What traits are most needed in new Big 12 commissioner? And who are the candidates?
Replacement for Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby will need myriad skills, the right personality and a proven track record. Could BYU’s Tom Holmoe be in the mix?
Who will the Big 12 hire to lead it into a new era without Texas and Oklahoma?
Well, if recent history tells us anything, the new commissioner will have to be well connected, cunning, part CIA, part media mogul, definitely a charismatic leader. It would help to project the kind of image we got from Mel Gibson as William Wallace in “Braveheart.”
Consider how the Big 12 lost Texas and Oklahoma, its most valuable assets.
It was subterfuge at its finest.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who was supposedly chums with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, went behind Bowlsby’s back, secretly courting the Sooners and Longhorns, scheming in clandestinity akin to a James Bond scenario for SEC greed.
Bowlsby found out about the coup out of the blue. He was ambushed from the inside and the outside.
That’s one aspect of what a new commissioner needs to be capable of — a higher understanding of the level of villainy that is college sports these days.
You have folks in suits and ties sitting by you at dinners and on committees, and you believe they are friends, but they’re hiding backstabbing daggers in their cummerbunds.
In addition, the Big 12 faces monumental challenges in this era of name, image and likeness deals, and the upcoming negotiations for media rights in two years. What lies beyond the current deal with Fox and ESPN?
The new commissioner has to be media savvy. If that person isn’t an expert, they need to hire and surround themselves with folks from streaming giants like Hulu, Amazon, ESPN and other networks that have cutting-edge marketing and deal-making talent.
The new hire can’t be a total outsider, a person unfamiliar with NCAA rules, protocol and procedures, or someone outside the educational hierarchy.
The hire needs to be connected at both the presidential or chancellor and athletic department levels of collegedom. The new Big 12 athletics boss will need to see the competing commissioners in the shadows, stand up to them in College Football Playoff meetings, and explore possible expansion with skill and acumen.
The person needs to be an educational version of Jack Bauer, who commands the respect of the college scene and casts an economic shadow, at least in futuristic creativity, akin to Elon Musk.
The new commissioner needs to be capable of poaching from the Pac-12 or Big Ten. Andy Staples, writing in The Athletic, created an argument as to why this is important in coming months. The time might be right while media rights are debated.
I asked CBS Sports national college columnist Dennis Dodd to give me his take on what kind of leader the Big 12 needs to hire. As I was constructing this commentary, he provided his. It coincided with my thoughts.
Dodd: “The Big 12 absolutely cannot afford to go outside the traditional parameters to hire its next commissioner. The person needs to be an athletic director, sitting school president or TV executive — or someone darn similar. It needs someone who is familiar with TV negotiations, NCAA policy and the changing landscape.
“These are typically lifetime appointments — who is the last commissioner who left for another job? There are candidates within and outside the league who are more than qualified. The league faces its own relevancy in its next four years going forward. This must be a home-run hire. But never underestimate what can happen when school presidents go into a room in executive session.”
Back to my thoughts …
The new commissioner must be effective in unifying the remaining Big 12 presidents with newcomers BYU, Houston, Central Florida and Cincinnati.
There are already lists of potential candidates, like this one in The Athletic.
Names include Baylor President Linda Livingstone, who has fundraised and led the Bears athletic department into a national force; Washington State President Kirk Schulz, who was president at Kansas; Clemson President Jim Clements, who was at West Virginia; and TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini, former chairman of the Big 12 board.
Why would a president or current athletic director apply for a Power Five commissioner job? Well, the salary would go from about $1 million a year to $2 million or $3 million a year.
Athletic directors in the Big 12, like Shane Lyons at West Virginia, could get a look, as could Kirby Hocutt at Texas A&M. Oklahoma’s power broker AD Joe Castiglione would fit the bill but at present, he is a Sankey SEC expansion co-conspirator and vetted Benedict Arnold to the Big 12.
Outside ADs could include BYU’s Tom Holmoe, but Holmoe is near retirement, and his experience in administration is primarily all at BYU. I don’t think he’s interested in putting on boxing gloves at this stage of his life, even if he has NCAA committee experience and is connected.
Holmoe has been an Admiral Horatio Hornblower for BYU through independence and embarkation to Big 12 membership, but he is too nice a guy for the swords, foils and sabers that will come to bear in the Big 12’s battle to protect and match the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC rush for media gold.
West Coast Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez would be an up-and-coming star, but her current league has no college football, the money cow of big-time athletics. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has the experience and may throw his hat in the ring.
Another name to consider is associate commissioner Ed Stewart. He knows everybody and would get support from Bowlsby for an elevated role.
The Big 12 could go after Alabama AD Greg Byrne, Washington AD Jennifer Cohen, Bubba Cunningham at North Carolina or USF’s Michael Kelly. All have key leadership experience in college football, NCAA sports, committees and extensive success at raising money and elevating their programs.
Bottom line? This hire is a critical decision for Big 12 presidents.
It could be done by the start of summer.
They probably will hire one of their own or someone with past Big 12 interests. They will then ask that new commissioner to hire the heck out of media-savvy negotiators who are well-versed in future technology for streaming and broadcast partners.