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Bob Bowlsby to step down as Big 12 commissioner

Bowlsby has run the constantly-embattled conference for the past decade, and worked in college athletics for the past four

Bob Bowlsby is stepping down as Big 12 commissioner, the conference announced Tuesday.

“After more than 40 years of serving in leadership roles in intercollegiate athletics, including the last 10 with the Big 12, and given the major issues that college sports in general and the Big 12 specifically will address in the next several years, I have reached a natural transition point in my tenure as Commissioner, as well as in my career,” said Bowlsby.

His departure comes at an interesting time for the conference, with BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF set to enter the league next year and Texas and Oklahoma leaving at some point between now and 2025. The conference also has a new media rights contract coming on the horizon.

Rather than see through the league's transition to 12 members and the new TV deals signed and then ride off to the sunset, Bowlsby said it was better for the conference to have a chief executive in place that will be with the conference for the long haul.

"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," he said.

The 2021 football season went as well for the conference as one could reasonably expect given the circumstances, and the Big 12 has won the last two men's basketball national titles -- and played for the last three. Overall, the conference won 25 team national titles during his tenure. 

The conference's fourth full-time commissioner, Bowlsby joined the league from Stanford in 2012. At that time, the conference was in the process of losing Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC (Colorado and Nebraska had already left) while onboarding TCU and West Virginia. College football as a whole was also in the process of moving from the BCS to the College Football Playoff.

While the Big 12 remains the only Power 5 league yet to win a CFP game, the conference placed a team in the 4-team field four times in seven years under his watch, while also securing a bid to five Final Fours -- including four consecutive. 

Bowlsby is the dean of Power 5 commissioners, having run his conference since 2012. Once he exits, the SEC's Greg Sankey (hired in 2015) will be the longest serving Power 5 commissioner. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC have all changed commissioners since 2020, and the Big 12 will join that group later this year.

Bowlsby was a member of the 4-team task force that analyzed a possible College Football Playoff expansion. Together with Sankey, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, that group proposed a 12-team format with automatic bids for the six highest-ranked conference champions. That effort was ultimately tabled until the 2026 season.

A former wrestler at Minnesota State-Moorhead, he broke into athletics administration as the associate AD for facilities at Northern Iowa. He later parlayed that into AD jobs at Northern Iowa, Iowa, Stanford, and then the Big 12 commissionership. He was also heavily involved in the US Olympic Committee while serving on various NCAA committees.