The job of major-college conference commissioner isn’t presenting championship trophies and making sure officiating crews are hired.
You know athletics inside-out if you’re a conference commish, yes, but that better be just one of your many areas of expertise. You have to be a great negotiator and a shrewd innovator.
You have to be the voice of the conference, but must also deftly serve 10 or 12 masters, otherwise known as university presidents.
You need to be perceived as a person with gravitas, because change and turbulence are constants in big-time college sports. Public-relations headaches beyond your control pop up.
You try to constantly keep your bowl partners happy, while always having an eye toward the future in strengthening your overall package of bowl-affiliations.
And at some point, you may try to raid some other conference for a new member or two. By the end of this week, 31 FBS schools will have changed conferences in the last two years.
That’s just a partial job description. Which is why being commish of a major conference makes you one of American sports’ most-powerful people.
Enter Bob Bowlsby, who assumes the reins of the Big 12 this morning.
That’s Bob Bowlsby, native Iowan, athletic director at Northern Iowa from 1984 to 1991, AD at Iowa from 1991 to 2006. Now he’ll represent Iowa State, as nine other schools from Texas Tech to West Virginia.
He has left his job as Stanford’s AD with perhaps one mission clearer than any other: Take the perception of the Big 12 being on shaky ground and leave it in the dust.
A lot of that work has already been done under interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, who helped see the league through a very rough patch when it lost a lot of national prestige and one-third of its original 12 members.
Nebraska left for the Big Ten. A lot. Colorado jumped to the Pacific-12. Texas A&M and then Missouri split for the SEC. That was a lot of fleeing for several different reasons, and it was traumatic.
Meanwhile, there were doubts Texas was committed to staying in the conference after it led a four-school flirtation with the Pac-12 before staying put. As Texas goes, so goes the Big 12.
But with Neinas shepherding things, the league added two high-profile football commodities when it swiped TCU and then West Virginia from the Big East to get back up to 10 members. Texas even now seems content.
Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard tweeted this Thursday: “At Big 12 meetings in Phoenix. Best I have felt about the Big 12 in my seven years.”
Now it’s crunch time, and the ball has been handed to Bowlsby. The Big 12 is close to sealing a deal with ESPN for first-tier football rights, after landing a lucrative extension with Fox Sports for second-tier rights through 2025.
The two deals reportedly would earn the league about $2.5 billion over the next 13 years. The 9-year extension of the Big 12’s current contract with ESPN would run through 2025.
If that contract gets finalized on Bowlsby’s watch, it would leave the Big 12 sitting pretty after being at death’s doorstep not long ago. It would also would reduce and perhaps eliminate a perception that the league needs to get back up to 12 members.
Bowlsby’s six years at Stanford had to make him TV-savvier. He was part of the Pac-12’s team that negotiated a 12-year contract with ESPN and Fox worth about $3 billion. That’s called a blockbuster.
The Pac-12 Networks — yes, networks — debut in August. Also coming soon is the Pac-12 Digital Network.
Along with four other media members from around the country, I had lunch with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany Wednesday in suburban Chicago. Delany covered the waterfront, but one of his primary topics was the world of TV rights and digital media.
Delany knows how many people in Belgium and Vietnam have access to the Big Ten Network, and what that means to his conference.
This is now Bowlsby’s world, with its base in Dallas. At 60, his job is to lead his new league into some golden years.