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ARLINGTON – Year after year, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby steps to the microphone first at Big 12 Media Days to talk about the state of the conference, events of the previous year, and exciting aspects of the new season. Normally, the casual fan can gloss over many of the nuts and bolts of the commissioner’s speech, but this year there were several updates provided by the commissioner that normal fans will want to pay attention to.
Though the first question he fielded was about re-alignment, that was not the notable item. Bowlsby announced additional details concerning the conference’s spring partnership with ESPN to “significantly expand” the rights agreement between the two entities. The main detail was the announcement of “Big 12 Now,” the conference’s new digital network that will be made available through the ESPN+ subscription platform.
“I think we believe that the ESPN+ platform embodied in Big 12 Now is the right thing technologically,” Bowlsby said. “The product has evolved to the point where it’s very high quality and very reliable in terms of your ability to get on and get it.”
Bowlsby admitted technological breakthroughs like increased television production values for game broadcasts, declining live-game attendance, and the increased ubiquity of digital media delivery has made it hard to handicap the changing media environment even a few years out from when rights contracts are set to expire. However, he believes this step taken by the conference will improve fans ability to access third tier inventory.
This new agreement doesn’t drastically affect Texas or Oklahoma, who already have agreements in place for third tier media rights with Longhorn Network and Fox Sports, respectively. It does give ESPN the third tier rights for the remaining teams in the Big 12 beginning with Kansas, Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State this year. Iowa State, TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia will be available on the platform next year.
Texas’ road football games are unlikely to drop to third tier media slots, however men’s and women’s basketball along with other sports could find their contests on ESPN+ when traveling away from Austin and for select Big 12 Conference championship events. Original content produced by the conference will also be available through the service.
“Obviously cable is not going to go away,” Bowlsby said. “It’s going to continue to be a huge part of our strategy, but we are on the right side of technology. We have the right partners, and the future on this is very exciting.”
Ever since the NCAA Transfer Portal opened in October 2018, it has been one of the storylines at the forefront of college sports. It’s received multiple labels, most with a negative connotation and a decidedly negative view toward the impact it has on the future of the sport.
Bowlsby acknowledged there were some issues with the system, namely the well-discussed idea that some players might be entering the portal to chase a scholarship elsewhere that doesn’t exist. Bowlsby was not as pessimistic on the impact of the portal as some have been, however he noted tweaks to the system were foreseeable.
One question directed toward Bowlsby asked if players should get one opportunity to transfer without penalty in their college career. “There is no short answer to that,” Bowlsby responded.
He went on to say there are examples of players leaving schools where they were walk-ons to find scholarship opportunities via the portal. He understood those type of transfers, but warned against transfers young student-athletes might make in an emotional moment.
“I think we’re sending a bad message to kids that they can have a bad practice or a bad week of practice and just decide one day they’re going to walk out and put their names in the portal without talking to their coaches,” Bowlsby said. “I don’t think that was ever envisioned and it shouldn’t work that way.”
Following that explanation, Bowlsby did note that transfer numbers have not significantly increased from previous years.
The commissioner explained what he might do if he were a “benevolent dictator,” which is to allow players who sit out a year the chance to regain that year of eligibility back at the end of their career.
“So if you stay there and go through the process, you would be able to not forfeit that year, but sit a year, get acclimated, move through your career and if you want that year back either as a graduate transfer or as a fifth year player, you can stay on scholarship and participate.” Bowlsby said. “I think that’s the model that works. By the way, I would do it in all sports.”
Offensive on defense and comments on the league.
As the commissioner of the conference, it’s Bowlsby’s job to talk up the conference.
He knows his league’s forte is offense, especially if you look at the list of conference champions this century. However, he took the opportunity to strongly endorse the defensive effort of the league’s 10 members.
“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. “Six of seven offenses were held below their season average by Big 12 defenses. Contrary to popular belief, there are kids that tackle in the Big 12.”
The lone outlier was Oklahoma, who was topped by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Orange Bowl.
Bowlsby was asked about his statement with a view toward the College Football Playoff selection committee, but said he believed they understood the Big 12 has defensive prowess. It was others who his message was for. “The way it gets characterized in the media sometimes and by analysts that are doing the games, that is probably where the public mindset comes from,” Bowlsby said.
Four coaches are entering their first seasons at new schools; Texas Tech’s Matt Wells, Kansas’ Les Miles, West Virginia’s Neal Brown, and Kansas State’s Chris Klieman.
Those four schools make up the bottom four of the Big 12’s preseason media poll.
“I don’t envy the task they have,” Bowlsby 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 off days in the Big 12.”