Bowlsby: College athletics look bleak

By Grant Guggisberg

DALLAS — Those who like college athletics the way they are may soon be disappointed.

That was the message from Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who painted a grim picture of the future of both the NCAA and college sports as a whole in his annual address to kick off the Big 12 Media Days on Monday in Dallas.

Bowlsby started his 45-minute speech saying there’s a lot to like about college athletics, but then spent the following 40 minutes outlining the many issues he perceives, covering everything from cheating and lack of enforcement to class-action lawsuits and the changes those will bring, both positive and negative. He said trying to maintain the status quo is not an option.

“The scholarships are going to change,” Bowlsby said. “The relationships between student-athletes and their universities are going to change. I expect significant change will come in the area of recruiting from the very earliest stages of the recruitment process through campus visits and the declaration and signing of the national letter of intent.

“There is change afoot and some of it is going to be unhappy change, because I think it will ultimately reduce the number of opportunities for young people to go to college and participate in sports.”

While Bowlsby said increasing scholarship dollars is a positive, he believes many teams will struggle to pay those bills despite increased television revenue.

“It’s not hundreds of thousands of dollars a year,” he said. “It’s millions of dollars a year.

“In the end, it’s a zero-sum game. There’s only so much money out there. I don’t think coaches and athletic directors are likely going to take pay cuts.

“So over a period of time, what we’ll find is that instead of keeping a tennis program, they’re going to do the things that it takes to keep the football and men’s and women’s basketball programs strong.”

When asked about unionization of athletes, Bowlsby said student-athletes are not employees.

“They should never be employees,” he said. “It’s not an employee/employer relationship. It’s just — it’s a total square peg in a round hole.”

In terms of reform, Bowlsby said the NCAA membership outside the five remaining power conferences is limiting the schools with more resources from doing more for student-athletes, including the offering of scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance.

“Left to our own devices, the five high-visibility conferences would have done that already,” Bowlsby said. “But we can’t get it through the system.”

Bowlsby also said universities can’t justify spending more on football and basketball players without also recognizing the efforts of non-revenue athletes.

“Football and basketball players don’t work any harder than anybody else,” he said. “They just happen to have the blessing of an adoring public who is willing to pay for the tickets and willing to buy the products on television that come with the high visibility.”

Bowlsby also pointed to a complete lack of NCAA compliance enforcement.

“I think the steering committee had enough on its plate that it didn’t take it on in any sort of substantive way, but enforcement is broken,” he said. “The infractions committee hasn’t had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it’s not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently.

“If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.  So we need to get (NCAA vice president of enforcement) Jon Duncan some help and support.”

Bowlsby pointed to the sophistication of cheating in college football as the biggest challenge for enforcement officials going forward.

“It’s easy to move money around,” he said. “There are lots of people outside of universities that are handling things and they can’t be compelled to testify even if they get caught.

“That’s the biggest challenge that Jon Duncan and the enforcement staff have. They have neither the power of subpoena nor the power of the way to perjury.  And absent those things, you can’t compel anybody to participate in an investigation.

Bowlsby later recanted a bit, saying cheating is not rampant in college sports, especially in the Big 12, but still advocated for change.

“I think the vast majority of people in intercollegiate athletics are of high integrity, they’re doing it for the right reasons. But right now, if you want to cheat, you can do it and you can get away with it.  And there are benefits for doing that.

“That needs to change.”

First female official to debut

The Big 12 conference will use its first female official — Cat Conti — in football for the Southeast Missouri at Kansas game on Sept. 6 in Lawrence.

Bowlsby reiterated that Conti was selected not for gender equity reasons, but because of her abilities as a top-level official.

“She’s not there because she’s female,” he said. “She is there because she’s paid her dues and because she is a really outstanding football official.”


Four-year scholarships discussed

Bowlsby said conversations are ongoing about the possibility of four-year scholarships, instead of the renewal system currently in place, though he warned about the risk of complacency when money is guaranteed over four years.

“There’s certainly a case to be made for multiple-year scholarships,” he said. “But there’s also a case to be made for individual responsibilities, too.”

Bowlsby said he anticipated a national ruling to come down the pike before conferences would set it up on an individual basis.

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