A Moment With Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby!

Big 12 StackedBy Will Martin

Day 1 of Big 12 Media Days began with a bang as coaches and players from Baylor, Kansas, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech descended upon the Omni Hotel in Dallas Texas.

Before the morning and afternoon went that route there was a State Of The Union message with Commissioner Bob Bowlsby followed by a question and answer session with the assembled media.

Here is the context of that press conference.

THE MODERATOR: We’re going to start off this morning with a State of the Union message from Commissioner Bowlsby, Commissioner, and after he’ll take some questions and answers.

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: Well, the answers are a little sketchy. The questions I think they’ll be able to handle.

Thank you all for being here, and welcome to football season. It’s nice to get started. I also want to thank and welcome the viewers on Fox Sports that are here with us off and on live this morning.

It is hard to believe that it’s time to get after this again. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge over the last 12 months. Lots of good football played, and lots more to be played.

In between now and the time that we actually get a chance to kick it off, we’ve got a couple of things going that we think are significant. One of them is we will be hosting a forum in New York City on August 6 that is intended to be a more thorough and robust vetting of some of the issues that are currently in place in college athletics.

We will be streaming it live. We will also be working to place it on electronic media in various forms. We have tried to assemble a group of individuals as panelists that have widely divergent views, and we think that there will be a lively debate on the issues.

But in my estimation, and I think the estimation of our staff, is that there really hasn’t been a forum where we could have a thorough vetting of all the issues that are in play. The ins and outs of the lawsuits that are in play and right now the Big 12 Conference and several other conference brethren are defendants in seven class action lawsuits. And that number is growing all the time.

We also have lots to talk about relative to NCAA governance restructuring. There’s lots to talk about in terms of just the philosophy of the collegiate model versus any other model that may be out there.

And we want it to be a resource. We expect to be having more than one of these forums. We’ll likely do another one later in the fall and perhaps one in the spring around Final Four time.

But we hope that it will be interesting to all of you. I think it will delve into some areas that have heretofore not gotten a thorough consideration, and so we invite you to participate.

You see all around you the new branding initiative that the Big 12 has undertaken. There the question has frequently been asked why XII since you only have one zero, and the answer is we’re numerically challenged but we think there’s some real value and cache in the Big 12, not only the Big 12 artwork, but in the 20year history of our league.

The new mark that’s virtually everywhere was developed by GSD&M in Austin, and it was a process that was actually begun prior to the time that I arrived and was done in conjunction with some of the changes to the conference that were previously occurring.

We picked it back up shortly after I took over at the Big 12, and we’ve got Jeff Orth and Chris Colton here, and I the lights are too bright; I can’t see where they are. But if you guys could raise your hands. They have done a lot of good work on this logo and on the rollout that has come in the aftermath of it.

One of the things that we have done is we’ve gone about the process of trying to make sure that it is consistently portrayed in every usage, and that includes the proliferation of the new mark, but also withdrawing the old mark and making sure that the old XII is not any longer in popular use.

And so we have a lot of consistency. You will see it in school colors predominantly. But when you see it as a conference office representation, it will likely be in the form that you see on the front of the podium.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. And that may be true, but consistency is also what makes a good branding program.

And so you will see this on basketball floors. You’ll see it on stadium turf surfaces. You’ll see it on baseball and softball outfields. You will see it on uniforms, helmets.

There is a very specific guide to how we use this and why we use it and where we use it and what colors we use it.

And we’ve done a lot of market testing on it. It tested particularly well with the 18 to 35 demographic. And so we’re very pleased to roll it out.

The only thing that you really have to do after adopting one true champion as your moniker is you have to go out and win some games, and we are certainly going to try and do that.

This year’s non-conference schedule includes 11 institutions that were in Bowl games last year, including both of the teams that were in the National Championship game.

And so we are taking on all comers as the regular season progresses, but we’re also doing it in the non-conference as well. So our aspiration in football is just as it is in other sports. We want to win National Championships. And I don’t think our coaches shy away from that. I know our student-athletes don’t shy away from it. And it’s been a little while since we’ve won a championship, and I think all of us think it’s about time that we did.

