Armageddon is coming. If you’ve been listening to college administrators, you probably already knew that. But just in case you didn’t, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby launched what will doubtless be another round of dire warnings at his league’s football media days.
“You’re going to hate it going forward,” Bowlsby said on Monday. “There’s a lot of change coming.”
Before we make it to the end of the summer, we’re going to hear lots more of this junk. Every time a league has one of these media affairs — the Big Ten’s is next week — someone living high off the present system is almost certain to offer a variation of this theme: Lawsuits, courts, unions and the like are going to destroy the college athletic model we have come to know and love.
Bowlsby’s prediction sounded like it came straight from the NCAA playbook. A system that masquerades as amateur athletics and operates like big business, one where everybody gets rich but the players whom people pay to see, is good. Change is bad.
“I think all of that in the end will cause programs to be eliminated,” he said. “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. There’s all kind of Armageddon scenarios you could come up with. … You wouldn’t have to be a very good fiction writer to come up with some scenarios that would be pretty scary.”
It can be scary for administrators wedded to the status quo, I guess, but it doesn’t seem all that scary to me. I don’t want to see any sports go away, but if it happens, the blame can be traced to administrators who refuse to make hard choices in terms of astronomical salaries, luxurious facilities, copious travel and so on.
The most interesting part of Bowlsby’s grim forecast came when he addressed schools having to pay $1 million or more per year to provide expanded food and nutrition to student-athletes and scholarships to provide athletes with more money to cover the full cost of attendance.
“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,” Bowlsby said. “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.”
Time to hit the pause button: Bowlsby negotiated a TV deal with ESPN and Fox that nearly quadrupled the Big 12’s annual revenue from $58 million to $217 million during the last reported fiscal year.
OK, allow him to finish.
“In the end, it’s a somewhat zero-sum game,” he said. “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. 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.”
We should all be grateful to the former Stanford athletic director, a guy who earns a reported $1.2 million per year, for clarifying that.
His view of the dire future facing college athletics is one where coaches, athletic directors and conference administrations still rake in millions but a tennis program has to go because football players are fed three meals a day and receive scholarships for the full cost of attendance.
See how this is?
If you and I “hate” what college athletics becomes, the blame lies with players and ex-players who want change and courts that agree. It doesn’t lie with administrators who refuse to inject sanity into the business model that created the disparity between athletes who are “rewarded” for their service with scholarships and coaches and administrators who are paid millions from the proceeds.
The message is as much of an illusion as the system it is trying to protect.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.