Bob Bowlsby has spent the last nine months since being named the fourth commissioner of the Big 12 Conference listening to others. He hears the good and sometimes the opposite in his job, and the first-year commissioner took the opportunity on Wednesday to share his thoughts on the current state of major college athletics.
Bowlsby was the featured speaker in the Executive Management Briefings, coordinated by the Center for Executive and Professional Development at Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business. He also is scheduled to be the featured speaker at the Tulsa Business Forums on Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The Big 12 commissioner spoke to the crowd at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City about some of the issues that are often associated with college athletics. He listed three of the most prevalent issues involving college athletics:
1) Coaches are being paid outlandish salaries;
2) Presidents need to get control or higher education will continue in an irreversible decline;
3) Athletes are no longer real students. We need to engage ourselves in restoring academic integrity in intercollegiate athletics.
Bowlsby addressed the matter of football and basketball coaches earning multi-million dollar salaries. “It’s true, they are (paid outlandish salaries). They make one heck of a lot of money. Some of them are earning it, some of them are not. Some assistant coaches are making a lot more than they are worth. Commissioners are being paid more than they are worth. Some CEOs are worth what they are being paid. They are driving shareholder profits, they’re driving companies forward, they’re doing all the right things and they’re doing them in the right way. Others are not. That’s just the way it is, and my business isn’t any different than any of yours.”
Bowlsby told the Tulsa World that the league studied expasion closely and believes the current conference of ten is right fit. He added the league will remain ready to act if they think other teams are needed.
As for the issue of university President’s needing to get control of college athletics, Bowlsby says that the current hierarchy of 18 NCAA Board of Directors was implemented in 1996. “It was supposed to bring great integrity to the process. I’ll leave it to you to determine whether or not we have advanced the integrity or gone in another direction,” he said.
“I would suggest to you that we haven’t made progress, and one of the reasons we haven’t is because the Board of Directors of the NCAA doesn’t have the necessary practitioners in the room when they’re making decisions. It’s a point of advocacy that I have made and am going to continue to make,” Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby disagrees with the assertion that the young men and women who represent Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas and the other seven Big 12 institutions are no longer students looking to earn a college degree.
“Well, in actuality the graduation rates of student-athletes are the best they’ve been in the history of intercollegiate athletics. That’s particularly true of African-American males where the outrage was the greatest that ... student-athletes were reaching the end of their playing careers without having any opportunity to earn meaningful degrees,” said Bowlsby.
“Graduation rates in football and men’s basketball are both over 70 percent at the present time. They’ve both gone up 10 percent in the last six years. So we’re making progress and those assertions about taking classes that don’t mean anything, majoring in ‘eligibility,’ doing things that represent well on the field but don’t represent well in the classroom just plain aren’t true.”
Bowlsby then stunned the audience when he shared that each of the three concerns were taken from an 1927 article in The New York Times.
“This came up in the ’40s, it came up in the ’50s, it came up in the ’70s ... these things have been around for eons. Our lot in life in college athletics is to be in a small boat in choppy seas. That’s just the way it is. It was that way when I was an athletic director, (and) it’s that way now that I’m a commissioner,” said Bowlsby, who spent 28 years as an athletic director at Stanford, Iowa and Northern Iowa before being named last May as the Big 12 commissioner.
But Bowlsby is optimistic that the Big 12‘s boat is heading in the right direction.
“I’m very excited about our league and I’m very excited about the future,” he said.
“I’m committed to the improvement for our student-athletes. I think athletics done properly is a great thing for higher education. It’s a well-traveled bridge between the campus and the community, and it makes all the sense in the world if it’s done properly, if it has the right balance, if it has the right components and it has the right relationships.
“I’m excited about the future. I don’t have many years left in the business, and part of the reason I came to the Big 12 and came to the commissioner’s role after all these years on campus (as an athletic director) is that I want to help make a difference in what intercollegiate athletics looks like going forward.”
The third and final speaker in the Spears School’s speaker series will be Tom Brokaw, the television journalist and author who is best known for being anchor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004 and author of the book “The Greatest Generation.” He will speak on April 2, from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Mabee Center in Tulsa and from 4-5:30 p.m. at the Civic Center in Oklahoma City.