On the heels of the NCAA's Division I board voting to allow the "Power Five" conferences to make some of their own rules, our man Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 commissioner and managerial-class Marxist, inadvertently made the best argument for why football and basketball players (at most schools) should be treated differently from other athletes.
Here's Bowlsby, per ESPN:
"I think the only message is that our student-athletes and our programs are largely the face of what America knows as college athletics," Bowlsby told ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Friday. "We win more than 90 percent of the NCAA championships every year.
"... I think this (vote) recognizes that there are some differences, and programs at our level have some unique challenges, have some relationships with student-athletes that are evolving. We need to have rules that respond to that evolution and those changes. I think it's an acknowledgment that some of us have challenges that are unique. It's because of those challenges that we felt like we needed an opportunity to control a little more of our destiny."
If the standard here is how Americans view college sports, then surely the "face of what Americans know as college athletics" belongs to either a football player or a basketball player. At most Division I schools, those sports generate nearly all the revenue for the athletic programs. Those "unique challenges" that Bowlsby mentions are the challenges facing football and basketball, not field hockey and swimming. Those "evolving" relationships are the schools' relationships with football players and basketball players, not divers and fencers.
Bowlsby has to be vague, though, or else his argument would look ridiculous alongside his oft-stated belief that football and basketball players don't deserve any special treatment or additional compensation, since they work just as hard as the swimmers and wrestlers. It's a rhetorical feature of a lot of arguments by NCAA deadenders. On one hand, they admit that the "Power Five" conferences need special rules to address the special issues arising out of all that money and intensity coursing through the Big Ten and the SEC. On the other hand, they pooh-pooh the notion that swimming or wrestling are on a different part of the spectrum from football or basketball, where, you know, the money and intensity are way different. A commenter put it very nicely yesterday:
NCAA to Players: It's not fair that the sports that make the most money should follow a different set of rules from all of the other athletes.
NCAA to Conferences: It's entirely fair that the conferences that make the most money should follow a different set of rules from all of the other conferences.
This isn't necessarily hypocrisy, as John Infante pointed out yesterday, but it tells you something about the prerogatives and assumptions of the NCAA deadenders that so many of them can hold these two seemingly dissonant ideas in their head at the same time. You and I may not see any difference between the idea of carving out special distinctions for revenue-producing football and basketball players and the idea of carving out special distinctions for revenue-rich conferences. But you can be sure Bob Bowlsby does. The difference lies in who gets to hold the money.
Change is coming to the NCAA anyway. You can tell by the utter poverty of the arguments being made on its behalf now.