our conference is strong and united and will grow even stronger under Bob's leadership."
Bowlsby said he stated his reservations to them and probed with questions about "how we got to where we've gotten."
The Big 12 will take 10 teams into next season, with the additions of TCU and West Virginia offsetting the departures of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC on July 1. Nebraska previously went to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12, the league Bowlsby will be leaving.
"I was very satisfied and probably it would be correct to say I was encouraged and impressed with the stability and mutual commitment," Bowlsby said.
Still, he knows one of his early initiatives has to be to ensure and convince others of the league's stability. He has to make sure they don't have the same perception of the Big 12 that he did from the outside.
Among other issues Bowlsby will face will be getting a new television deal done and determining the Big 12's future makeup, either remaining at 10 members or possibly adding more.
While saying he had no presumption of what direction the Big 12 would take regarding expansion, he laughed at what he called "one of the great ironies of college athletics right now" that the Big 12 has 10 members and the Big 10 where he once worked has 12.
"I'm not going to presume a direction that we would go," he said. "There's nothing magic about 11, 12 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."
The Big 12 is reportedly working toward a new television deal with ESPN, and Neinas has pushed members to agree to a long-term grant of media rights to the league that would make it all but impossible for schools to bolt.
Last year, the Pac-12 reached a 12-year contract worth about $3 billion with Fox and ESPN and then announced plans to launch a new conference-owned network to supplement coverage and create more exposure for Pac-12 athletes. The venture will launch this fall with the national cable network, six regional networks and a digital network.
Before going to Stanford in 2006, Bowlsby had been athletic director at Iowa since 1991, overseeing the athletic program where growing up he sold soda at football games. It was during his time there as AD that the Big Ten started its own television network.
"He's been very involved in the television aspects of conference he has served, from the formation of the Big Ten network to the Pac-12 network and, of course, the related television agreements," said Burns Hargis, president of Oklahoma State and chairman of the conference's board of directors. 'Obviously that's a very valuable talent that we intend to take full advantage of."
At Stanford, Bowlsby oversaw one of the country's largest athletic programs (35 sports, 19 for women), one that consistently was recognized as one of the nation's best even with rigorous academic standards that presented unique circumstances.
"The Big 12 and its member institutions are committed to academic excellence and athletic excellence, and I'm coming from a place that does that well," he said. "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."
Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw called Bowlsby "an excellent hire" who understands the issues surrounding college athletics and brings great perspective that is needed for the future of the league.
"Bob Bowlsby has a solid vision and tremendous leadership qualities. This is a great day for the Big 12," Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger said. "There are a lot of good things happening in this conference, and he is the right person to lead us as we begin a new era of competitive and academic excellence."