Bob Bowlsby is a smart man. A very smart man.
There’s a reason he’s in charge of the Big 12 conference and a reason the conference is in solid shape compared to others across the country.
Bowlsby’s a realist and on Monday at Big 12 media days, he dished out a big slice of reality on the status of the NCAA.
Words like “challenges,” “eliminated,” “broken,” “change,” and “difficulty” permeated Bowlsby’s state of the conference talk to kick start the two-day event which signals a social acceptance of talking about college football on a regular basis.
That excitement was quickly dampened by Bowlsby’s comments, which were much more of the doom and gloom variety than happy optimism.
The only positive notes in the commissioner’s talk came in reference to the Big 12 as a whole, which is going to experience “unprecedented exposure for (its) football teams,” in 2014. The conference is in good standing, even with its shortage of teams that could challenge for the national championship this season.
Still, it was impossible to overlook or understate the importance of the realities facing the NCAA. Some comments were old news, such as whether or not NCAA athletes are employees.
“Student-athletes are not employees,” Bowlsby said. “They should never be employees. It's not an employee/employer relationship. It's a total square peg in a round hole.”
Other things were new, such as the NCAA’s financial standing, which Bowlsby said was heading “down a path of significant financial difficulty.”
“The revenues from NCAA television packages mostly is going up about two and a half percent a year and expenses are going up about four and a half percent a year,” Bowlsby said.
You don’t need a lesson in economics to figure out that’s not a good thing.
A year ago, Bowlsby made headlines for flexing the muscles of the Power 5 football conferences, threatening a separate division in which the biggest conferences did things their own way. This year, with things progressing toward a level of autonomy for those five conferences, Bowlsby’s comments about those proceedings barely made a ripple compared to his frank assessment of the NCAA as a whole.
Lawsuits continue to shape the landscape of the NCAA, most notably the O’Bannon lawsuit that will determine if NCAA athletes get a chunk of change from TV contracts and other things where their likeness is used to earn money for an institution.
However, Bowlsby said the Big 12 and other conferences are involved in seven class action lawsuits, a number that “is growing all the time.” The result of these lawsuits, particularly the O’Bannon case, is going to lead to the cutting of sports.
“I think you’ll see men’s Olympic sports go away as a result of the new funding challenges that are coming down the pike,” Bowlsby said. “I think there may be tension among and between sports on campus and institutions that have different resources.”
Why men’s sports? Well, there’s only so much money to be had in collegiate athletics, despite the soaring figures on TV contracts and other revenue. And—as Bowlsby reminded the crowd on Monday—Title IX is not going away.
“We have both a legal obligation and a moral obligation to do for female student-athletes and male Olympic sport student-athletes just exactly what we do for football and basketball student-athletes,” Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby said there’s a lot more right in college athletics than there are problems. It’s just unfortunate the wrongs are so big and much more influential on the future of the NCAA than the rights. These wrongs are also going to force change to happen and Bowlsby said if you enjoy the way things are now, you’re going to be very disappointed in the change that’s coming.
“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,” Bowlsby said. “And I think that's an unfortunate byproduct of the lawsuits that are out there right now.”
That’s now two years in a row Bowlsby has ripped the NCAA. Unlike last year, Monday’s message was one of doom and gloom and less about flexing muscles, but the effect was the same: college athletics needs a makeover and if it doesn’t get one, it’s going to crumble.