K-State president equates NCAA with IRS — similarly popular and, in the end, necessary

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby (left) said the NCAA is so flawed that 'cheating pays presently.' Kansas State president Kirk Schulz (right) begs to differ.

Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kirk Schulz is preaching the same gospel as Bob Bowlsby, reading from the same playbook. Just not the same page.

Bowlsby took to the pulpit Monday at Big 12 Media Days with a scathing rebuke of the NCAA and, specifically, the organization’s enforcement wing.

"The infractions committee hasn’t had a hearing in almost a year," the Big 12 commissioner told reporters in Dallas, "and I think it’s not an understatement to say cheating pays presently."

Kansas State’s president begs to differ. Especially the "pays" part.

"I don’t think it does," Schulz told FOXSportsKansasCity.com this week. "And my personal viewpoint is that I think all of us — and I’ve worked in other conferences as well — work hard to play by the rules and coaches work hard to play by the rules. … I don’t think there’s a huge systemic issue out there, but that’s my personal viewpoint."

Like Bowlsby, Kansas State’s president swings a big stick in NCAA circles — and like Bowlsby, he’s not one to talk softly about the challenges ahead for collegiate athletics. Schulz is one of seven members of the NCAA’s Division I steering committee, the lead dogs on the Iditarod to serious reform.

"Yeah, I think it’s fair … for anybody to voice their critiques and criticism of an organization like the NCAA," Schulz said. "And I’ll be the first to acknowledge that we have issues with things the NCAA has done in the past … but part of the challenge is that (while) everybody would like to wave a magic wand perhaps and have an overnight fix, there has to be some order in which things are fixed. The reforms may not be very sexy, but they’re very needed and in my (opinion), that constitutes the next step, assuming the board approves the proposals that have been out in the media."

The NCAA’s board of directors is scheduled to vote Aug. 7 on a proposal that would change how its governing body works. If that proposal passes, more power will land in the bigger schools, the "Power Five" leagues — Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Pac-12. A 24-member board of mostly presidents would be at the top of the food chain, with rules in the hands of a council made up mostly of athletic directors.

The NCAA, I equate it at times — and not everybody will like this — I equate it at times to the IRS.

Kansas State president Kirk Schulz

It might also allow the Power Five leagues the wiggle room to enact their own rules, bylaws and wrinkles — which could include providing full cost of attendance benefits for all student-athletes, expanded medical coverage, extended scholarship length and, perhaps, stipends.

The trick, of course, is keeping the likes of a Louisiana Tech and a Northern Iowa living and functioning under the same umbrella as an Ohio State or a Texas. Schulz doesn’t foresee the larger conferences breaking off from the NCAA entirely.

"I guess I’m a little more optimistic — at the end of the day, we’ve all got to have people to play," he said. "I don’t know that the (power) 65 schools want to play (only) the other 64 schools ….

"We’ve gotten some of the governance issues, and the autonomy things have gotten some resolutions. If we go a year, year-and-a-half from now and there’s been no progress made on (a significant) issue, I think you maybe see some (administrators) go, ‘Well, we’ve got to take that issue into our own hands.’"

Major change will take at least a year to fully implement, he says, especially as "the devil’s in the details. It’s, ‘Well, OK, how do you calculate that? Is your competitor down the street doing it the same way?’ … So I think what you want to do as we talk about cost of attendance, we’ve got the ability of the 65 to go out and make this happen, and also make sure we’re doing it so that it’s a benefit to student-athletes, so it’s not the kind of thing where in two years we’re saying, ‘How did something so good get so screwed up?’"

Bowlsby declared that NCAA costs were expected to grow 4 percent annually, nearly twice the rate of projected revenue growth (2.5 percent). Despite the influx of cash from media-rights deals, Schulz also noted that those pipelines could well be "flattening" in coming years with conference realignment slowing down. The expansion of unlimited meals and snacks for student-athletes — "The Shabazz Rule," coined for former UConn men’s basketball player Shabazz Napier — could cost each school an additional $1 million annually, the commissioner continued.

While some have pointed to capping salaries for coaches and administrators as a way to offset the rising costs of expanded student-athlete welfare, Schulz dismissed the notion as unrealistic.

"That’s just not going to happen," the Wildcats’ president said. "And I would love to put on my president hat and say, ‘Sure, we could cut these salaries and we could do all that stuff to make sure we do that sort of thing.’ (But) at the end of the day, you would be rolling your eyes.

"I don’t see any circumstances where you take a highly successful men’s basketball coach, football coach, baseball coach, pick your league, and what they make, and then all of a sudden, they’re going to see their salary cut 20 percent, 30 percent in order to fund other things in the program."

Schulz said programs might be forced, for example, to limit services provided to walk-ons; Bowlsby went so far as to predict that Olympic sport budgets would be drastically slashed or sports might be cut entirely to make ends meet.

"At some point, you have to figure out how to make it all (work)," Schulz said. "And so I think we’re going to figure out ways to do it, but I just think the idea that athletic directors and maybe coaches doing that is just incredibly naive, and it’s just not going to happen."

As for student-athletes unionizing …

"Of course, I’m worried," Schulz said. "But at the same time, there’s only so much I can control. But I’m not trying to be overly philosophical here. I think we’ve got to let some of that stuff play out.

"If we can get to the root of the problem, we’ll take away a lot of the motivation for doing that. But if we sit on our butts and don’t get anything done, then people will say, ‘Well, I’ve got to find an alternative because going through the system doesn’t get anything done.’"

On Thursday, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to settlements of $40 million by software company Electronic Arts and $20 million by the NCAA to former student-athletes whose likenesses were used without compensation in video games produced by the former and licensed by the latter. But the Ed O’Bannon antitrust case is still pending, and the testimony given by NCAA officials such as president Mark Emmert last month only intensified the public outcry against the organization.

"Let’s just pretend the NCAA wins that (case)," Schulz said. "(To say) that nobody else is going to sue the NCAA is probably unrealistic. I think we’re going to continue to see the lawsuits because there are some real student-athlete issues that have been out there a long time that schools have to collectively address, and certainly there’s lots of money floating around that will, at times, garner frivolous lawsuits. I think we’ve got to say, ‘What can we do over the next several years so we’re NOT in constant litigation?’"

His suggestion: Congress.

"The NCAA, I equate it at times — and not everybody will like this — I equate it at times to the IRS," Schulz said. "You’ve got to have somebody that provides some kind of organization, that provides oversight, rules and assistance. And it’s an easy target. And we (will) continue to be an easy target …. The NCAA, it’s easy just to say, ‘Well, it’s all their fault.’ … And say you went away from the NCAA and said, ‘I’m going to start from scratch.’ You’ve still got to have a lot of aspects of the current NCAA in that organization.

"I don’t ever think the NCAA is going to be a popular organization. So, that being said, I still think the congressional solution is probably the direction that we need to go, but that’s (also) unpredictable and who knows what can happen there. But I’m no lawyer; I don’t understand all of the legal maneuvering that’s going on out there over these issues. Let’s put legal issues aside: How do we go about providing some kind of long-term solutions? And I think that’s what we’ve got to focus some of our energies on and not, ‘We’re going to win Cases X, Y and Z.’"

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.