Big 12 commissioner opens media days

Bob Bowlsby discusses changing athletics and the landscape of the Big 12

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby stood at the podium on the first day of the Big 12 Media Days in Dallas and surprised the room with a rather poignant statement. “If you like what you see in intercollegiate athletics right now, you’re going to be disappointed when the change comes,” Bowlsby said.

Oklahoma won’t be on display until Tuesday, but Bowlsby honest comment really holds true. With many looming court cases, including seven in which Big 12 schools are defendants, the environment around college athletics is one of fear. Something will change soon, and from Bowlsby point of view, it’s not for the better.

“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,” said Bowlsby, who foresees a change in the way recruiting is done and national letters of intent are signed. “And I think that's an unfortunate byproduct of the lawsuits that are out there right now.”

Bowlsby went on to say that with potential economic restrictions that could arise from the O’Bannon case, in which high-profile athletes are seeking higher re-imbursement, or unionization lawsuits could cause the demise of men’s Olympic sports. He seemed settled to the idea that O’Bannon would win the case, thus drastically changing the landscape of college athletics at its highest level.

“Student athletes are not employees,” Bowlsby said. “They should never be employees. It's not an employee/employer relationship. It's just – it's a total square peg in a round hole.”

He even said that “cheating pays” in college athletics right now, although later backing off those comments. When asked about his choice of words, Bowlsby took a step back off, saying that cheating isn’t “rampant” nor is it present in the Big 12 Conference. He said that if someone were to try and cheat, it is very difficult to catch.

Bowlsby continued to support the conference’s new slogan of “One True Champion,” although a “true” champion won’t always be decided. Every team will continue to play all members of the conference, which Bowlsby said will look favorably on the Big 12’s conference in the playoff selection committee’s mind, but there is still the possibility of co-champions. Bowlsby favorably responded to the suggestion that the league might look to have a de facto championship game with the top two ranked teams facing off at the end of the year.

He just prefers the current system.

“I like our path to the championship,” Bowlsby said. “Our champion has been decided on the last day of the season for about five years. … So I think that the answer is some years it's a good thing; some years it's not a good thing.”

Of note… The Big 12 unveiled a trio of PSAs designed to re-enforce the league’s slogan of “One True Champion.” In one of the segments, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury morphed in Kansas coach Charlie Weis. It was definitely strange to watch. … The league will hold a live-streaming forum on August 6, during which Bowlsby and other officials will discuss the issues facing college athletics. … The first female official in Big 12 history will call a game this season. Cat Conti will work the Southeast Missouri at Kansas game on Sept. 6. “And she is not there because she is a female,” Bowlsby said. “She is there because she's paid her dues and because she is a really outstanding football official.” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said he’d watch his language. … With the recent decision by USC to offer four-year scholarships, Bowlsby said that it is a “mutual commitment.” He added that the scholarship landscape will change, but it will come as a nationwide initiative not on a conference-by-conference basis.

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