IRVING, Texas – Bob Bowlsby admits he was skeptical. Admits he had little faith in the Big 12 Conference. Admits he looked at the league like it was a banana republic.
But Friday, Bowlsby became captain of the ghost ship. And that's a very good sign for the conference.
OSU president Burns Hargis, chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, said it's the start of a “brave new future” for the league.
Brave would be the right word to describe Bowlsby.
But look at it this way. Bowlsby was not looking for a job. Was not an outsider looking to bust through the city gates; not an NCAA lawyer or a fringe-sport marketing whiz.
As Stanford's athletic director, Bowlsby was a power-broker. Past chairman of the NCAA basketball committee. Member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. In the middle of conference expansion and a college football playoff and every hot-button issue that juices administrators.
Bowlsby had a good job. To leave it for the Big 12 speaks well of the Big 12.
“In all frankness, I wouldn't have been interested if I would have arrived at the interview and found fragmentation,” Bowlsby said. “I'm not much interested in having my horse shot out from under me. I came in with reservations, and those reservations were quickly put to rest. I think the future of the conference is exceedingly bright.”
Of course, he has to say that now. But Bowlsby didn't have to take the job, which is the point.
“Obviously, I had some inside information on what had gone on and why it had gone on,” Bowlsby said of Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri leaving the Big 12 in the last 23 months.
“It would be hard during the middle of that whole process to not think, at least in the back of my mind, that it was like rats leaving a sinking ship that might go away as an entity sometime.”
Join the club. We all thought that. But Big 12 brass reassessed. Texas never wanted to leave, OU and OSU realized they were better off with the Longhorns than without them, and the league was saved.
“Cooler heads prevailed,” Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby met with the three presidents on the search committee – OSU's Burns Hargis, Texas' Bill Powers and Kansas State's Kirk Schulz.
“I came into the discussion with some apprehension, because I, like many people, had a vision of this conference as being unstable,” Bowlsby said.
But Bowlsby said he instead found a group of committed CEOs.
OK. But anything substantial besides the flowery talk from presidents who are in their position in part because they can shovel the old windsong?
“That's fair,” Bowlsby said. But here's why he believes in the Big 12 stability. The granting of media rights, which virtually binds every school for at least six years and, if they extend it to the upcoming ABC contract, even longer. Plus the round-robin scheduling in football and basketball, which Bowlsby calls “a commitment to strength. A commitment like that speaks volumes about the philosophy of the league.
“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 things I've just mentioned, are all indicative of that mutual commitment.”
Bowlsby said he asked the presidents tough questions. Questions that probably put them on the spot. He didn't specify, but we can guess. The Longhorn Network. OU's wandering eye. Revenue disparity.
The presidents sold Bowlsby on the Big 12. Now Bowlsby's job is to sell others.
Who knows if he will be successful? But just taking the job was a good way to start.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.