Bob Bowlsby was only a few weeks into his new job as Big 12 commissioner when at the league’s football media days last July he kept repeating the same thing to all who would listen.
“Our message was, ‘We’re stable, we’re strong, and we’re successful,’” Bowlsby recalled a year later. “Those were the three watch-words. ... I uttered them a whole bunch of times.”
Bowlsby won’t have to work too hard to convince people of that when he takes the podium Monday at a downtown Dallas hotel to kick off this year’s football media days.
The league’s 10 schools shared a record $198 million in revenue for the 2012-13 school year, a total that could easily double because of a new TV deal and a Sugar Bowl partnership with the powerhouse SEC. Nine of 10 teams went to bowl games, making the Big 12 the first league ever to send 90 percent of its teams to the postseason in the same season.
“This year, I think people know that we are those three things, and I think the message is we’re looking forward” Bowlsby said in an interview with the Associated Press. “We’re excited about the future, we’re all about winning national championships, and we’re going to do what we need to try and make all the boats rise.”
No longer is the Big 12 just trying to survive, like it was during the seismic shifts of conference affiliation in previous summers when the league lost four schools and added two others to settle into its 10-team configuration.
Bowlsby, the former Stanford and Iowa athletic director, acknowledged that much of what has been accomplished in his first year leading the Big 12 was the result of things that were already in motion when he got there. That included the framework of the $2.6 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox Sports that goes through 2024-25 with each school granting its TV rights to the league.
“We got done the things that needed to be done in the first year, most of them were previously started,” Bowlsby said. “This year may be a little more ground-level logistics and tactical things, as opposed to some of the high-level things we had to deal with.”
This time, it’s putting the finishing details on items such as potential scheduling alliances with other leagues that would include neutral-site games, the Sugar Bowl setup that begins with the 2014 season and their bowl lineup in the post-BCS era.
The Big 12 is also hosting college basketball’s biggest event, with the NCAA Final Four at Cowboys Stadium next April.
Among items on Bowlsby’s agenda is a branding initiative to build a national identity for the 10-team league known as the Big 12.
“One of the reasons we’ve decided to go forward with it is because we wanted to put a stake in the ground. We’re here for the long haul ... we have members in perpetuity,” Bowlsby said. “There isn’t any belief that there are decision-times coming up where you have to decide to be in the league or not be in the league.”
That wasn’t necessarily the case when the Big 12 was planning a similar branding campaign a couple years ago before Bowlsby arrived. Then came talk about Texas A&M’s possible departure from the league, and the Aggies then moving to the SEC with Missouri.
While Bowlsby expects the Big 12 to get stronger, that doesn’t mean getting bigger.
Without being prompted, Bowlsby said he believes that the current conference members consider 10 schools “as the right number for us.” That comes at a time when all the other power conferences have 12-14 teams.
“There hasn’t been anything that has been empirically able to demonstrate that larger is better,” he said. “Our distributable revenue per institution is right there at the top of the country. I think time will tell whether our size is the optimal size or whether something bigger is optimal. But we like our dog in the fight.”
The eight continuing members of the Big 12 — Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech — each got about $22 million from revenue. While newcomers TCU and West Virginia got half-shares of about $11 million for their first year in the Big 12, that was more than either got in their old leagues.
With $289 million in revenue for 2012-13, the SEC distributed just less than $21 million per team to its 14 schools. That league has won the last seven national championships in football.