MANHATTAN, Kan. — Bob Bowlsby reared back and started lobbing again — only instead of grenades, it was flowers.
“What the NCAA has been today, or has been in the past, or will be in the future, is a product of its members,” the Big 12 commissioner said Monday during a news conference at the Vanier Football Complex, the opening act of Kansas State’s 2013 Football Media Day.
“It’s certainly not some ogre that resides in Indianapolis.”
The “ogre” take on the NCAA was a somewhat softer soundbite than the one the longtime administrator offered during the conference’s media days in Dallas a few weeks back.
Bowlsby stunned reporters — and some peers — when he declared that the heavy hitters among the Football Bowl Subdivision were tired of seeing legislation and reform that could benefit them being blocked by the smaller schools that make up the majority of Division I athletics.
Implications that had been whispered for years were finally made public: If they had to, the ‘Big Five’ football leagues — the Big 12, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC — would be prepared to break off from the rest of the division and go their own way.
Bowlsby didn’t demand outright secession from the NCAA, but did suggest the creation of federations within the organization that would make unique rules to govern individual sports — including football, the largest revenue sport on the platter.
To oversimplify things somewhat, the schools that have the cash on hand to offer stipends and other enticements for student-athletes are tired of being told they can’t by the schools that can’t afford to cough up similar perks.
“You need to take a fresh look at how we approach our problems,” Bowlsby said during his visit to the Wildcats’ athletic complex. “I think that’s very difficult for 350 schools because we’re just not very much alike. And how do you do that within the organization?
“Believe it or not, I didn’t actually propose another division … I just think we need to take a fresh look at how we manage intercollegiate athletics. The issues that have been identified have been there for a very long time. And if we keep doing what we’ve done, we’re going to have the same outcomes.”
Bottom line: It’s complicated. While Bowlsby also made a point to double down on his earlier rhetoric — “My comments are the same as they were (in Dallas),” he noted — the commissioner admitted that getting programs as different as, say, Texas and Northern Iowa, on the same page when it comes to reform is no mean feat.
He also knows it’s contentious. When a reporter asked Kansas State athletic director John Currie, who was sitting next to Bowlsby at the time, what he thought of the commissioner’s take, the senior administrator responded with a grin.
“Trying to get a fight started?” Bowlsby quipped.
“I totally agree with whatever he says, thank you very much,” Currie cracked.
Only he didn’t.
“I believe my colleagues are very committed to the institution (of the NCAA),” Currie would say later. “Part of what makes it special is that you do have diversity of membership.”
Agreement, yes. Total agreement? Not quite.
“I haven’t ever sought to blame it on anybody but ourselves,” Bowlsby said. “We all had a hand in participating in the current state of affairs.’
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org