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Volume 23 No. 17
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Most Influential: College Football, 6-10

No. 6
Presidents of the BCS

Charles Steger
Photo by: Jim Stroup
Bernie Machen
Photo by: UF Communications
Harvey Perlman
Photo by: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Bill Powers
Photo by: Getty Images

The role of university presidents is often difficult to understand in sports, especially when it seems that athletic directors and conference commissioners do so much of the heavy lifting. But there’s one place where the presidents’ influence is easy to define — the bottom line. Nothing gets passed, not even a college football playoff, without the approval of the presidents. The BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, whose chairman is Virginia Tech’s Charles Steger, ultimately says yea or nay to anything the commissioners put before it. Now, it can be argued that this is more of a rubber stamp because the presidents aren’t really going to vote down a playoff after the commissioners have put so much planning into it, are they? Of course not. But there are presidents and chancellors on this committee — namely Florida’s Bernie Machen, Nebraska’s Harvey Perlman and Texas’ Bill Powers — who stay highly engaged in college football and wield strong influence as decision-makers. They know what’s going on, and they have the authority to change it if they choose.

No. 7
John Swofford
ACC commissioner

Until the ACC starts playing better football, Swofford’s moves to expand and improve the conference won’t resonate

Photo by: Shana Wittenwyler
around the country. Swofford has used his influence to expand to 14 teams and maintain a place among college football’s top five conferences. However, the league will need a Virginia Tech, a Florida State, or an upstart to make noise nationally in high-profile games if it intends to become more relevant on the national stage. Despite the issues on the field, Swofford used expansion to negotiate a new long-term deal with ESPN, an agreement that was triggered by the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse. He was ahead of the curve in 2008 when he worked with Mike Slive and the SEC on an early version of a playoff plan, and was the first commissioner to recommend that the BCS hire an executive director.

No. 8
Phil Knight
Co-founder and chairman, Nike

Photo by: Getty Images
Nike’s reach in college football extends from the playing field, where it outfits teams in the trendiest colors and materials of the day, to the budget, where it pays schools and coaches millions so they can call themselves “a Nike school.” Knight has been there from the start and remains actively engaged with the product and its clients. His desire more than 15 years ago to remake the brand of his alma mater, Oregon, led to a national trend in colorful uniforms that now affects recruiting and merchandise sales. Knight also represents the “active” alumni, playing a powerful role in the makeup, direction and culture of Oregon’s athletic department. Few have as much say over a big program as Knight does. Perhaps the greatest compliment is that other uniform makers now follow Nike’s lead, again showing Knight’s vision and Nike’s place as the leading equipment brand in college football.

No. 9
Bob Bowlsby
Big 12 commissioner

Bowlsby has been on the job only two months, but the veteran administrator stepped into the role with a big-time

Photo by: Shana Wittenwyler
football background from his days as an athletic director at Stanford and Iowa. He already has his plate full as he completes negotiations on a new TV deal with ESPN and Fox, works on a site for the new Champions Bowl, and steps into the final stages of the college football playoff negotiations. Bowlsby will be one of the “Big Five” commissioners, along with the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC, who will help decide how the revenue from a new TV contract will be distributed. Bowlsby said that, until now, he has taken a quiet approach to the playoff negotiations, but that will surely change as he finds his footing as a commissioner. As long as he represents the conference with Texas and Oklahoma, Bowlsby will always have some thunder behind his words.

No. 10
Randy Freer
Co-president, Fox Sports

Larry Jones
COO, Fox Sports

Randy Freer
Photo by: Shana Wittenwyler
Larry Jones
Photo by: Fox Sports

In 12 months, Freer and Jones have reshaped Fox Sports’ college portfolio. They opened a window on Fox’s broadcast network to show Pac-12 and Big 12 games in prime time this fall. They brought college football back to FX, a national cable platform. Most importantly, Freer and Jones are part of every rights negotiation in the college sports space. What’s next? Fox is expected to make a run at the BCS rights when they go to market this fall, and it will be at the table for Big East rights when those go to market this fall as well.