By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
May 05, 2012 11:30 AM
Immediately after Bob Bowlsby was introduced as the Big 12 Conference’s new commissioner on Friday morning at the league office complex in Irving, Texas, The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel stepped up to the microphone to ask the first question. Tramel got right to the point.
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“Will it be 10 or 12?” he asked.
Of course, Tramel was referring to the current Big 12 membership of 10 as opposed to the possibility of adding two more schools in the future. Bowlsby smiled and answered as honestly as he could, considering he was only on the job for about five minutes.
“One of the great ironies in college athletics right now is that the Big Ten has 12 and the Big 12 has 10,” Bowlsby said. “I think expansion is going to be an on-going point of consideration for us. I am certainly not going to presume a direction that we will go, but I think as you consider expansion it has to be expansion, at its roots, to the enhancement of the league.
“There is nothing magic about 11, 12 or 10. To the extent that we can do things to advance our agenda then we ought to at least consider that,” Bowlsby added. “I come in with no preconceived notions with what the right number is, and from what I can gather, the people in the conference are pretty excited about the 10 institutions that we have right now.”
Bowlsby took on other pressing issues, such as the league’s new television rights agreement with the possibility of extending those for a much lengthier term and also the past issues some of the member institutions have had with the University of Texas.
As for the grant of rights, Bowlsby is satisfied with where the agreement sits right now.
“The grant of rights is the essence of any on-going media package and the longer we go presumably the more stable we are,” he explained. “You look at the contracts out there and most of them are very long contracts. They are between 12 and 15 years. There are always on-going conversations about the media environment and we will certainly continue those and engage vigorously.
“I don’t know if there have been any decisions made and I am sure there will be some options that present themselves. I think we are also in a changing environment relative to the BCS,” Bowlsby said. “That is going to be a very interesting discussion going forward. The good news for us is that we’re probably going to get some information on that structure relatively soon. All of those bode well for us making a good decision.”
Regarding Texas, the consensus seems to be the schools that had the biggest issues with the Longhorns have since departed to other conferences.
“I think they are speaking of one voice and I have found them to be very thoughtful and team-oriented in terms of how they view the issues,” said Bowlsby of Texas. “I asked some probing questions about that because the University of Texas is always going to the 800-pound gorilla in the room in college athletics and that isn’t going to change. I have been very impressed to the extent the folks at the University of Texas are committed to the conference and committed to the best outcomes, not only for them, but for the other nine members.”
Bowlsby touched on the geographical challenges the addition of West Virginia University presents to the league starting this fall.
“It isn’t a situation where they are going to have a natural rival in the state next door,” said Bowlsby. “Their Backyard Brawl with Pittsburgh is a natural geographically. Having said that, I think it’s all about having high-quality competition, and football and basketball teams are flying all over the country playing games anyway so it isn’t a particular challenge from a logistical standpoint there.
“For some of the non-revenue and Olympic sports it’s going to be a challenge and we are going to have to think creatively on how we don’t disadvantage a team that is some distance away,” he continued. “And I think there will be accommodations that will need to be made for missed class time and things with them because they are going to have to end up traveling more – and our schools are going to have to end up traveling more to their place – so it isn’t without it’s challenges, but I just think they are a really good fit competitively and I like the leadership of their athletics program and their university a lot.”
Bowlsby said geographical footprints in collegiate athletics today are not as relevant as they used to be now that we are in a digital age.
“We are really talking about electronic footprints and so how you position yourself in the media marketplace has a lot to do with how your messages are proliferated to the sports consumers,” Bowlsby said. “A geographic footprint … while driving to a conference game may be more convenient, I think having a West Virginia involved and being able to have an electronic footprint as a result of that on the East Coast is going to pay dividends for us.”
At the outset of his tenure, Bowlsby said his No. 1 objective will be to promote a unified, stable conference to its business partners and member institutions.
“I think we have to work hard to make it known broadly – not only with people that we are trying to enter into business relationships with – but also the people that are supporters of our universities and observers of our universities (that the conference remains united and is committed to moving forward),” he said. “I stated my reservations coming in. I stated them directly to the presidents that were there. I probed and asked some questions about how we’ve gotten to where we’ve gotten to and I was very satisfied, and probably it would be very correct for me to say I was encouraged and impressed with the stability and the mutual commitment.”
Bowlsby added that he is looking forward to working with a group of schools that will “take a thoughtful and one-for-all-all-for-one approach” to how the conference deals with its future issues.
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