Among the functions that are most important for a conference office, service to our members and service to our students are certainly two of those. We manage contracts. We negotiate contracts. We do things that optimize distributable revenue. We spend time on things like brand management. The other thing we do is we conduct events. And the regular season, the schools do a lot of that conducting.

But we also get involved in actually running the events in the postseason, such as our baseball and basketball championships.

The intersection of all of those is officiating. And one of the things that I was very pleased to find when I got to the Big 12 was that the officiating programs in football and basketball were exceedingly good. We had good supervisors of officials. We had good developmental programs. We had good feeder systems. And that is particularly true in the sport of football.

Walt Anderson does a wonderful job for us. I attended a seminar that he did with all of the officials that work in our league as well as several hundred officials that work in other conferences, some of which we assign and some of which are assigned by others.

But Walt does a wonderful job. As you know, student-athletes safety is an important and ongoing responsibility. The conference office certainly takes an active role in that, especially as it comes to unnecessary roughness and targeting and the enforcement of those kinds of penalties.

It is an important and ongoing function and one that we will take very seriously during the course of this year. The rules, as you know, have changed very slightly relative to targeting. But helmet-to-helmet contact will continue to be called aggressively, and the penalties will be enforced where appropriate.

And I know that Walt has spent an awful lot of time with his staff trying to define and refine and polish just exactly how we’re going to do that.

But student-athlete safety and fair competition is going to be our watchwords going forward. And so you should feel good about the extent to which the teams can decide the outcome on the field, because I think our officiating is second to none.

One thing that you might want to pay attention to, and I’m not sure it’s happening in any other conference, but on September 6th we will have our first female official working one of our non-conference games. Her name is Cat Conti. She’ll be working the Southeast Missouri at Kansas game on the 6th of September.

And she is not there because she is a female. She is there because she’s paid her dues and because she is a really outstanding football official.

As you know, in the non-conference we have a number of playing dates where we need a large number of crews larger than we need during the regular season.

So this is a good opportunity for her and a good opportunity for us. And I don’t think you’ll really notice much about how the officiating is done on the game.

But it’s significant that she’s doing it. And I don’t know that Walt made the selection for gender equity purposes; I think he made the selection because she is just a darned good official.

The other role that our conference office plays is service to student-athletes. And there’s an awful lot of talk about what the scholarship ought to include, whether these are employees or whether they’re students. There’s an awful lot of talk about what is it that we do when we apply something that looks like business principles to an educational undertaking.

The conference office seeks to help to balance academics and athletics and to make sure that, once again, the conduct of our activities are fair.

But more than anything else, I think it bears repeating that we don’t exist, our programs don’t exist for the purpose of preparing professional athletes or for the purpose of preparing tomorrow’s Olympians. We are here to help 18-year-old adolescents become 22-year-old adults and in the process to get them an education and to help them mature and move forward.

And we’ve got terrific people doing that. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the men that are leading our football programs. And it’s true of the coaches in all of our other sports as well.

The collegiate model is unique in the world of sports, not just in this country but all around the world. There is no similar model. There’s probably a reason why athletes from around the globe come to the United States to improve and to get their education.

It’s a system that has built in a very large challenge and a very large amount of improvement during the course of that four years.

And there’s a lot that’s right about intercollegiate athletics. Much more is right about it than there is wrong about it. To the extent that we can move forward and under the new autonomy have the votes and the leverage to get some things done, I think the five high-visibility conferences will do that.

All of you are aware that the steering committee’s report came out last week. I think we clearly made progress. “We” being the five high-visibility conferences from the last iteration of the steering committee’s report. 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.

But we have a lot of work to do. To the extent that there are things that are right, we need to enhance those elements. And to the extent that there’s things wrong, that we need to take a fresh and frank look at what we do and why we do it and we need to begin thinking about what it is that we think we want the enterprise to be going forward.

The Big 12 wants to lead in that regard. We have worked hard to do it. I think my background on campus has been an asset in terms of the discussion with the commissioners and with the Collegiate Commissioners Association.

We certainly are operating in a strange environment in that we have the lawsuits that I mentioned earlier, plus we have the O’Bannon lawsuit.

