STANFORD, Calif. - A teary-eyed Bob Bowlsby walked out of a Stanford auditorium to a roaring ovation from university coaches and staff members Thursday, leaving behind a lasting legacy at one of the nation's top athletic programs for a conference in need of a strong leader.
The Big 12 Conference made it official in the afternoon, announcing Bowlsby as its commissioner. He will take over for interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas - who replaced the ousted Dan Beebe in September - on June 15 after six years as Stanford's athletic director.
"The institutions of the Big 12 wanted a commissioner that could take us to the next era as a conference,'' said Burns Hargis, president of Oklahoma State and chairman of the conference's board of directors. "The search committee looked for a candidate that has a vision for the next generation of college athletics, and his credentials and ideas exceeded this.''
Bowlsby will lead a BCS conference that seems to have found some stability.
After losing four schools over the past two years, the league heads into this fall with 10 members, including new additions TCU and West Virginia. The conference also is working on a new television deal that could reshape revenue similar to the Pac-12's lucrative contract.
The 60-year-old Bowlsby had passed up several chances to leave Stanford over the years. He's a nationally respected college administrator who was hired away from Iowa in 2006 after 15 years spent running the Hawkeyes' athletic department.
"I have been honored to have served Stanford University. It has been a productive and an enjoyable period of time and Stanford will always be a part of me,'' Bowlsby said in a statement. "The university has a rich history of successfully merging world-class academics and world-class athletics and I am very proud to have had the opportunity to participate in the extraordinary achievements of our student-athletes and coaches.''
Success on The Farm blossomed during Bowlsby's tenure.
Of all the decisions he made at Stanford, though, fans will forever remember his hiring of coach Jim Harbaugh in 2006 most. Harbaugh built the football program into a national power, winning the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech in 2011 and finishing fourth in the final AP poll.
It was the program's best ranking since the unbeaten 1940 team finished second.
Bowlsby also hired offensive coordinator David Shaw last year to replace Harbaugh, who departed to the San Francisco 49ers. Shaw kept the Cardinal on track, going 11-2, including an overtime loss in the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma State. Andrew Luck was the Heisman Trophy runner-up both seasons.