Bowlsby lobbies for major changes to NCAA structure

DALLAS — Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby fired another shot across the bow of the NCAA during his address at the start of the conference’s media days.

Following up on comments made last week by SEC commissioner Mike Slive, Bowlsby said the five biggest conferences – ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC – are struggling with the confines of the current NCAA structure.

Bowlsby even used the word “secession” during his address to the media, but said no one is in favor of that move.

“I think right now our national organization is under fire,” Bowlsby said. “There isn’t any question about it. And yet I’m not hearing anyone say we ought to find another organization.”

Bowlsby and the other major conference commissioners say their concerns are  often quite different with the rest of the NCAA membership, which smaller schools in Division II and non-scholarship Division III.

So when issues come up such as paying stipends to student-athletes, schools with much smaller athletic budgets end up making the decisions.

 “It is just very difficult to do anything that would benefit our student-athletes or our institutions that doesn’t get voted down by the larger majority,” Bowlsby said.

“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.”

Bowlsby offered up the idea of “federation by sport” as one solution: Grouping the major football-playing schools together. There are currently 124 schools playing at the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) level and more are added each year.

“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.

Smaller schools are attracted to FBS membership because of the status it brings, which no doubt appeals to alumni, as well as increased exposure and potential income.

“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,” Bowlsby said.

Creating a separate governance structure just for major college football programs, Bowlsby said, could help resolve some conflicts.

“It’s probably unrealistic to think that we can manage football and field hockey by the same set of rules,” Bowlsby said.

Making minor changes and concessions won’t be enough, Bowlsby said, and added that there’s unanimity on these among the five major conference commissioners on this front. However, he acknowledged other issues would crop up if the major conferences break off from NCAA governance.

“So I don’t see secession as a legitimate point of leverage except as a last resort,” Bowlsby said. “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.

“But I really do think we need to reconfigure the leadership of the organization.”

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire