Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced today that he will step away from the Commissioner’s chair later this year after a decade of leading the league and securing its long-term future as one of the five major collegiate athletics conferences. Bowlsby, a steady, influential voice for intercollegiate athletics, will remain Commissioner of the Big 12 until the appointment of a new Commissioner and will then, at the request of the Conference, transition to a new interim role with the Conference, 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 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.”
Bowlsby was appointed Commissioner in 2012, and under his watch, the Big 12 has seen tremendous growth in its national brand, television exposure, distributable revenue for its member institutions, and competitive success. Most recently, he guided the Big 12’s addition of four future members, with BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston agreeing to join the Conference no later than the 2024-25 academic year.
Over his tenure, the Big 12 has won 25 NCAA team national championships, including last night’s men’s basketball title game victory by the University of Kansas. In 2020-21 the Big 12 captured 5 NCAA team national championships, including a Baylor University men’s basketball title. Also, for four consecutive years, the Big 12 has placed men’s basketball teams in the Final Four. In football, the Big 12 has placed teams in the College Football Playoff New Year’s Bowls throughout its seven-year history. The Big 12 is the home of two of 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 is interviewing and engaging an executive search consulting firm to assist it in an extensive national search process for the new Commissioner, which will begin in the next few weeks.
As one of the first achievements during his tenure with the Conference, 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, 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 annually on a worldwide basis. Bowlsby played a key role in the formation of the College Football Playoff that began in 2014-15, the first postseason playoff in the history of Collegiate Football. Additionally, under his leadership, the Big 12 Football Championship Game was reinstated beginning in 2017.
In 2014-15, the Big 12 introduced “State of Collegiate Athletics” forums to examine some of the pressing issues that college athletics is facing. Seven events were conducted in cities across the nation, with panelists of respected experts addressing topics such as “Race and College Athletics,” “ESports on Campus,” and “Where Do We Go From Here: The Future of College Sports.” The award-winning Big 12 Champions for Life program, another initiative of the Conference that is now in its seventh year, has featured more than 400 students and alumni from its members’ sports programs in a series of public service announcements highlighting the positive impact of athletics scholarship on their stories of personal growth and success.
On the national stage, he 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 numerous matters relating to collegiate sports. 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. He was appointed to the inaugural NCAA Division 1 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 Division 1 Council. He also has served in leadership positions on numerous other NCAA committees and task forces.
Prior to his role at the Big 12, Bowlsby spent six years as the Athletics Director at Stanford University, preceded by a 15-year stint as the AD at the University of Iowa and seven years in that role at the University of Northern Iowa.
The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics named Bowlsby as a regional AD of the year in 2001-02. The Sports Business Journal then selected 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 this prestigious award.
“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.”