Despite that bent, it was difficult to listen to and read the commissioner's remarks and not compare them to the "State of the (insert your pro league here)" speeches delivered by commissioners of pro sports. Bowlsby, an accomplished speechmaker, highlighted areas of student-athlete betterment, and more concern for the players, in his opening remarkss.
"I think more than anything else we've improved the lives of student-athletes. I think moving to the full cost of attendance to multiyear grants, to degree completion grants, transitional health care, the opportunity for various meals programs, the lot in life of student-athletes has improved dramatically over the past two years, and I think it will continue to improve going forward. It ought to always be our priority," he noted.
Bowlsby also highlighted the fact that many of the changes being implemented by the league and the other Power 5 conferences have been driven at least in part with input from the players themselves. In doing so, the Big 12 and, by extension, the NCAA, have been trying to position themselves as more student-athlete centered, and move away from the faceless, autocratic governing bodies that have made some incomprehensible decisions in the past. "I think our forums that the Big 12 has hosted have been a big part of shaping that dialogue and shaping that agenda. We have done three forums with five separate panels, some of the real thought leaders in the entire intercollegiate athletics environment. We are committed to doing more of them. They are not scheduled at the present time, but I think you can expect that we'll do at least one more during this year and perhaps more than that," Bowlsby expanded.
"We have tried to make them issue specific. We don't want to do them just to be doing them. But when we have things to talk about, we want to get people to disagree in their vantage point and get them in a room and have a thorough vetting of it. I think it's made for some good theater, and it's made for a deeper understanding of the issues."
Without mentioning the disastrous "One True Champion" motto of a year ago, Bowlsby highlighted a pair of videos aimed at promoting the league this year, including a "Champions for Life" spot that will be an ongoing campaign throughout the league year. Bowlsby noted that at least 100 different student-athlete spots will run throughout the year, with the focus not only on the athletes themselves but also on their preparations for life after their respective sports. Bowlsby emphasized that preparing league athletes for life after their sports is paramount, and that coupled with other initiatives, such as a sportsmanship, hopes to provide a better environment for players throughout their careers.
Bowlsby, like every football executive, is also concerned about the effects of concussions, and noted that the recent change to put the determination of a player's suitability to return to competition, whether in-game or afterward, solely in the hands of medical professionals. That, in conjunction with the Big 12 decision to limit contact to just twice a week in-season (with a game counting as one session) is hoped to lessen the chance of concussions and the long-term effects on players.
Bowlsby also commented on a recent SEC initiative to ban acceptance of transfers with a domestic violence conviction ("I think that's something we'll talk about") and of the importance of keeping non-Power 5 conferences strong in football as well (We're not trying to run anybody out of the business"). All of his answers tended along the same line -- one of keeping flexibility in the face of the changing world of college athletics while also preserving the fundamental aspects of the athletes as students first.
"Less than 1 percent of our football players nationally -- of course, it's higher in our league -- but nationally it's 1 percent ever get a chance to be on a [NFL] roster, and if they do, that opportunity lasts about 3.3 years. We are about higher education. We are about helping kids move from 18-year-old adolescence to 22-year-old adulthood and in the process get a great education and have a terrific athletics experience."
While many of the questions at the end of Bowlsby's speech centered on potential conference expansion, television rights and the like, it was clear that he had a message that he wanted to convey -- one that the Big 12 was being more responsive to student-athlete needs, while at the same time preserving the idea that college sports, while changing, are not professional endeavors. In that, he delivered another solid performance, one that was successful in positioning the league as a leader in meeting the changing requirements of college athletics.