April 6, 2022
First, the invitation is not being rescinded. UCF is headed to the Big XII, the only question is when. Most industry people think the Knights, Houston, CIncinnati and BYU will kick off the 2023 football season in their new home. There is still the financial agreement with the AAC to be settled but no matter who is the commissioner of the Big XII, UCF is headed to the league.
Now, with that out of the way, how does Big XII commissioner Bob Bowlsby's decision to step down impact UCF?
Let's start with the question of was this Bowlsby's decision or that of league members? Bowlsby is 70 years old and has been in college athletics for years and perhaps the last two years of the business led to this decision. All of the world dealt with the impact of COVID but Bowlsby then saw his two biggest brands(Texas and Oklahoma) bolt for the SEC, the expected expansion of the college football playoffs got delayed and then he had a rapid round of conference expansion. In addition, Bowlsby sees the challenges of the transfer portal and NIL and how it is and will impact college sports. Maybe he decided the levels of frustration were too much and spending more time with family was a better option.
Perhaps Bowlsby faced internal criticism within the conference and saw a lack of support and a joint decision to step aside into a secondary role was a better choice. There are some reports that the Big XII Board of Directors may have made the choice for a separation.
Critics of Bowlsby say he should have seen and anticipated the concerns of Texas and Oklahoma and done a better job of appeasing them and many wonder how he could work with SEC leader Greg Sankey for two years on expanding the college football playoff and not get a sense that Sankey was basically stealing the league's most valuable properties.
There are those who also think the timing is right for new leadership in the new look league as it welcomes four new members and will have a new media rights deal coming in 2025. A new voice might be right as college sports moves into a new era of player empowerment, new media platforms and different types of fan engagement- like open cash-like handshakes in the world of collectives and directives.
So what does all this mean for UCF?
The Knights and their fellow incoming schools may be the new kids in the classroom but they are not about to just take their seat and fall in line and never raise their hand to ask a question. I mean look at Terry Mohajir. Mohajir walks into that classroom and before he even sits down has his hand up asking a lot of questions.
Bob Bowlsby is not the reason UCF is a member of the Big XII. UCF is the reason they are headed to the Big XII. What has been built and what can be built is what made UCF an attractive choice when the league pivoted and went looking for new schools. The remaining members of the Big XII have their history and rivalries but the incoming schools deliver major TV markets, growing alumni and fan bases and competitive teams in revenue generating sports.
Bowlsby deserves credit for moving quickly when the SEC bombshell dropped. He also had to fight to save the league back in 2012 when Colorado and Utah left for the Pac 12 and the Big XII then added TCU and West Virginia. But maybe new leadership with a new vision is the best thing for a league that needs to be creative in establishing a new image with new members in the ever changing world of college athletics.
UCF prides itself on being different and being young and loud and being bold about its future. That sort of sounds like where the Big XII needs to go. There are solid brands that are remaining in the league. The last two national champions in basketball are from the Big XII. The football has been very good, with an average Texas team.
But a new commissioner will need to see how we view sports in the next 25 years. That means not just a new TV package but in the ever growing digital landscape. You, the consumer, want to be able to click a few buttons on your iPhone and have access to live events, team coverage, ticketing and merchandise and that world is changing quickly. A new leader will need to have a vision of marketing a conference that touches three time zones. But a new commissioner will also need the confidence that the Big XII is as big and competitive as the other TWO P5 leagues they are likely going to be compared to.
The SEC and Big Ten are moving further away from the remaining P5 leagues when it comes to their media payouts and power. But there may be no difference between the ACC, Pac 12 and the new look Big XII. Many in the media will tell you otherwise, but image is built on results. If you win and win at the highest level and compete for national titles in basketball and become a league where multiple members play in whatever the expanded college football playoff will look like- no one will say you are not like anyone else.
The new commissioner of the Big XII should and likely will look at UCF as a key piece of the league's future. It will be the only member in one of the most important states for college sports. Everyone wants to recruit and play in Florida. UCF delivers one of the largest media markets in the country with a fan base that, when the team is winning like everyone else, delivers lots of viewers and customers of those fancy streaming services everyone relies on.
One name to watch for the commissioner's job is Oliver Luck. The former West Virginia AD oversaw the move of the school from the BIg East to the Big XII. Luck worked for the NCAA and many thought would be the person to replace Mark Emmert. Luck was brought in back in August of 2021 to help the Big XII when it came to realignment. He is thought to be widely respected throughout the industry and might be an easy name to get league wide support. But the list of candidates will be sitting ADs, school presidents, assistant commissioners and there will be qualified candidates from outside of college sports that have media backgrounds or even those from the corporate world. This is an era of big time business and getting creative and not making a short term decision but making one that will impact your league for the next 25 years.
Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec- chairman of the Big XII Board of Directors- has said he hopes the league will have a new commissioner in the next 90 days. Whoever lands the job will have much on their plate but it's a list of opportunities. Texas and Oklahoma are leaving, that is known. UCF, Houston, Cincinnati and BYU are coming in and that is known. College sports will look very different, not in 25 years, in the next 3-5 years. UCF's athletic department will be different in the next 3-5 years because of where it's going and whoever becomes the new commissioner of its new league should see the Knights as a valuable asset that will help shape the new image of the Big XII.
Final note: Air Force, Missouri, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, Wyoming and California Baptist are all members of the Big XII....in men's wrestling.