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College athletics are changing — and not in a good way

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby didn’t deliver the message with folksiness. He was stern and foreboding. He painted a bleak picture. He was dark and disturbed.
by Berry Tramel Published: August 8, 2014

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.

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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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