Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby spoke to reporters during a press conference this morning, and spent a good deal of time painting a bleak picture of the future of college sports. What does Bowlsby see on the horizon, in a post-O'Bannon world? Athletes unionizing! Massive program cuts! The death of the Olympics!
Take it away, Bowlsby (transcription via Post-Gazette):
We certainly are operating in a strange environment in that we have the lawsuits that I mentioned earlier, plus we have the O'Bannon lawsuit.
I think all of that in the end will cause programs to be eliminated. I think you'll see men's Olympic sports go away as a result of the new funding challenges that are coming down the pike. I think there may be tension among and between sports on campus and institutions that have different resources.
I think it's really unknown at this point what the outcomes will be. But generally speaking I think those are things you should watch for. I really do believe that it will be very difficult to run the kind of breadth of program that hundreds of thousands of student-athletes currently enjoy if we begin diverting significant amounts of money to other purposes.
This hypothetical—which posits that paying college athletes would so grievously reduce the operating budgets of university athletic departments so as to make the cold-hearted culling of non-revenue sports a sad necessity—is one that NCAA stans have, in various versions, been hiding behind forever. But Bowlsby is the first person I've seen trot out the boogeyman of the Olympics. Sure, we can pay these football players, but then we can't fund our track-and-field program, which means America won't be producing any Olympic sprinters, and will therefore be a lesser country. You don't want that, do you?
The whiff of bullshit in that argument isn't hard to smell. As has been pointed out many times, any reasonable pay-for-play model would be based on taking the money that is currently used to build $68 million "football performance centers" and make PE teachers and bureaucrats millionaires and putting it in the pockets of the athletes who produce that revenue. You'd have to drill through a pretty solid mountain of money before bringing the operating budget for the men's volleyball team under threat.
The funny thing is, Bowlsby admitted this himself, in a roundabout way, when he started taking questions from the media (emphasis mine):
But in the end, it's a somewhat zero-sum game. There's only so much money out there. I don't think that coaches and athletic directors are likely going to take pay cuts. I think that train's left the station. So that's some of the tension in the system that I referred to earlier.
And I think over a period of time what we'll find is that instead of keeping a tennis program, they're going to do the things that it takes to keep the football and men's and women's basketball programs strong.
This is a rather remarkable admission! It amounts to him dropping the mask and giving us a look at the actual operating logic of the NCAA. It's nice to run athletics programs and all, but let's be serious—the point of all this is making coaches and administrators rich. It also amounts, functionally, to extortion. Bowsbly and his kind know damn well where the money to pay college athletes lives, but they're just going to keep dangling the axe over the smaller programs, refusing to acknowledge that they are sitting on millions and millions of dollars (Bowlsby's stacking $1.8 million per year all on his own), and shrugging their shoulders like there's nothing else they can possibly do other than let the axe drop.