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.
“Look at Division I. There are programs that have $3 million budgets and programs that have $160 million budgets. How do you begin to try and do things that are good for one that are also good for the other?”
If you're confused, Bowlsby offered an example. Lots of talk over the years has centered on how to be Title IX compliant in terms of scholarships.
One solution is offering more scholarships in women's basketball, women's softball and women's volleyball.
“If you do that, the major schools get all the players, and the schools that were mid-majors that were competitive previously, now all their best players are sitting on major schools' benches. It's a great solution for one set of schools, it's a lousy solution for another set of schools.”
This is not a new rallying cry. Thirty years ago, the College Football Association was formed for many of the same reasons today.
And some things changed — although the primary issue, school television rights, were via the courts.
“It's easy to see the issues and the problems,” said K-State coach Bill Snyder, one of the few people still around from those saber-rattling days. “Solutions are harder to come by.”
Bowlsby doesn't claim to have a solution, either. Says he hasn't even drawn up a model for what is being called Division IV. But Bowlsby said something must change.
“I don't know how you go about solving problems other than getting like-minded people together and try to come up with solutions,” Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby's counterparts have not been as forceful as he. Perhaps that's by design. Bowlsby is a sharp cookie. A superb communicator.
Wouldn't surprise me if the five commissioners — Big 12, SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten — voted Bowlsby to ignite the revolution.
Plus, he's not a rabble-rouser.
Bowlsby has talked to the athletic director at his old school, Northern Iowa's Troy Dannen.
“Some of the things that would likely happen under some sort of amended process would likely not be favorable for mid-majors like Northern Iowa,” Bowlsby said.
“I know that perspective, I understand it, but I don't know how to get my arms around it from the standpoint of being able to make change, because Northern Iowa and Texas aren't much alike.”
No, they're not. Which is why the nuclear option has to be discussed, if not threatened. If Northern Iowa and Texas aren't that much alike, should they be together at all?
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.