We are blessed with an incredible source for understanding the inner workings of college sports and what goes on in this ever-changing world. Iowa Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby has served on numerous panels and committees for the NCAA and amatuer sports.
In order to take advantage of this great resource, HawkTalkOnline and Hawkeye Illustrated asked Mr. Bowlsby to meet with us each month to discuss college athletics at Iowa, the Big Ten and on a national basis. Luckily, he agreed to take part in our idea.
We will attempt to post one topical story each month for the site and have another piece for the magazine, starting in Issue No. 2.
We spoke with Mr. Bowlsby earlier this week. We asked him about being on the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament selection committee for the last three years and what it will be like to be its chair for the upcoming season. That story will appear in our Sept. magazine.
The following is a discussion we had with our athletics director about the recent move that Miami and Virginia Tech made by leaving the Big East for the ACC. Mr. Bowlsby makes some interesting comments on how the decision affects the rest of the country, the Big Ten and Iowa:
How closely did you watch the process that saw Miami and Virginia Tech change conferences?
There really wasn't a whole lot of really good surveillance on what was going on. A lot of the discussions were taking place at different levels - presidential, conference commissioners, and even some in the courts. I'm not sure that those groups were talking to each other as regularly as maybe they should have been. I know that a number of the athletics directors said that they really didn't know fully what was going on simply because a lot of the discussions were taking place between presidents, which is the way it should be.
That's the way it was when the Penn State came into the Big Ten. There was a lot of angst among faculty and athletics directors and coaches that they hadn't had what they thought was appropriate input into Penn State's inclusion. Now, we couldn't have added anybody to the Big Ten that fit more hand and glove than Penn State.
There are a lot of interesting political aspects to it. The Virginia-Virginia Tech thing was really interesting. In a lot of ways, Virginia Tech came out of nowhere. They were significantly in fourth place. Then all of a sudden it's Virginia Tech and Miami that get in. Everybody was thinking that BC and Syracuse would go before Virginia Tech. Who knows if they'll add more schools. I don't know that there was anybody thinking that 11 was where they were going to end up landing.
Why was Penn State such a good fit for the Big Ten?
They're a terrific academic institution. They really care about sweating the details of doing it the right way. Geographically they made sense. They expanded our television markets and all of those things. That, in my mind, is what expansion has to do. This isn't the National Football League or the NBA. We're not annexing teams. We're adding institutions. Those institutions need to be compatible geographically. They need to be compatible academically. They need to deliver expanded television markets.
The ACC, by expanding, is trying to get what the Big Ten has. That is critical mass in television negotiations, extra strength in football and basketball, and really doing it with institutions that seem to fit the other criteria as well.
The conversations about having Big Ten teams leaving the Big Ten, it's almost laughable. I don't mean that to sound arrogant. I just think that the Big Ten is an aggregation of institutions that are among the very best public universities, and in Northwestern's case private, in the whole country. Geographically it works. They're very large institutions. We're the smallest public (institution) among them.
To think that Penn State would jump ship and go to the Big East is just mind boggling. They had the opportunity to be on the ground floor of the Big East when it first started.
Do sports fans understand that much more goes into connference expansion than how well schools might fit in terms of athletics?
For the average sports fan, that is what it's about. It's about Miami playing Florida State in a league game. It's about Virginia Tech and Virginia now having a conference rivalry. It changes the dynamic in a number of ways.
But it's all about making sure that you do have compatible institutions. I thought it was interesting that the Big East offered Miami the kind of enticement that they did, $45 million over nine years or something like that. Nothing is going to make worse partners than having one of them getting $5 million more a year than the rest of them are getting. It's laughable in a lot of ways.
Maybe it's our perspective in the Big Ten that causes me to say that. We are very egalitarian in the way that we distribute revenue. We share in-house gate receipts in football and basketball. We share equally in the bowl proceeds. We share equally in television.
