Bob Bowlsby has always been a wrestler at heart, a tough nut who would mash your face into the mat to get a point. He loved the sport, rising to the level of captain for his team at Minnesota State-Morehead and winning the conference title at 167 pounds as a senior in 1975.
But even wrestlers wear down.
Amid the announcement that the 70-year-old Bowlsby would be stepping down as Big 12 commissioner after a decade, that was the conclusion drawn by some of his closest associates. Recent events had simply taken their toll.
“He’s getting like a lot of us,” said one colleague. “He’s frustrated.”
Everyone at the administrator level is dealing with the uncertain future of college athletics — a world which now includes name, image and likeness; the transfer portal and player empowerment, all while the authority of the NCAA is slowly but surely diminishing. This is not the version of college athletics Bowlsby — or any of his peers — signed up to lead.
Bowlsby, however, has been dealing with the added burden of having the rug pulled out from underneath him and his conference as perennial powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas abruptly announced they were moving on to the SEC in July 2021.
The news of the Sooners and Longhorns bolting the league came just one week after telling the media his conference was never more united. Bowlsby will head into retirement still contending the SEC and ESPN conspired to wreck the Big 12, and he claims he has the receipts but will not reveal them.
The pressure didn’t end there as it turns out the work he put in to expand the College Football Playoff was a waste of time as well. The migrations of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC created divisions and suspicions among the leadership that exist to this day. There may be…