AP FILE PHOTO In this May 4, 2012, photo, new Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby gets ready for news conference introducing him to the media in Irving, Texas. Bowlsby was invited to be part of a panel recently to discuss potential future changes in college athletics, and once he got started, he simply didn’t stop.
MIAMI — Bob Bowlsby took a seat inside a Miami hotel ballroom a few days ago, appearing as part of a panel tasked with forecasting how college sports may change over the next decade.
No one had any definite answers, of course.
But if Bowlsby got his way, the model would change — considerably.
Recruiting, admissions, enforcement, practice times, length of seasons — it’s all apparently on Bowlsby’s radar, and in this time where talk of changes and overhauls continues to sweep the NCAA landscape, the Big 12 commissioner offered a simple warning to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
“We have a lot of work to do, folks,” Bowlsby said.
The Knight Commission was formed a quarter-century ago in response to a number of scandals that were rocking college sports at the time, with hopes that the emphasis would return to academic values at schools. The NCAA has a history of listening to the watchdog group and taking its words seriously, as evidenced by how it has implemented a number of its recommendations over the years.
Bowlsby’s remarks wouldn’t necessarily be considered proposals. More so, they were received as just a frank, straightforward view of what’s happening. Even to some on the inside, the NCAA still seems to be a massive, overly complex machine that few totally understand and is in desperate need of an overhaul.
“I thought an academic medical center was complicated ... and then I got involved with the NCAA,” said Dr. Nathan Hatch, the president of Wake Forest and chairman of the NCAA’s Board of Directors, who happened to be seated next to Bowlsby on the Knight panel.
The blame, Bowlsby said, does not entirely lie with the NCAA, which has been under fire for the way it handled — or mishandled, some would argue — a number of high-profile enforcement cases in recent years, including the Miami case where investigators broke the association’s own policies by enlisting the assistance of an attorney and essentially using her subpoena power (a tool the NCAA does not have) to help probe the Hurricanes’ involvement with a booster.
“Quite frankly, the NCAA and whatever it is today, we made it that way,” Bowlsby said. “It isn’t this one-eyed ogre in Indianapolis. It’s the collective decisions that all of us have collaborated to make. And whatever it is or isn’t, and there’s been a whole lot more good than bad, we made it that way. And it’s going to take a little while to unwind it.”
And he’s up for plenty of unwinding.
He spoke of the realignment craze that swept Division I over the past couple years. (“It certainly wasn’t our finest hour. We commoditized institutions of higher education and I think time will tell a lot of bad decisions were made,” Bowlsby said.) He soon moved on to the power of the power conferences, another hotly debated topic of late. (“They also win 90 percent of the NCAA championships,” said Bowlsby, the former Stanford athletic director.)
With that, Bowlsby was just getting started.
He never raised his voice, but nothing was out of bounds, either.
He wondered why recruiting rules haven’t seemed to keep up with technology, wondering aloud if the current system tends to be counterproductive, especially when it comes to the highest-profile prospects.
“Perhaps it’s time to think about more visits to campus and fewer trips to the high school,” Bowlsby said. “I don’t know how many of you even have a sense of how disruptive those can be at the high school for a high-profile recruit. Maybe it’s time to start paying for family members to come on official visits. Perhaps it’s a good idea to get kids to campus more than just once for 48 hours.”
The so-called 20-hour rule, designed to limit how much time students actually spend on athletics and away from academics per week?
“The 20-hour rule is a joke,” Bowlsby said. “There’s too many exemptions to it and it is routinely ignored on most campuses, even to the point of falsification of records. The practice schedules for young people in not just football but in lots of sports, doesn’t even approximate the 20-hour rule.”
He called the number of transfers in college basketball “an embarrassment,” said it’s time for transparency on what goes into how certain athletes get admitted to certain schools (even while acknowledging that it would make presidents and admissions directors uncomfortable), and that the enforcement rules under which schools try to operate just aren’t working.
“Currently, cheating pays,” Bowlsby said. “And it’s not nearly as broadly done as some would have you believe. But in the cases where it is done, we’re virtually defenseless to get at it. Without the power of subpoena or the weight of perjury, it’s remarkable our enforcement mechanism gets to the bottom of anything.”
So to revisit the initial question: How will college sports change over the next 10 years?
“Substantially” may wind up being the answer.
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