To contrast that, there are some leagues where the participating team in a bowl gets half of the money and the league gets the other half. There are some where you get payed per appearance on television, and others where everybody gets the same. We've always shared revenue and it's a big reason why nine of the 11 teams in the league have represented us in the Rose Bowl the last 20 years. That sort of sense of fairness has made all the institutions healthy. It's one of the reasons why we continue to have good in-stadium attendence late into the season. There's a lot to play for. When you're playing in divisions, there's less to play for.
Not to brag on the Big Ten, but I think we do a lot of things right. And I think the ACC looks at us and says, "If we can capture some of the things that the Big Ten has got, we've got a chance to take a step up." I think a lot of the conferences are trying to emulate us and the Big 12 and, to some extent, the PAC-10.
Does this open the door for more conferences to think about luring schools from other conferences?
It probably does open the door for more of it. The only principle you can use on conference expansion and league alignments is that you've got a fundamental responsibility to do what's best for your institution. That doesn't mean that ethics goes out the window. It doesn't mean that fair play goes out the window. And it doesn't mean that honesty goes out the window.
But when it gets right down to it, there are times when we vote Iowa's best interest on a league issue. That's where Miami and Virginia Tech and perhaps some others got to. I don't think you can fault institutions for that, as long as you're forthright and honest. You have that responsibility. I have it as a director. Presidents have it as leaders of the institutions. I don't fault them for looking around.
Is it appropriate for leagues and individual institutions to be bent out of shape about it? Well, sure. Some of the Big East schools have been left out. Maybe you'll see a national private school league that could evolve from this involving some of the Conference USA members. You could see a DePaul, St. Louis and a Xavier and some of those privates (St. John's, Georgetown, etc) that play big time basketball ending up together. Maybe you see Louisville and Cincinnati end up with BC and Syracuse and some of those folks. You might end up with two or three alignments that are better than what you had before.
The Big East was a throw-together league built around basketball and football was an afterthought. And it looked like it.
Some of the Big East schools have been mentioned as possible additions to the Big Ten. Do you see that happening?
You hear about Syracuse. You hear about Pittsburgh. You hear about Rutgers. You hear that about schools on the left side as well. "Why doesn't Nebraska or Iowa State jump to the Big Ten?" Well, there really isn't much to be gained by us by taking any of those schools. They don't bring enough additional value, either in live gate or in television or bowl possibilities to be able to split it 12 ways instead of 11 ways.
That's really what you've got to get to. Penn State did that. They brought another 7 percent of the television market in the country. Our rate card changed dramatically as a result of going from 19 percent to 26 percent of the national television package. That's real money. Of course, they fit in a lot of other ways as well.
There is a faction of fans and media out there that think expansion is inevitable for the Big Ten. Is it?
I don't think it's inevitable. I don't think that 11 is uncomfortable. It gets to be less likely if the waiver passes, which I think it will. (The ACC is seeking a waiver to allow it to have a conference championship football game with 11 teams. NCAA rules currently require a league to have 12 members to have a playoff.)
I don't think that that means we're going to end up with a playoff. We've got some people in the league that are adamantly opposed to a postseason conference playoff. We'll talk about it, but I don't see that happening. And I think some of the people that have them right now are not real crazy about them. So, we'll see.
Why would the Big Ten not want a conference championship game?
If we would have had a playoff last year, either Iowa or Ohio State would have lost and probably fallen out of the BCS mix. That kind of stuff happens all of the time. You have two teams that have great years. They play in a playoff. One of them has to lose. And typically, there's enough anticipation of movement in the Top 8 that the losing team falls out. Even if you're (ranked No.) 1 and 2, one of them falls down quite a ways.
Other than the money, and there is some money there, there isn't any doubt about that, the arguments are thin for having the playoff. There are some leagues that are rethinking it. They don't know how to replace the revenue, but they are not crazy about the playoffs.
Reasonable people can disagree on it, but I don't think it's a clear-cut thing. And if we went to 12 schools, I don't think it's an absolute certainty.