By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The powers in college football are on a collision course with the powers of the NCAA, and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby left no doubt in his State of the Conference address that opened the 2013 Media Day in Dallas that anything short of major changes that accommodate their needs is unacceptable.
Bowlsby, speaking in the shadow of any address by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive at that conference’s Media Day, echoed Slive’s thoughts and went even further, although he stopped short of threatening that the five power conferences — the SEC, Big 12, Pac 12, Big 10 and ACC — were considering secession from the NCAA.
“I think right now our national organization is under fire. There isn’t any question about it. And yet I’m not hearing anyone say we ought to find another organization. I have not heard from a single commissioner or even athletic directors on an individual basis that they believe another organization other than the NCAA is the right approach for us,” he said.
“I don’t see secession as a legitimate point of leverage except as a last resort,” he continued. “I really think that leadership and the rank and file believe that there’s a solution within the NCAA, and it’s been along those lines that we’ve had the conversations.
“Could that change to something that’s a little more harsh down the road? Possibly could, sure,” he added as the most subtle of threats.
Bowlsby, however, believes that the power group cannot operate as it should under the current configuration of the NCAA. Because so many schools exist in the NCAA whose interests are different from those of the power conferences, the issues they need to get passed and the transformations they believe they need in the operation of college athletics are stifled.
“Why are we where we are? It’s hard to say. I guess it’s the cumulative effect of a long period of time, but I think what we’ve done essentially is we have tried to accomplish competitive equity through rules and legislative changes, and it’s probably not possible to do that,” Bowlsby said.
“I think we’ve permitted or even sometimes encouraged institutional social climbing by virtue of their athletics programs, and I think the fact is we’ve made it too easy to get into Division I and too easy to stay there.”
If one thinks over the years of the schools that have moved up into Division I, all of them with different interests from Texas or Ohio State or West Virginia but with the same vote, you understand the problem that has grown to major proportions.
“I think it’s virtually impossible right now to configure legislative proposals that have any chance of getting through the system intact that would accomplish anything in the way of meaningful change. I think all of us are feeling that,” Bowlsby said.
“The five major conference commissioners met about six weeks ago to talk about these issues. I think we’re probably making some progress, but I don’t know that we can keep doing what we’re doing. It’s bad grammar but a good concept: If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got. That’s kind of where we are right now.”
That well could become the mantra for reform:
“If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got.”
Bowlsby continued, bringing NCAA commissioner Mark Emmert into the discussion, and not in a kind way.
“I think we need to do some things to change it, and I don’t say this to be critical of President Emmert or leadership. I think, relative to the academic things, Myles Brand got a lot of those academic initiatives started, and they certainly continued under Mark Emmert’s watch. But I really do think we need to reconfigure the leadership of the organization,” Bowlsby said.
“I don’t think we can at this point in time move forward, and we certainly haven’t been able to configure an agenda that made the changes we need to make. I think we need to re-engage practitioners, ADs, commissioners, people that work in athletics every day. I think it’s unrealistic to think that people that spend hours a month on athletics can come up with the right agenda and have the time to move it through the system.”
Bowlsby believes the field has to be narrowed, even to the point of possibly reconfiguring the NCAA to add a fourth division — an elite division.
“I really think the time has come to think about federation by size and scope and equity brought to the system. There are about 75 schools that win 90 percent of the championships in the NCAA, and we have a whole bunch of others that don’t look much like the people in our league, but yet through rule variation they’re trying to compete with us,” Bowlsby said.
“I think it may even be time to look at federation by sport. It’s probably unrealistic to think that we can manage football and field hockey by the same set of rules. I think some kind of reconfiguration of how we govern is in order.
“I think we need to think a little bit about re-evaluating our core purpose. NCAA has gotten to be an organization that has very broad-ranging responsibilities and oversight. I’m not sure we’re doing as good a job with some of the core competencies as we need to. And perhaps a narrower focus would help.”
These are serious issues for Bowlsby.
“One of the reasons why I took the commissioner’s job was because I’d like to have more to say about that national agenda and would like to see the best parts of the business enhanced and the other parts of what we do improved rather dramatically,” Bowlsby said.
“Anyway, I think we’ve got lots to do. The commissioners are intent upon doing it. We’ve spent a lot of time talking with NCAA leadership about these issues, and I think we will make progress. But I don’t think we can continue to do what we’ve done and expect that we’re going to get a different result.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.