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Bob Bowlsby calls secession from NCAA a 'last resort'

Bowlsby demands liberty from the morass that is the NCAA governance. He says something must change in the organization that serves Ohio State and Mount Union, Alabama and Southern Nazarene.
by Berry Tramel Published: July 22, 2013

DALLAS — Bob Bowlsby graduated from Moorhead State University. His first athletic director post was at Northern Iowa.

So Bowlsby, now the Big 12 commissioner, knows a thing or two about the have-not side of collegiate athletics.

Maybe that's why his words packed such a wallop Monday morning, when Bowlsby kicked off Big 12 Football Media Days by going all Patrick Henry.

Bowlsby demanded liberty from the morass that is the NCAA governance. Said something must change in the organization that serves Ohio State and Mount Union, Alabama and Southern Nazarene.

Bowlsby didn't threaten secession. Didn't claim the NCAA's five dominant conferences would break away and form their own assembly.

But what other threat is available? Bowlsby's chief complaint is the consistent inability to pass meaningful legislation.

“They're driven by frustration, more than anything else,” Bowlsby said of his motivation to take the issue to the public marketplace. “That's a frustration that's grown over the last 15 years, probably … not be able to affect substantive change.”

So what else is out there, other than the nuclear option? The solution to a lack of substantive change is substantive change? That's a circle bound to disappoint.

Bowlsby called secession a “last resort” and said, “I have heard no discussion whatsoever about it.”

Few from the power conferences relish the thought of leaving the NCAA. The NCAA provides a structure and a framework that's awfully comforting. It also provides a food chain that allows the Iowa States and Vanderbilts someone to beat.

Plus, the NCAA has a basketball tournament that can't be replicated by the 62 schools in the five major conferences.

Butler and Wichita State and Valpo and George Mason have made March Madness what it is.

“Gosh, everything that's good about intercollegiate sport is embodied in the Division I basketball tournament,” Bowlsby said. “It's Horatio Alger's alive and well and living in the tournament every year. That's what we love about it. The blending of the Florida Gulf Coasts and the Kentuckys is a special part of that tournament.”

So no. The big boys don't want to leave the NCAA. They just want to govern themselves. They don't want Arkansas State and Central Michigan to determine their legislative destiny. The big boys want to know why New Mexico State and LSU are in the same division.

That's why Bowlsby endorsed “federation by sport,” meaning each sport could be ruled differently, from eligibility requirements to recruiting restrictions.

The stipend — paying athletes a cost of living allowance — is the most visible issue that seems to be going nowhere. But Bowlsby said the stipend is just an “easy” example.

“There are other things that may be more important, like recruiting reform,” Bowlsby said. “How we recruit. When we recruit. Who we recruit. What's good for some is not good for all.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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