So far, the words of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby have hung heaviest during the ritual of college football media days.
We have yet to hear from Jim Delany of the Big Ten, but reports are in from John Swofford of the ACC, Mike Slive of the SEC, and Larry Scott of the Pac-12 along with Bowlsby.
This Bowlsby fellow didn’t pull any punches. He’s worried about the future of college athletics. He believes the path we are headed down is different than the one we grew up with, a world that featured bobby sock-wearing cheerleaders, cheap bleacher seats, and amateur players giving their heart and soul for the good ol' school.
Bowlsby’s crediblity is beyond reproach. He has one of the best resumes in all of college athletics. A former athletic director at Stanford and Iowa, he has chaired important NCAA committees, including the selection committee for the NCAA basketball tournament. He’s served on the NCAA executive board, U.S. Olympic Committee and the Commission on Opportunities in Athletics. He was named Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal National Athletic Director of the Year.
If someone knows how to sharpen a pencil, it is Bowlsby.
In review, the SEC’s Slive basically said the Power 5 conferences are better than anybody else and deserve special powers to control their own programs — or they’ll take their act and create something else.
At the ACC's media meetings, Commish Swofford predicted the NCAA would vote in August to give the Power 5 conferences the “autonomy” Slive spoke of. He said this will keep those schools “under what we call the big tent of the NCAA.”
Scott, who had the benefit of a week to mull over Bowlsby's headline-making comments, chose to take a public relations path that all is well in college sports. Sure there are a few issues, he reasoned, but they'll be dealt with as we mosey along.
But Bowlsby pushed the shovel deep. Much deeper. He was frank as an oncologist discussing cancer. He told those who love college football: “You are going to hate it going forward."
He said the NCAA enforcement system is broken and those that decide cases of infractions haven't met for hearings in more than a year. He said cheating pays off because people have found ways to skirt around the rules and get away with it.
“There is a change afoot and some of it is going to be unhappy change," Bowlsby said. "And I think that’s an unfortunate byproduct of the lawsuits that are out there right now.”
Bowlsby said schools may have to cut programs, do away with some Olympic sports, and those who can’t increase spending per athlete might just fade away.
Bowlsby pointed out that unpopular changes will be forced by lawsuits like the Ed O’Bannon case (aimed at giving players compensation for the commercial use of their images) and possible unionization at Northwestern — among other things.
This longtime respected athletics administrator sounded weary and almost afraid of what is coming. He said he expects to be in court the rest of his career. He said he’s been in meetings where the entire time nobody talked about sports.
Bowlsby said those who conspire to cheat and break NCAA rules have “less resistance” because it’s easy to move money around.
Folks, these are strong words coming from a college sports leader. Bowlsby doesn’t appear to be an alarmist, a publicity hound or a guy with any agenda other than concern for his league.
The NCAA has never been under this much fire from inside and out.
The NCAA leadership and executive committees are spending gobs of time in court, and evidenced by the O’Bannon case testimony, are not coming off too well.
Keeping the ideal of amateurism alive and well in college is a full-time effort by an army of idealists trying to make archaic rules that should have been reformed four decades ago work in today’s corporate sports world.
Billions of dollars are trading hands and university presidents are as guilty as any at running to the barrel for their share. Athletes are restless, anxious to play but eager to be treated fairly.
I like the fact Bowlsby didn’t make it a regular day at the podium.
He threw a grenade into the preseason media day picnic tradition.
And the gingham cloth on the ground is attracting more media ants because of it.
Thanks, Mr. Bowlsby.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.