What The Big 12 Conference Should Look For In Next Commissioner
SALT LAKE CITY – The Big 12 Conference announced a significant change to its leadership structure on Tuesday. After ten years, Bob Bowlsby is “stepping away” as the league commissioner.
Bowlsby is under contract with the conference until 2025, where he will remain with the league in some capacity. But it won’t be as commissioner.
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Bowlsby was the longest-tenured Power 5 conference Commissioner. With Bowlsby now stepping away, that title will go to the SEC’s Greg Sankey, who was appointed in his role in 2015. All P5 leagues have now experienced a change in the commissioner chair during the College Football Playoff era.
Bowlsby’s step away as commissioner comes at an important time for the Big 12 as they continue to work towards the transition of having four new members in the league, including BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston. But it’s also a critical time in college athletics as the lines between college and pro sports continue to be blurred. So the new leader, whoever it ends up being, has a big task.
“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,” said Bowlsby in a written statement announcing his departure as commissioner. “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.”
Big 12 Commissioner search: What to look for
So what’s next for the Big 12 in the Commissioner role? First, the conference announced they are “interviewing and engaging an executive search consulting firm to assist in an extensive national search process.”
Here are some attributes the Big 12 should be looking for in its next commissioner.
Extensive history with TV & Media
The Big 12 has a new media and grant of rights deal in 2025. It will be a pivotal piece to the future stability of the Big 12. So having someone that understands the TV and media rights climate might be a route well-served for the conference.
Research firm Navigate projects that the Big 12 Conference will be distributing $51.9 million per school in 2029. The lowest within the Power 5, but within striking distance of the Pac-12 and ACC, projected at $56.3 million and $55.3 million, respectively.
— Navigate (@NVGTInsights) March 14, 2022
Could someone with media experience help jump that number even higher? Would having a former TV executive help the Big 12 Conference launch a linear network and a straight-to-consumer streaming service accessible to fans?
The Pac-12 Conference stunned everyone by hiring George Kliavkoff, who came from MGM’s sports and entertainment division and had experience at Hulu and NBC.
Burke Magnus was a popular name during the Pac-12, and Big Ten Commissioner searches before he got a promotion as ESPN’s President, Programming and Original Content. But Magnus represents the idea of a potential candidate that has extensive TV and media rights experience. People at Hulu, Amazon, Apple, and network execs should all be considered during this national search by the Big 12 Conference.
Strong understanding of high-level college athletics
Along with TV revenue, College Football Playoff revenue and potential playoff expansion will be another vital component of the Big 12’s future. Therefore, having an individual who understands college athletics at the highest levels and the quickly-evolving landscape should be valued.
The Big 12 already has someone on their staff that fits that billing in Oliver Luck. Luck, a former West Virginia athletic director and a high-ranking official at the NCAA, was brought on to the Big 12 to help the league’s expansion subcommittee.
Or even Baylor’s Mack Rhoades, who recently just signed a 10-year extension to remain the Athletic Director of the Bears.
But having an individual who knows college football dynamics, has relationships within Power Five leagues, and makes moves that elevate the revenue-generating sports is essential. The last thing the Big 12 needs at this time is to have a Commissioner who becomes their version of what Larry Scott was to the Pac-12.
All of this comes at a time when the NCAA passed legislation that now allows its divisions (I, II, & III) to have the ability to govern themselves.
The institutions that typically caused the Big 12 to drag their feet, Texas and Oklahoma, will be gone in 2025. Because of Texas and Oklahoma’s stranglehold on the league, the view of the Big 12 nationally has always been reactionary.
Now that the Horns and Sooners are moving on, the Big 12 has a chance to rewrite the narrative into a forward-thinking league.
From the structure of schedules, divisions, stance on the College Football Playoff, a potential TV network, streaming, NIL, and potential pay from the schools to student-athletes, the Big 12 can no longer be left to react. They need a commissioner who will be ahead of the curve in a landscape that many want to deem as just the SEC, Big Ten, and everyone else.
You can place any potential expansion in there as well. Last week, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy told The Oklahoman that he could see a situation where the Big 12 is up to 14 teams. Could the new commissioner divide a strategy that could poach a team or two from the Pac-12 or ACC? It seems outlandish now, but forward-thinkers are what the Big 12 needs. The last thing the Big 12 needs is expanding the conference from a watered-down Group of Five pool.
Unify the Big 12
One of the reasons the SEC is the top conference in college athletics right now is its unity. Even Texas A&M, who despises Texas and put on a public PR push at SEC Media Days last summer to derail the possibility of the Horns joining the league, ultimately fell in line for the good of the league to welcome Texas and OU in 2025.
Can the same be said for the Big 12 since its inception in 1996?
There’s never been unity on the Big 12 front. From Nebraska’s frustrations with Texas, reactionary moves in expansion, Texas creating the forgotten Longhorn Network, and revenue distribution, the Big 12 hasn’t been on the same page.
With the new iteration of the conference, it appears to be a clean slate and a strong desire from the existing Big 12 members and the future ones to have everyone on the same page to take the league to new heights.
They’ve already distinguished having the best Men’s Basketball league in America. Now they need to change narratives surrounding its football league. Of course, it helped last year having two non-Texas & OU programs (Baylor and Oklahoma State) battling in the Big 12 Championship Game.
Getting a commissioner that won’t broker side deals for individual programs, giving everyone equal revenue cuts, should be the path for the Big 12. Finding the next leader to keep everyone on the same page and set up a bright future is what the Big 12 needs more than ever.
They have the chance to make it happen, and it starts with hitting it out of the park with this commissioner hire.
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.
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