If you like collegiate sports in their present state, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby says, you may be disappointed with the changes that are coming.
During his annual state-of-the-conference address, Bowlsby kicked off Big 12 Media Days by discussing the coming “transformational change” in college athletics. The change, Bowlsby cautioned, could include the increasing disappearance of men’s nonrevenue sports as schools search for ways to increase compensation and award “full cost of attendance” scholarships to its student athletes.
The changes, Bowlsby says, come as the NCAA faces a rash of class-action lawsuit, including the high-profile O’Bannon v. NCAA court case. And the nature of NCAA scholarships are poised to change.
“It’s going to be very difficult for many institutions to fund that,” Bowlsby said. “It’s not hundreds of thousand dollars a year, it’s millions of dollars a year.”
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That kind of frank concession represented another year of blunt views from Bowlsby, who hit on many of the same key points addressed by Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive last week.
Bowlsby advocated for more autonomy for the Big 5 conferences and a climate that would allow those leagues to pass legislation and change rules as they see fit. He also shredded the NCAA’s enforcement arm, which has grown increasingly weakened and unable to investigate potential cases of malfeasance at individual schools.
“It’s not an understatement to say that cheating pays,” Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby, though, also defended the collegiate model, which has come under constant fire. The model, Bowlsby said, will need to be improved and updated, but he cited the need to maintain its familiar structure and core tenants.
“The collegiate model is unique in the world of sports, not just in this country but all around the world,” Bowlsby said. “There’s probably a reason why athletes from around the world come to the United States to improve.”
One example: Bowlsby hit back against the idea of unionization of athletes in sports like football and men’s basketball.
“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. But the scholarship is going to change. And I think that’s great. There are ways that it costs more than room, board, books, tuition and fees to go to school.
While Bowlsby sees a future with schools sponsoring fewer sports — and many men’s nonrevenue sports disappearing — he also sees a model that is fair and equitable in how it disperses a new compensation model. For the second straight year, Bowlsby offered this point on the difference between football and men’s basketball and sports such as wrestling and soccer.
The football players, Bowlsby said, don’t work any harder. They just have the “blessing of an adoring public.”
“Title IX doesn’t go away,” Bowlsby said. “We have both a legal obligation and a moral obligation to do for female student-athletes and male Olympic sports athletes just exactly what we do for football and basketball student-athletes. I don’t think it’s even debatable.”
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