Bob Bowlsby stood before a crowd in Dallas last month and channeled Bob Dylan. The times, Bowlsby warned, they are a changin’.
One difference. The Big 12 commissioner didn’t deliver that message with folksiness. He was stern and foreboding. He painted a bleak picture. He was dark and disturbed.
Bowlsby said collegiate athletics are about to change, and not necessarily for the better.
And now you know why. On back-to-back days this week, the runaway spending of campus sports’ big boys ratcheted up even more.
First, the power five conferences — Big 12, SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 — were granted some autonomy. They now will be able to make policy for themselves on a variety of issues, most of which will lead to spending more money.
Then a judge Friday ruled in favor of Ed O’Bannon’s group of former athletes in a lawsuit that claimed the NCAA conspired with schools conferences to block the athletes from some of the revenues generated from the use of their images in broadcasts and video games. Which will lead to the schools spending more money.
Money is not everlasting in college athletics. It is not infinite. Despite the burgeoning television contacts, despite ticket prices that never seem to plateau, despite the constant flow of donor money, this is not a system that is bust-free.
The arms race of facilities, the multi-million dollar contracts for coaches that never seem to plateau, the bulging administrations in most schools. And that’s not even factoring in the lawsuits. The O’Bannon case is just the beginning. All kinds of lawsuits are pending, and more will be filed. Some are for financial crimes — putting Landry Jones in a video game and not paying Landry Jones — and some are for health reasons. The concussion issue alone keeps NCAA and university bean counters awake at night.
The costs mount for athletic departments, and now comes the autonomy that the power-conference schools craved, plus a major victory for athletes that they will start getting some piece of the pie.
The autonomy boils down to this. The 65 schools that reap bountiful money from football are free to spend even more money than they’ve already spent. That will separate them from the have-nots, yes, but it also will increase financial tension on the haves.
Stipends for athletes. Covering the expenses of players’ families when traveling to attend postseason competition. Increased coaching staffs and administration. That costs money, big money, and Bowlsby warned us of the fallout.
Potential loss of programs, starting with minor men’s sports. Wrestling, gymnastics, golf, tennis. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Potential loss of competition. The question no longer is whether the mid-majors can compete with the major conferences. The question becomes, can the try-hard schools of the power conferences keep up with the marquee programs.
A huge divide already existed between Mississippi State and Alabama, between Wake Forest and Florida State, between Iowa State and Texas, between Washington State and Oregon, between Northwestern and Ohio State. That divide will grow.
Sure, the less prosperous schools in the power conferences have been financially blessed by being in one of the leagues that produces major money. But the expenses of such an association are going up, too.
Can TCU and Baylor, after investing hundreds of millions dollars in the kind of facilities that make them Big 12 worthy, keep spending more and more and more to keep up?
Maybe more revenue streams can be found. But the money will be spent before it’s found.
Bowlsby told us three weeks ago that if you like college athletics the way it is, you won’t like where it’s going.
College sports will look different.
“I think all of that in the end will cause programs to be eliminated,” Bowlsby said. “I think you'll see men's Olympic sports go away as a result of the new funding challenges that are coming down the pike. I think there may be tension among and between sports on campus and institutions that have different resources.
“I think it's really unknown at this point what the outcomes will be. But generally speaking, I think those are things you should watch for. I really do believe that it will be very difficult to run the kind of breadth of program that hundreds of thousands of student‑athletes currently enjoy if we begin diverting significant amounts of money to other purposes.”
And significant amounts of money are headed to other purposes. The change is coming.
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.