I think all of that in the end will cause programs to be eliminated. I think you’ll see men’s Olympic sports go away as a result of the new funding challenges that are coming down the pike. I think there may be tension among and between sports on campus and institutions that have different resources.

I think it’s really unknown at this point what the outcomes will be. 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.

And that isn’t to say that going to a scholarship that goes all the way up to the actual cost of attendance, whatever that is deemed to be on each campus, isn’t a good thing. We believe that it is. And left to our own devices, the five high-visibility conferences would have done that already. 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.

On the other hand, if you apply any form of the labor theory of value at all, it is hard to justify paying student-athletes in football and men’s basketball and not recognizing the significant effort that swimmers and wrestlers and lacrosse players and track athletes all put in.

Football and basketball players don’t work any harder than anybody else; they just happen to have the blessing of an adoring public who is willing to pay for the tickets and willing to buy the products on television that come with the high visibility.

So I think that we all need to take a deep breath and think about just exactly what it is. I don’t know that it is entirely clear how Judge Wilken in the O’Bannon case will rule. I’ve talked to an awful lot of people that are legal experts on these sorts of issues, and I haven’t had yet to find anybody who can handicap how that’s going to turn out. They really don’t know.

Underneath all of this other activity, the governance restructuring, the system is unresponsive. And I think if we get the changes I mentioned earlier, we’ll do well.

It may be viewed as self-serving to have a structure that favors the five high-visibility conferences. But the fact is we have some challenges at our level that other institutions in Division I don’t have. And this system, as much as it may create additional separation among the 350 schools, we have undertaken at all levels the belief of the bedrock in all this is everybody gets to share the Division I brand, everybody gets access to the championships, everybody gets access to the revenue sharing and we get some prerogatives that will allow us to better manage and to better meet the needs of student-athletes, whatever those things may be.

You will notice in the most recent version of the report, as well as in predecessor versions, that the issue of enforcement is virtually moot in the report. I think the steering committee had enough on its plate that it didn’t take it on in any sort of substantive way, but enforcement is broken. 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. So we need to get Jon Duncan some help and support.

Two of the things that have been left as outliers in the report are the enforcement mechanism and the issue of transfers and waivers of transfer roles. And both of those have a two-year time frame put on them, and we need to take that seriously.

If we can’t come to resolution that is satisfactory on enforcement and on transfers, then those become autonomous items about which the five high-visibility conferences can go our own way and devise our own system.

So I think that that will create an imperative for us that should be there and will be there. And I think we’ll probably get a reasonable outcome on it.

The other challenge that we’re facing, the NCAA is currently headed down a path of significant financial difficulty. The lines of trend between the expenses and the finance and the revenue are going to cross in a negative way in the not too distant future.

The revenues from NCAA television packages mostly is going up about two and a half percent a year and expenses are going up about four and a half percent a year.

When those lines cross, they’re going to stay crossed for a while, and so we need to get busy and anticipate how we run the organization, how we get back to the core values of the organization and how we make sure that we put in place a system that will allow it to be self-funding going forward.

In doing that, I think it’s also a good time to reevaluate what our core purposes are, why does it exist, what is it doing for people and to people and how can we go about sharpening our focus and making sure that we’re spending where there’s appropriate return on investment and where the membership needs to have that investment.

So we have lots of challenges on our hands. I don’t think there’s any question that none of this is going to go away soon. I expect to be in court most of the rest of my career.

I think that that’s just the nature of it. I’ve gone through whole meetings recently where we never spent anytime talking about sports. I don’t think that’s what I signed up for and I’m pretty sure my commissioner colleagues would be similar in their comments.

But be that as it may, change is coming. 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.

There is change afoot and some of it is going to be unhappy change because I think it will ultimately reduce the number of opportunities for young people to go to college and participate in sports. And I think that’s an unfortunate byproduct of the lawsuits that are out there right now.

Having said that, we will go through the football season with unprecedented exposure for our football teams, national exposure, terrific non-conference games. The one true champion moniker, you know, you will always see the matchup that you want to see eventually in our conference. There’s never a situation where anybody’s going to miss anybody and where anybody’s conference record is going to be questioned.

