SBJ/July 23-29, 2012/Colleges

Little rest for Big 12 commish Bob Bowlsby

It’s little wonder that new Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is sleeping on an inflatable mattress in a rented home in Dallas, where his only other piece of furniture is a lawn chair. He’s hardly ever there.

In five weeks since officially moving into the job on June 15, Bowlsby jumped right into the middle of negotiations for a college football playoff, he took the baton on Big 12 TV talks with ESPN and Fox, and he began the process of finding a home for the Champions Bowl, the new joint venture with the SEC.

Bowlsby’s first five weeks as commissioner have included playoff plans and TV talks.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
Before Bowlsby could even create a plan of attack for his first month in office, his time was spoken for. As if that weren’t enough, the former Stanford athletic director will spend nearly two weeks in London in late July and early August fulfilling his duties as a board member of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

In a 45-minute, wide-ranging interview last week from the Big 12’s Dallas headquarters, Bowlsby covered much of the league’s business, from his thoughts on the role of the Champions Bowl in the playoff system to the 10-school structure that seems to make sense for the Big 12 while the rest of the conferences are moving to 12 and 14.

The comforts of home will come later, but for now Bowlsby has his hands full. The conference’s new 13-year, $2.6 billion shared TV contract with ESPN and Fox is near the goal line, he said.

“We’re moving along very well,” Bowlsby said. “We had several days of meetings last week with both Fox and ESPN in the room. We have moved ahead substantially and I think we’re close to having a deal.”

Now that the college football playoff structure has been determined, the Big 12 and the SEC have turned their attention to the Champions Bowl.

They are preparing an RFP that will go out to several bowls and other markets that might have an interest in hosting the game. The SEC and Big 12 also are in the homestretch of TV negotiations with ESPN for the bowl game.

“It’s conceivable that the game will be rotated, but on the other hand, it depends on what the offers are,” Bowlsby said of the Champions Bowl’s site selection. “Another element of this is that the Champions Bowl will be a semifinal in the national championship series on some occasions. We think it’s going to be four times in the 12 years, but we don’t know yet for sure.”

Several scenarios exist that could make the Champions Bowl a semifinal game anywhere from two to four years total during the 12-year playoff commitment. Bowlsby favors using the Champions Bowl as a semifinal game four times during the 12-year cycle.

“Our belief, with the SEC, is that we think we should host more rather than less,” he said. “That could be two, three or four, but if we could choose, we’d choose four.”

Bowlsby, an AD at Northern Iowa and Iowa in his native state before going to Stanford in 2006, addressed several other topics.

On conference realignment:
“Some of the leagues that have pushed to 12 and 14 have found out that it’s not the bed of roses they thought. There are some real difficulties when you have to move away from traditional rivalries and schedule the way that 12 or 14 teams dictate. Other than the obvious irony of the Big 12 having 10 teams and the Big Ten having 12, I don’t find anything wrong with [staying at 10], and that’s where our membership is as well.”

On creating more scheduling partnerships with the SEC or other conferences:
“We’re working on a couple of things and it’s probably going to be a while before I can talk about them, but we’re involved in active conversations.”

On researching the Big 12’ s dysfunctional past, during which schools have complained about Texas’ dominance:
“I’ll just keep my sources to myself. But I did a lot of research. As I told the chancellors and presidents, at my age [60], after all the years in the business, I really wasn’t interested in riding into a situation where I was going to get my horse shot out from under me. I wanted to satisfy myself that what appeared to be some self-inflicted wounds within the league were either repaired or that they wouldn’t be repeated.”

On keeping the national semifinals within the bowl structure:
“There is no question that we — the college football enterprise — can make more money by having the semifinals and national championship game outside of the bowl system. That’s the most lucrative of all the models. And we’ve already said that we’re prepared to leave some money on the table because we think it’s wise to keep the bowl system strong. … Likewise, the fewer semifinals that the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl host, the poorer the access for the at-large teams [because those bowls open up more at-large spots in the years that they’re semifinal games]. … We think it’s important to solve the access issues that have been criticisms of the past.”

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