Outgoing Big 12 commissioner was a friend to BYU; will new one act as favorably toward the Cougars?
Bob Bowslby praised BYU on his way to retirement, saying the Cougars ‘truly have a worldwide reach’
ARLINGTON, Texas — A lot has been written and said recently, good and bad, about the job the outgoing Bob Bowlsby did in his 10 years as commissioner of the Big 12 Conference.
But as new commissioner Brett Yormark gets set to take the reins on Aug. 1, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone at BYU with something negative to say about the 70-year-old Bowlsby, the point man in inviting the Cougars — along with UCF, Houston and Cincinnati — to the league last September.
And the feeling would be mutual. In some of his final public comments before riding off into the sunset, Bowlsby spoke glowingly at Big 12 football media days this week of BYU and the three other newcomers who will join the conference in 2023. The Cougars are losing a good friend and staunch supporter.
“BYU is one of the few schools that truly has a worldwide reach.” — outgoing Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby
Whether Yormark holds BYU in such high esteem hasn’t played out yet. But if he doesn’t, the Cougars will always have Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. More on that later.
In an impromptu group interview with a gaggle of reporters after the television cameras were turned off Wednesday at AT&T Stadium, Bowlsby was asked about “other factors” that schools can bring to a conference besides monetary value in the eyes of television executives who sign the checks.
“BYU is one of the few schools that truly has a worldwide reach,” he said.
The former athletic director at Northern Iowa, Iowa and Stanford, who announced his intention to step down last April, also praised Cincinnati, UCF and Houston, saying Cincinnati is the second-oldest public university in the United States, Central Florida is the second-largest university in the country, and Houston is in the best football recruiting county in the land.
“There are lots of things the new members bring,” Bowlsby said.” I think we added the four best schools we could have added.”
Asked why the Big 12 didn’t expand in 2016 after inviting several schools, including BYU, to make presentations to the Big 12 board of directors, a decision that soured a lot of Cougar fans to the conference for a couple of years, Bowlsby said it wasn’t his call.
“It wasn’t my decision to add or not add,” he said Wednesday. “The facts are that there weren’t enough votes to add anybody, at the time.”
Of course, that all changed last summer when the SEC lured Texas and Oklahoma away from the Big 12. The Longhorns and Sooners are scheduled to join the SEC in 2025, but Yormark said he’s not against engaging in discussions with the college football blue bloods “if it is in the best interest of the conference.”
Speaking of which, Bowlsby was asked if he would like to “take a parting shot” at the UT and OU on his way out the door. He politely declined.
That came after a reporter asked Bowlsby to name his biggest regret. It had to be getting caught off guard by the UT and OU departures, right? Or maybe failing to get expansion pushed through six years ago? Guess again.
After a long pause, Bowlsby said his biggest disappointment of the last decade was in the 2018 Rose Bowl, a national semifinal, when Oklahoma blew a 31-17 halftime lead and lost to Georgia.
“We thought we had a team in the national championship, and it didn’t work out,” he said, lamenting that the conference didn’t win a national football championship on his watch. “We have had teams good enough to play in the final, but it hasn’t worked out. It will.”
Bowlsby said an OU win that day in Pasadena probably wouldn’t have changed much in regards to OU’s decision to bolt.
“It would have just allowed us to have more fun,” he said.
Bowlsby, a grandfatherly sort of man with Midwestern sensibilities, was the Big 12’s fourth commissioner and the longest-tenured commish the conference has had. Before giving way to a 55-year-old man who was the former COO of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation entertainment agency and spoke Wednesday of making the Big 12 “younger, hipper and cooler,” Bowlsby was asked if he believes he’s leaving the Big 12 in a good place, even as college football moves toward super conferences and the league could miss out on that status if things don’t break its way.
“Yeah, I think so,” Bowlsby said. “I would say my 10-year body of work is satisfying to me. Are there some things that I probably feel are things left undone? Yeah, there are always those things. But the fact is, there aren’t many people in my business that go out on their own terms. I am about as close to it as you can find.”
Will he run for public office?
No way, Bowlsby said with a laugh, mentioning that he spent Tuesday meeting with members of congress in Washington, D.C., and got his fill of politics.
“Athletic director jobs are getting more difficult all the time because of the outside influences,” he said.
If he remained commissioner, would he recommend adding more schools?
“I am not in a position at this point to make any recommendations,” he said.
BYU fans should be happy he stayed at his post as long as he did.
As for the aforementioned Gundy, he heaped praise on the conference for adding the four newcomers when they did.
“I don’t think there’s any question (that) as this moves forward the Big 12 Conference is in terrific position,” he said. “If you look at the geographic television opportunities they bring to the table, the success they have had in football, the different time zones and viewership, which it ultimately comes down to (it is great). There is a power struggle for long-term TV money. I am convinced the leadership will come up with a plan, and the Big 12 will be here for a very long time.”
BYU certainly hopes he’s right.