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WVU football: Big 12 commissioner sees change on NCAA horizon

DALLAS - Bob Bowlsby spent just a few sentences of his news conference Monday humbly highlighting the many successes the Big 12 witnessed during his first year as the conference commissioner. Most of his time and attention at the annual football media days here was aimed at the future.

Bowlsby said in more certain terms what his contemporaries in the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference have said, and what one can surely expect the commissioners of the Pac-12 and Big Ten will echo: The membership needs to reconfigure the leadership of the NCAA.

"I think we all have a sense that transformative change is going to have to happen," he said. "This is not a time when trimming around the edges is going to make very much difference."

More significantly, Bowlsby hinted at a consequence to the status quo when he suggested a fourth division of schools could break away and play amongst themselves. He hesitated to say that seceding from the NCAA was the best option, or even an option at all, but conceded it "possibly could" be considered if frustrations persist.

"I'm not hearing anyone say we ought to find another organization," he said. "I have not heard from a single commissioner or even athletic directors on an individual basis that they believe another organization other than the NCAA is the right approach for us.

"Why are we where we are?  It's hard to say.  I guess it's the cumulative effect of a long period of time, but I think what we've done essentially is we have tried to accomplish competitive equity through rules and legislative changes, and it's probably not possible to do that."

Bowlsby said the commissioners of the five major conferences met about six weeks ago to discuss the problems, and while there is no consensus on what needs to be done, it was clear they needed to push for changes. They no longer believe the structure as it exists will allow for the advancements that need occur.

"It's bad grammar, but a good concept:  If we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always got," he said. "That's kind of where we are right now."

Bowlsby believes the NCAA has made it too easy for schools to reach the Division I level, but that it is also guilty for making it too easy for those schools to stay there. The 2013-14 athletic year will have 351 Division I schools and Bowlsby said about 75 schools win 90 percent of the NCAA championships.

"We have a whole bunch of others that don't look much like the people in our (category), but yet through rule variation, they're trying to compete with us," he said, before stating later that Texas and Northern Iowa cannot be confused with one another.

Bowlsby said the NCAA might need to consider "federation by sport," and that schools could be separated by their size and scope and also the equity they bring into the system.

"It's probably unrealistic to think that we can manage football and field hockey by the same set of rules.  I think some kind of reconfiguration of how we govern is in order," he said.

It would thin a crowd that needs thinning. The growth has made it increasingly harder for schools to propose and enact rules changes that, in theory, would benefit college athletics and student-athletes. There is a perception that what some might considered to be an elite class would benefit the most from new rules, which creates a resistance that ends up preventing progress.

Bowlsby was asked about paying players as one variable that might lead to establishing another division and he said "the Big 12 and other conference like us would advocate" for supporting student-athletes beyond their scholarships. That's not something every conference can afford to say, which makes it difficult to address in a rulebook that covers one enormous organization.

"I think it's virtually impossible right now to configure legislative proposals that have any chance of getting through the system intact that would accomplish anything in the way of meaningful change," he said. "I think all of us are feeling that."

Bowlsby said the BCS commissioners haven't spoken more seriously about seceding because it might not be perceived as a legitimate threat. They are also aware that breaking away with a list of schools - he suggested the top 100 for the purpose of his conversation - and letting them play by themselves will segregate and turn some winning programs that are left out into losing programs.

He believes the problems can be solved within the structure of the NCAA, and Bowlsby endorsed incorporating into the NCAA's leadership more athletic directors, conference commissioners and others who participate in college athletics on a daily basis. A more severe measure, like breaking away, would be considered a "last resort."

"There are a lot of different models out there," he said. "It's always about the people at the margin, too.  There are a lot of people that will support a given proposal if they're included rather than excluded. And I think therein lies the difficulty in all of this. If you begin trying to put together homogeneous groups, somebody gets included, and somebody gets left out.  

"Usually, it happens along expenditure lines or competitive lines or revenue distribution lines.  Wherever you draw those lines, if they're bright lines, you have controversy."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at 


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