Bully Pulpit

As each conference commissioner takes the stage for a "State of the League" address during football media days, there's no doubt that each brings with him a carefully crafted message.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was, and is, no different. A year ago he discussed the need for massive changes in the NCAA governance structure, and pushed a message that was echoed by the heads of other leagues such as the ACC and SEC. And lo and behold, we're now on the verge of some major changes, especially as they pertains to the Power Five (ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC and Pac-12) Conferences.

With that bit of history in mind, its instructive to look at the topics addressed by Bowlsby as a way of predicting what's on the horizon for those leagues and college sports as a whole.

First, it's very unlikely that the Power Five will split from the NCAA as a whole. That was never the intent, despite some threats made in that direction. It would simply be too much for those 65 schools to set up championships in all other sports, not to mention administer them on an ongoing basis. Instead, Bowlsby indicated that the recent changes to give the Power Five more autonomy are moving in the right direction.

"I think we clearly made progress," Bowlsby said of the 65 schools. "I think the voting majorities are much better, much more appropriate. I think the structure and board representation, council representation, I think it's all better than it was before. And I think we have the rudiments of a resolution of the matter within the NCAA. And I think that will be a very good outcome."

However, Bowlsby's message quickly turned gloomy,noting that he foresees a day when some Olympic sports might be cut in the face of rising costs for full scholarship value, salaries and the arms race in facilities, just to name a few. Does he really believe that, or was it more of a position statement meant to draw attention to the fact that money, despite increased TV revenues, is not unlimited?

The Big 12 commissioner is not bombastic, and isn't known for making wild or outlandish statements. He is quite reasoned and considered in what he says and presents to the media, and it's all carefully calculated to draw attention to the issues he wants to address. It's clear this is a major issue, and just as certainly Bowlsby doesn't want to preside over the deconstruction of Olympic sports programs at his member schools.

"I think it's really unknown at this point what the outcomes will be," he noted. "But generally speaking I think those are things you should watch for. I really do believe that it will be very difficult to run the kind of breadth of program that hundreds of thousands of student-athletes currently enjoy if we begin diverting significant amounts of money to other purposes."

Bowlsby also mentioned enforcement and the waiver/transfer process, both of which will have even more direct effects on the member schools. These areas, too, will involve massive changes, which Bowlsby warns will change the way the Power 5 conferences address the entire recruiting and player movement issue. This will likely have even more effect than the cost of attendance and autonomy changes, and will be the subject of much additional work once the initial changes are hammered out.

It will be interesting to see how the different commissioners support and echo (or vary from) the messages given to date, and how that all plays out as the Power Five move toward self-governance in some areas. So far, progress has been good, but there's much more ground to cover.

"Change is coming," Bowlsby summed up. "If you like what you see in intercollegiate athletics right now, you're going to be disappointed when the change comes, because it's coming. The scholarships are going to change. The relationship between student-athletes and their universities are going to change. I expect significant change will come in the area of recruiting from the very earliest stages of the recruitment process through campus visits and the declaration and signing of the national letter of intent.

"I think that we are going to have to do the best job we can to, as I said earlier, retain the best elements of what we currently have and recognize that maintenance of the status quo is not in the cards."

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