The fan experience in our conference is second to none. You need only to get out around the league and feel the energy and the life and enthusiasm around college football in our ten venues.

Our stadiums are excellent for fan experience, and we are moving forward in a lot of significant ways with physical facilities and connectivity and lots of things that make the fan experience better.

Half of our teams are ranked in the top 20, and that’s a good thing. We’ve got a brand new Bowl lineup that is terrific, and we have a number of our Bowl partners here today, new ones and existing ones. And I think there isn’t just the likelihood of transformational change coming, but there is instead the certainty of transformational change coming.

It’s going to be a very interesting time. Parts of it I would find very interesting to read about from outside. But I would prefer not to be a defendant. But that is where we find ourselves at the present time. And we will have a period of time of lots of good excitement, lots of good competition, lots of fair competition, and plenty of topics about which reasonable people can disagree.

So let me stop there, and I’ll be happy to field your questions.

Could you go in depth on the pressures those Olympic sports are going to face? Do you mean from the court battles and affording cost of attendance and stuff like that?

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. I got asked the question in the hall, and it’s a good time to address this. There’s been a lot of talk about what happens with do we unionize football and basketball players.

Student athletes are not employees. They should never be employees. It’s not an employee/employer relationship. It’s just it’s a total square peg in a round hole.

But the scholarship is going to change. And I think that’s great. I think there are ways that it costs more than room, board, books, tuition, and fees to go to school. But even in an environment where we have some additional revenue coming in from television resources, primarily, it is going to be very difficult for many institutions to fund that.

It is not hundreds of thousands of dollars a year; it’s millions of dollars a year. It is probably going to extend into the consideration of other benefits for student athletes, which is great.

But in the end, it’s a somewhat zero sum game. There’s only so much money out there. I don’t think that coaches and athletic directors are likely going to take pay cuts. I think that train’s left the station. So that’s some of the tension in the system that I referred to earlier.

And I think over a period of time what we’ll find is that instead of keeping a tennis program, they’re going to do the things that it takes to keep the football and men’s and women’s basketball programs strong.

Having said that, anything we do for male student athletes, whether it’s just in football or basketball or if it’s in a wider array of sports, we will absolutely be doing for all of our student athletes.

Title IX doesn’t go away because we’re going to do something higher benefited for student athletes in a couple of sports. We have both a legal obligation and a moral obligation to do for female student athletes and male Olympic sport student athletes just exactly what we do for football and basketball student athletes.

I don’t think it’s even debatable. And so whatever we do going down the path in the future, I think you can make the assumption that it will be program wide.

And so therefore the cost is higher, and you begin to look and say do we want to have 25 sports and fund this broad array of benefits, or would we be better off to fund a broader array and sponsor only 20 sports. So that’s why I think it’s not too much of a leap.

And in my role as a member of the United States Olympic Committee board, we’ve had this discussion. Because about 85 percent of American summer Olympians come through collegiate programs. And if track programs and wrestling programs and swimming programs begin to go away, there will be significant damage to our international efforts.

Will there be any changes this season on how officials call plays in which linemen are blocking down field on forward passes?

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: You’re going to need to address that to Walt Anderson. I’m not in a position to talk about the nuances of that rule change. So he’s here and you can find him and he can capably address that for you.

Are you concerned that the lack of a championship game might cost the conference in the college football playoff selection process? And, secondly, with the one true champion campaign, are you eliminating the possibility of co-champions?

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: There really isn’t anything that we’re always going to apply a tie breaker to determine who our champion is, because we have to put forth a representative to one of the Bowl games.

So even though the records may be exactly the same, there’s either a head to head competition with the same record or there’s a tie breaker imposed. So we always are going to get to the point of a true champion.

That’s the other thing about playing nine games is you’re always going to have a head to head. You’re not going to have two teams with the same record that didn’t play each other. So that part is self resolvable.

I’m sorry, what was the first part of your question?

Are you concerned that the lack of a championship game?

