When Dwight Eisenhower left the White House some 54 years ago, he warned of a looming military-industrial complex. The speech was laced with caution, alerts and alluding to a vastly changed world. Consider Bob Bowlsby’s fire and brimstone speech Monday to be college football’s version of Eisenhower’s message to the nation.
It’s not often that a conference commissioner from the Power Five tees off on the NCAA. But that’s exactly what Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12, did Monday, admitting that taking shortcuts has proven to be valuable. And who can disagree?
Breaking down the “good” and “bad” cheaters isn’t easy because it’s so prevalent in today’s world, but it isn’t hard to see that SEC programs and, yes, even Ohio State have enjoyed mountains of victories when allegations and confirmed cases of impropriety arose.
Major League Baseball, cycling, college football and street criminals all have similarities when it comes to breaking rules. If you’re good at it, you’re going to be one step ahead of authorities. With criticism constantly reigning down on the NCAA, much of the association’s bite is gone. Programs now understand that enforcement can be minimal.
“I think the vast majority of people in intercollegiate athletics are of high integrity, they’re doing it for the right reasons,” Bowlsby said at Big 12 media days. “But right now, if you want to cheat, you can do it and you can get away with it. There are benefits for doing that.
“And that needs to change.”
Bowlsby, a former longtime athletic director at Northern Iowa, Iowa and Stanford, is well versed on the complexities of present-day intercollegiate athletics and what athletic departments face. He believes non-revenue sports are in jeopardy as the NCAA nears defeat in a series of lawsuits.
The slashing of sports is nothing new to college sports. Many mid-level conferences, such as the MAC, have eliminated a variety of Olympic sports over the past 20 years to comply with Title IX. But bigger schools – Maryland being the best example – have also joined in the cost cutting. A major factor in the Terrapins’ move to the Big Ten related to their massive financial debts.
Many observers, whether it’s the powers that be, media or fans, believe autonomy for the Power Five is just a short time from coming to fruition. Once it’s in place, cost-of-attendance scholarships are predicted to be the norm. The costs will be high, as is the perceived minor move in allowing athletic departments to provide snacks. In reality, it’s a major expense for a vast majority of universities.
“There’s only so much money out there,” Bowlsby said. “I don’t think that coaches and athletic directors are likely going to take pay cuts. I think that train’s left the station.”
Yeah, with VHS tapes and CD walkmans.
Bowlsby retold a scenario from nearly 30 years ago when, in 1987, as a member of the Financial Aid and Amateurism committee, he and others proposed a revolutionary idea: room, board, tuition and books for $2,000 a year.
It was voted down – for more than 20 years.
“The world would be different had we been able to get some of those things through,” Bowlsby said.
Instead, men’s Olympic sports are in a perilous position.
“If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is now, you’re going to hate it going forward,” Bowlsby said. “There’s a lot of change coming. I fear whether we will get past the change. There are all kinds of Armageddon scenarios you can come up with. Change is coming.”
But the cheating remarks are what turned heads and had attendees – coaches, players, media – nodding. It’s no secret that powerhouses, dating to the turn of the 20th century, were involved in scandals. As college football forges into a new era, the helmets, uniforms and forward pass may have changed, but the means to success have not.
“Enforcement is broken,” Bowlsby said. “The infractions committee hasn’t had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently. If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions. So we need to get [NCAA vice president of enforcement] Jon Duncan some help and support.”
Clarification came in the way of Bowlsby saying he doesn’t believe cheating is rampant, only that it’s easy to do, achieve desired results and face minimal punishment. The backpedaling included raising Big 12 coaches up on a pedestal. But he didn’t need to sing Hosannas, Charlie Weis was more than willing to stick his neck out.
“What cheating was he referring to?” Weis said. “First of all, the commissioner knows a lot more than I do. I’ve been in multiple places, and the places I’ve been, I just haven’t seen it. So maybe I’m oblivious. I hear about it all the time. There are things that annoy me sometimes at other places. But really, I just try to speak for Kansas.”
During a recent spike in major violations in college football and basketball, athletic departments took a step in protecting itself from a financial standpoint. For instance, Weis must pay Kansas up to $1 million for costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, if the Jayhawks face major NCAA sanctions.
“That’s a reflection of the amount of time and money that schools are spending on these investigations,” Jim Marchiony, Kansas associate athletics director for public affairs, told USA Today “We don’t expect this ever to come in play with Charlie.”
So far, so good. At least related to NCAA violations. Weis’s record on the field – 4-20 – is another story. Maybe some rule breaking would do him well. After all, wins could pour in with nary a hint of any repercussions.
“The NCAA is in a battle with a BB gun in their hands,” Bowlsby said, “and they’re fighting howitzers.”