Bob Bowlsby never sounded like such a Trotskyite when he was athletic director at Iowa or Stanford. He was what he looked like – a guy who kept the ball in the fairway, never wanted to rouse any rabble, just wanted to keep the status quo-ing along like normal.
But now he is the commissioner of the Big 12, and he has different motivations. More specifically, he is calling for a separate confederation of big schools to deal with what are increasingly coming to be known as football issues.
Separate, that is, from the NCAA, though probably still affiliated with the larger group for purposes of splitting the take. And the take must always be honored.
This is the latest, and largest, incremental step in the big schools’ plan to ditch those beneath them, which has always been the goal of the big schools. More money, and fewer hands.
And the NCAA, whose power resides in the handling of the money, is now looking at a future in which it holds sway over the schools who don’t generate it. Now guess how this all ends.
Don’t feel sorry for the NCAA. It did this to itself in part, with an incompetence, arrogance and access to power that worked brilliantly when there was no alternative to it. But once the Big 10 made a TV network out of thin programming and propagandist bent, the NCAA was no longer the sole handler of the wallet.
And when you’re not that any more, you’re really just a guy with a big mouth in a room full of actual decision-makers.
Bowlsby’s role is in articulating the vision of the big schools in his seemingly understated but actually very pointed way. Of course any new conglomeration would work with the NCAA – of course it would. They’re all in this together.
That is, until the new group can do all its own national TV deals, make its own championships, hire its own lobbyists, draw up its own rules and decide for itself just how athletes will and will not be treated. They may get paid, but their rights to a full irrevocable scholarship and free transfers probably won’t be liberalized.
And enforcement? The hinder-covering fleecing of Penn State will never happen again, and the Miami paid-informant scam will be done with greater efficiency and less “But we can do whatever we want because we’re us” dismissiveness.
And there won’t be any of this messy EA Sports business. The new boys will decide on a case-by-case basis whose images get used and how.
Oh, college sports won’t be better. Or worse, really. It will just be different. More than ever, it will be run by the rich ones, for the rich ones. And rather than 350-some odd Division 1 basketball schools, or 125 FBS schools, there will be a far smaller number, and that number may swell or shrink depending on who can keep the money circulating.
This is not a revelation; people have seen this coming for years. The surprise is that Bob Bowlsby, invisible, unruffled, noncombative Bob Bowlsby is the Leon Trotsky figure, without the goatee and the bad haircut.
And even though all he is really proposing is not revolution but regime change and herd-thinning for the same system, he makes an odd-looking Bolshevik.