DALLAS — If you like college athletics now, said Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby, you might not like what’s coming down the pike.
In his annual state-of-the-conference address Monday at Big 12 media days, Bowlsby painted a bleak picture of the college landscape, a world where “cheating pays,” “enforcement is broken” and attention has shifted from stadiums to courtrooms.
“There is change afoot,” Bowlsby said, “and some of it is going to be unhappy change.”
The changes, he said, come as the NCAA faces numerous class-action lawsuits, including the landmark O’Bannon v. NCAA case currently awaiting U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken’s ruling in Oakland, Calif., that will alter the nature of athletic scholarships.
Bowlsby, a former athletic director at Northern Iowa and Iowa, predicted men’s non-revenue sports could be on the chopping block as athletic departments scramble to compensate players or, at the very least, award full-cost-of-attendance scholarships.
As a league, Bowlsby said, the Big 12 must try to “retain the best elements of what we currently have and recognize that maintenance of the status quo is not in the cards.”
Bowlsby defended the current collegiate model, which has come under much scrutiny. Football and basketball players don’t work any harder than swimmers and wrestlers, he said; they just have a much larger audience.
“Student-athletes are not employees,” Bowlsby said. “They should never be employees. It’s not an employee-employer relationship. It’s a total square peg in a round hole.”
The commissioner stood in support of full-cost-of-attendance scholarships, which he said would have passed long ago if the five power conferences had autonomy to vote on new legislation.
“Left to our own devices, the five high-visibility conferences would have done that already,” Bowlsby said. “But we can’t get it through the system. Now we’re 65 votes out of 350, and we have been patently unsuccessful in moving forward.”
Bowlsby admitted regret that the NCAA had fallen behind the curve in student-athlete relations. He recalled a proposal voted down in 1987 that would have allowed scholarships to cover room, board, tuition and fees plus an extra $2,000.
Bowlsby also slammed the NCAA’s enforcement wing for allowing infractions to go unchecked.
“Enforcement is broken,” Bowlsby said. “The infractions committee hasn’t had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it’s not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently. If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.”
Bowlsby later clarified that he doesn’t believe cheating is necessarily rampant, but restated: “Those that conspire to do things that are intended to get around the rules have less resistance to it now that they have gotten very sophisticated.
“It’s easy to move money around. There are lots of people outside of universities that are handling things and they can’t be compelled to testify even if they get caught.”
Later, when asked whether he would support outsourcing enforcement, Bowlsby replied, “I can’t believe I’m saying this,” but he would be “open-minded” about such a proposal.
Female official will make history
Bowlsby announced that Catherine “Cat” Conti will officiate a game Sept. 6 between Kansas and Southeast Missouri State, making her the first woman to officiate a game involving a Big 12 team.
“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.
“… I don’t know that [Big 12 coordinator of officials] Walt [Anderson] made the selection for gender-equity purposes; I think he made the selection because she is just a darned good official.”
Kansas coach Charlie Weis said he will change only one thing with a female on the sideline.
“I’ll try to watch my language,” he said with a grin. “I believe in the old-fashioned way.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.