Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby will step down from his leadership post at a later date in 2022 after a decade leading the conference, the league announced on Tuesday. Bowlsby's decision comes after what has been a tumultuous year for the conference. Last summer, Texas and Oklahoma suddenly announced that they would leave the conference they co-created in 1996 for the SEC. The league followed up by opting to bring in BYU, Houston, UCF and Cincinnati as new members no later than the 2024 season.
"I truly believe the Big 12 and our member institutions are in a strong position now and as we look into the future," said Bowlsby in a statement. "As such, this is an appropriate time for me to step away from the Commissioner's role so that the next leader of the Conference can take the reins on these significant matters that will come to the forefront before the end of the term of my employment agreement in 2025 to set the stage for the Big 12's future ongoing success."
The timing of Bowlsby's decision sticks out as the Big 12 has some critical new decisions to make. The conference must negotiate a new grant of rights and television contract in 2025. Additionally, the new commissioner must ease the transition between Texas and Oklahoma leaving the league and four teams entering the conference. Other key issues remain unsolved, like long-term solutions for NIL legislation and College Football Playoff expansion.
Bowlsby served on a College Football Playoff working group with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The group proposed a 12-team playoff model in June 2021 that the group expected would be rubber stamped by the 10 FBS conference commissioners in time for the 2024 season. Instead, the CFP released a statement earlier this year confirming that no expansion will happen before 2026 -- one year after the Big 12's television contract expires.
"I think any image of smooth water ahead is simply a mirage," Bowlsby told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd in March. "We're not going to be in a less litigious environment in 8-24 months. We're not going to be out from under student-athlete activism or judicial oversight ... we're not going to be under less scrutiny from elected officials."
Bowlsby took over the Big 12 in 2012 in the wake of major realignment as TCU and West Virginia joined the league. During his tenure, the Big 12 won 25 national championships, including back-to-back men's basketball championships between Baylor in 2021 and Kansas on Monday.
Oklahoma remains the only Big 12 team to make the College Football Playoff, however, and new addition Cincinnati made the playoff field as a member of the AAC in 2021. The Big 12's controversial handling of the 2014 Big 12 championship between Baylor and TCU was criticized as a reason that both teams were ultimately left out of the inaugural field for Ohio State, leading to the league bringing back the Big 12 Championship Game. The Big 12 has not won a college football national championship since 2005.
Prior to taking over the Big 12 office, Bowlsby worked as athletic director at Stanford and Northern Iowa.
Bowlsby will remain as Big 12 commissioner until it finds a new leader. The Big 12 will use a search firm to find Bowlsby's replacement heading forward. After a new hire is made, Bowlsby will stay on in a new interim role, pending agreement of Bowlsby and the new commissioner. Bowlsby becomes the fourth major conference commissioner to leave their role in the past few years. When Bowlsby departs, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey will be the lone commissioner remaining who was with their league prior to 2020.