ARLINGTON, Texas — Bob Bowlsby was quick with a quip Monday.
After concluding his opening statement to kick off Big 12 Media Days, a Q&A began with the conference’s commissioner. The first: What is the status of realignment, and is the Big 12 looking to add new members?
“That would be the seventh year in a row we have been asked that question first, so congratulations. You are setting records,” Bowlsby said. “We have had no expansion discussion at any level. We like the 10 we have. We think the full round robin is the right way to conduct competition (in football), and in the case of basketball, full double round robin. We are distributing record revenues, and we have heretofore unanticipated media opportunities. I don’t expect (expansion) to be an active topic on anybody’s agenda within the conference anytime in the foreseeable future.”
The same couldn’t be said for the College Football Playoff.
Now entering its sixth season, the topic that the field will expand before the original four constantly is discussed. It just wasn’t one Bowlsby wanted to discuss Monday. With CFP executive director Bill Hancock attendance, Bowlsby joked Hancock was “anxiously awaiting his answer.” But he declined to shed much light on any alterations to the current format.
“I’m not going to get into any of the specifics of what we’re talking about,” Bowlsby said. “We have had some conversations. We’re going to have some more. We will take a look back and we will take a look forward, and eventually we will have some recommendations. In the interim, we’re just not going to spend anytime talking about what our discussions are about.”
As it stands, Bowlsby believes the playoff has “been a success well beyond any comparison” to its three predecessors: the Bowl Coalition, the Bowl Alliance and the Bowl Championship Series.
At the outset of its inception, Bowlsby said the one of the key objectives was to ensure bowls still were an important part along with bolstering the regular season.
“We wanted to try and strengthen September as much as possible, getting critical match-ups early in the year so that you could play big games without being completely eliminated from playoff consideration, and we wanted to make sure we did everything we could to make October and November even better as a regular season than what it had been before.
“As we think about the evaluation of the CFP and considerations on a look-in basis as to what the future looks like, we have to remember that the aspirations that we had at the outset have been more than achieved.”
Bowlsby defends league’s defenses
Big 12 teams have hung their hats on exemplary offense for many years. That’s conversely meant detractors criticize the league’s defenses. But Bowlsby made sure to call attention to a certain factoid he’d recently learn.
“I would like you all to make note of — I want to see pencils moving and fingers tapping on this: Last year of our seven bowl games, six of the seven (opponents) were held below their season averages offensively by Big 12 defenses,” Bowlsby said. “Contrary to popular belief, there are kids who tackle in the Big 12. Thank you for noting that.”
Bowlsby said he believes the playoff selection committed is “very mindful” that Big 12 teams play better defense than their critics maintain.
“I don’t worry much about the selection committee,” he said. “They’re meticulous in the way they go about their work. The way it gets characterized in the media sometimes and by analysts that are doing the games, that is probably more where the public mindset comes from. Then the other thing is we score a lot of points. We have some very high-powered offenses, and I think that equates to, ‘Well, they don’t play any defense,’ and that’s why I was pointed in making the comment that I made. We do play defense. We pay attention to it, but we have some very talented offenses that contribute to that.”
Nearly half of the Big 12 enters the fall with a first-year coach. Four schools (Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech and West Virginia) have new coaches on the sideline for the 2019 campaign.
Despite their new surroundings, Bowlsby pointed out no member of the quartet is a neophyte.
“These four new coaches are all excellent veteran, seasoned coaches,” he said, “but not surprisingly their teams are picked seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th in our league this year.”
Bowlsby then gave his thoughts on all four.
“Les Miles and Chris Klieman have both won national championships,” he said of the first-year head men at Kansas and K-State. “Both are extraordinarily talented veteran head coaches. Matt Wells at Texas Tech has honed his craft and has great teams at Utah State and is a great asset to Texas Tech. (West Virginia’s) Neal Brown is one of the coaches I’ve been keeping an eye on. He is an outstanding young coach.”
While he doesn’t doubt their talent, Bowlsby cautioned against expecting immediate success for any of them.
“I don’t envy the task they have,” he said. “They all have to come in and build programs. They all have lots of work to do and they all have the vision right in front of their consciousness that there aren’t a lot of days off in the Big 12. Every week during the season is going to be a brutal contest.
“It’s a zero-sum game. Somebody is going to win, somebody is going to lose. They are all people that have had great success and I wish them all well and welcome them here, but the task they have is not easy. The top of our league is really good.”
Financially speaking ...
The Big 12 distributed $38.8 million to its 10 schools during the 2018-19 academic year, a 6% increase from last year.
“When you include the member participation subsidy, which I think most of you are aware varies from institution to institution — they vary from $1.1 million this last year to almost $4 million — the distributions for some of our schools are clearly over $40 million, and that’s plus their third-tier activity,” Bowlsby said. “That range is from about a million dollars a school to something between $15 to $20 million at the University of Texas.”
Of the money the conference brought in last year, Bowlsby said it broke down 93/7: 93% went to the schools while 7% was “conference overhead” to help run championship events and other activities.
“A big chunk of that was legal fees, but we are an efficient organization,” he said. “I think 93% is the highest percentage of distribution in all of college athletics so we feel good about that. Our distribution has gone up 55% in the last five years. So we continue on the right kind of trend.”
Bowlsby touched upon a few housekeeping issues during his opening statement, including:
- At last year’s media days event, Bowlsby announced that AT&T Stadium would serve as the host site in 2019 and 2020. Monday, he revealed the dates for next year’s event: July 20 and 21.
- Four Big 12 teams won national titles in their respective sports: Baylor (women’s basketball), Oklahoma (women’s gymnastics), Texas (men’s tennis) and Texas Tech (men’s outdoor track & field). Four other teams lost in the national championship game, most notably Texas Tech men’s basketball, which fell to Virginia.
- Though he noted the conference won “hundreds of individual coaching and student-athlete awards” during the past year, he singled out Oklahoma boasting a Heisman Trophy quarterback for the second time in as many seasons, as Kyler Murray followed Baker Mayfield.