Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby commenced the conference’s football media days Monday morning with a blunt state of the union address that called for fundamental reform in the way college athletics is administered.
At a time when the NCAA is under siege from several directions, particularly in terms of leadership and enforcement, it was perhaps the most direct call for action yet from someone in such a position of influence and might later be seen as a pivotal moment in the transition to meaningful change.
“I really do think we need to reconfigure the leadership of the organization,” he said. “I don’t think we can at this point in time move forward, and we certainly haven’t been able to configure an agenda that made the changes we need to make.”
Advocating a movement toward “federation” under the NCAA umbrella based on size, scope, “equity brought into the system” and even by sport, Bowlsby stopped short of calling for a breakaway from the governing organization but added, “I don’t see secession as a legitimate point of leverage except as a last resort.”
While he was reluctant to put words in the mouths of others, Bowlsby said he believed there was “unanimity” among the commissioners of the five dominant conferences.
“I think we all have a sense that transformative change is going to have to happen,” he said. “This is not a time when trimming around the edges is going to make very much difference.”
Among the points Bowlsby was most focused on:
“I think we’ve permitted or even sometimes encouraged institutional social climbing by virtue of their athletics programs, and I think the fact is we’ve made it too easy to get into Division I and too easy to stay there. There are about 75 schools that win 90 percent of the championships in the NCAA, and we have a whole bunch of others that don’t look much like the people in our league, but yet through rule variation they’re trying to compete with us.
“I think it may even be time to look at federation by sport. It’s probably unrealistic to think that we can manage football and field hockey by the same set of rules. I think some kind of reconfiguration of how we govern is in order.”
“I think CEOs and ADs and commissioners and others have to really thoroughly engage and effectively restructure the enforcement process. Without the power of subpoena or the weight of perjury, we are not getting to the bottom of anything in the way of the enforcement process In large measure, I don’t know that meaningful enforcement can take place under the structure that we currently have.
“So you hear coaches say all the time and administrators say that others are cheating, but when you ask who are they, what are they doing, when did they do it, what are the details of it, more often than not you don’t end up with much.”
“We are very much at a point now where we can’t get anything that’s transformative through the system. I think that’s particularly felt by seven or eight conferences and the five major conferences in particular. It is just very difficult to do anything that would benefit our student athletes or our institutions that doesn’t get voted down by the larger majority.
“It’s just a very difficult process, and we’ve had one institution, one vote. We’ve had a more representative form of governance, and both of them have been incapable, unwilling, or unsuccessful in making the changes that are required.”
As he considered what a fundamental change to the system might bring, Bowlsby said, “We could make it worse. It’s theoretically possible to make it worse. But it’s pretty gridlocked right now.”
And the gridlock can’t get relief without a commitment to starting over.
“It’s bad grammar but a good concept: If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got,” he said. “That’s kind of where we are right now.”