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: No, really I’m not. Although, we’re certainly not oblivious to it. I like our path to the championship. Our champion has been decided on the last day of the season for about five years. So we have great competition at the end of the year.

I think there will be a year when we’ll say: Gosh, if we could have just played one more good opponent we might have been able to demonstrate that we were good enough.

But you also, when you play that playoff game at the end of the year, you also have two of your better teams presumably that play each other, and one of them becomes damaged goods. And it may not be the one you want.

So I think that the answer is some years it’s a good thing; some years it’s not a good thing. But I like our paths to the championship. I think the fact that we play everybody in our league is a nuance that is not going to be lost on the selection committee.

They will look very carefully at other leagues when you’re 71 and another league it’s not going to be 71 as a standalone number. It’s 71 based on who you played and who you beat and also who you didn’t play.

So I like our path to the championship very much. And that really is sum and substance of why we are promoting the difference between how we determine a champion and how other leagues determine their champions.

Given the announcements by USC about the four year scholarship, has there been any conversation about the Big 12 offering four year scholarships to student athletes?

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: There’s been a lot of conversations about I thought. And I’m sure they’ll be ongoing. I don’t know that we want to get out in front of it until we know what some of the court cases are going to dictate and once we see a few more of the cards on the table.

But I think a multiple year scholarship is a mutual commitment. It’s one that I think we will get to. I doubt that we get to it on a conference by conference basis. I think we’ll end up with a more national rule than that.

But I think there certainly is a case to be made for multiple year scholarships. But there’s also a case to be made for individual responsibilities, too. And I think part of that has to be a well enunciated process by which the institution can say: Young man or young woman, you’re not meeting your obligations.

So there needs to be an opportunity for extrication on both ends of that. And I think that’s certainly coming, but I don’t know that we’re planning to be out in front of it. We’d like to see a little bit more of this play itself out.

Commissioner, as far as a conference championship is concerned, what kind of support is there within the Big 12 about possibly deregulating it, having it maybe on a semiannual basis or something that’s not every single year? Is there any kind of support or possibilities as far as that is concerned?

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: Well, we have advocated for those regulations to be deregulated. The rule as it stands now says you have to have two divisions. They have to be at least six teams. You have to play a full round robin in your division in order to put forth a team.

Ourselves and the ACC have advocated for that rule to be deregulated, just so that we could have some prerogatives. I think in their case they might like to have more than two divisions and have fewer teams in each division.

In our case, we would like the prerogative to, at some point in time, have that discussion and make a decision as to whether or not we might want to take our two highest ranked schools in the poll and have them play each other at the end of the year.

Now, you always run the risk of maybe having to have a rematch that just got played a couple weeks earlier. You may recall that Stanford and UCLA had that situation a couple of years ago. It was after I left Stanford, but I believe they played the last game of the season and then they played the next week.

So it’s an imperfect process, if you don’t play the divisions. And I don’t know that we would do it. But we think it would not be a bad idea to have the prerogative.

And so we’re kind of existing in an environment where deregulation has some traction. And so we’ve advocated for that rule to be deregulated, but we’ve done so without any particular agenda.

When you say cheating pays, I mean that sort of jumps out, at least to me. Do you say that because is it your belief that cheating is rampant in the Big 12 and/or college athletics, or is that just the money’s gotten to the point where people will cut corners and do things as we move forward?

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: No, I don’t think it’s rampant, I don’t think that at all. I think our coaches and programs are of high integrity, and I don’t have any concerns on a local basis.

I don’t think it’s cut rate out there, but I think those that conspire to do things that are intended to get around the rules have less resistance to it now than they they’ve 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.

That’s the biggest challenge that Jon Duncan and the enforcement staff have. They have neither the power of subpoena nor the power of the way to perjury. And absent those things, you can’t compel anybody to participate in an investigation.

You can if you’re on the campus, if you’re a coach or a student athlete. But if you’re outside, you know, people have gotten very sophisticated about it.

And so, no, it’s not I think the vast majority of people in intercollegiate athletics are of high integrity, they’re doing it for the right reasons. But right now, if you want to cheat, you can do it and you can get away with it. And there are benefits for doing that.

And that needs to change.