Bob Bowlsby could be the steadying influence the Big 12 needs

It would be no surprise if Bowlsby has ascended to a commissioner's job

Mike Hlas
Published: May 2 2012 | 10:59 pm - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 6:37 pm in
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ESPN.com reported Wednesday night that the Big 12 has offered its position of conference commissioner to Bob Bowlsby, and says Bowlsby is likely to take the job.

UPDATE at 12:20 a.m. Bryan Fischer of CBSSports.com reported he had confirmation from a source that Bowlsby has accepted the Big 12's offer.

This would fulfill a step in a career arc that many predicted for Bowlsby. Not necessarily the Big 12 commissioner's job, but the commish of a major conference. Or, the presidency of the NCAA.

Bowlsby was an athletic director in Iowa for 22 years. He held that job from 1984 to 1991 at Northern Iowa, then served the next 15 years in that position at Iowa. He has been the AD at Stanford since 2006.

The Stanford move was a good one for him in many respects, and he appears to have earned his money. He gambled on Jim Harbaugh as Stanford's football coach when Harbaugh hadn't been a head coach above the non-scholarship (then) Division I-AA level at the University of San Diego. Stanford went 1-11 in 2006, then Bowlsby hired Harbaugh. Four seasons later, the Cardinal went 12-1 and won an Orange Bowl.

When Bowlsby was at Iowa, he was chairman of the NCAA's wrestling committee and spent five years on the NCAA men's basketball committee. He was chairman of that committe for the final two years of that stint, a job that tests your mettle and raises or your national profile if you've handled it with aplomb.

Bowlsby wasn't without his critics at Iowa. Fifteen years at a prominent position at any school will lead to one of those familiarty/contempt deals. He is still criticized for the way he ended the Tom Davis basketball era, though some of those critics forget how many people in the fan base were howling at the time, and how many thought the hiring of Steve Alford from Southwest Missouri State to replace Davis was going to bring nothing but milk and honey to Hawkeye hoops.

Bowlsby was also criticized for years for the way he and Iowa's search committee went about hiring a replacement for retiring head football coach Hayden Fry, but the majority of Iowa fans are happy with how it all worked out in the selection of Kirk Ferentz. The stability and success Ferentz has brought to the program have been essential in having a financially stable athletic department when some others have shown some wobble.

The renovation of Kinnick Stadium that was completed six years ago was piloted by Bowlsby. That was a $90 million move that is now probably taken for granted, but oh, how people would be complaining about the deteriorating old stadium today had the vision and execution not come from the athletic department's leader.

Being an athletic director isn't being a conference commissioner, of course. But the 60-year-old Bowlsby has been around the block. A huge part of being a conference commissioner is navigating through the world of television contracts, and Bowlsby has had a hand in that with the Pac-12.

The Big 12 appears to have somehow survived the tempestuous last couple of years, with the defections of Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M. Texas and Oklahoma stayed put, and TCU and West Virginia helped seal some leaks. It's a 10-school league that has retained its status as one of the major players in college sports.

It sounds like Bowlsby comes highly recommended from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, and Bowlsby is an old friend of Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany.

Bowlsby would be walking into what appears to be a good situation. And the offer shows the Big 12 is making sound judgment these days. Bowlsby would give the league a steadying influence, and that league needs a big dose of steady after its transformation of the last two years.

If you didn't think being the AD at Stanford was a big deal, wait and watch for the names of those who will be rumored to be possible replacements for Bowlsby. They will be current ADs of accomplishment.

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