How would you like me to react when the commissioner of the Big 12 conference, Bob Bowlsby, says matter of factly that “cheating pays’’ in college athletics and that minor sports programs might be eliminated because no one in his industry can figure out how to collectively make do on $7.3 billion?
I could react by laughing. I could be react by screaming.
Instead, I will react by reminding you that no cesspool in sports is more corrupt — and this is a very large presumption — than the college sports cesspool.
Thanks to the money pump of a conscience-bankrupt enabler known as ESPN, the college football business has been showered with about $600 million a year for the next dozen years. The amount reflects the staggering popularity of a five-month sport, which by all metrics has soared to No. 2 behind the NFL while surging ahead of the NBA and Major League Baseball. When ESPN decided to invest such sums to own and operate the new four-team College Football Playoff tournament and its accompanying subset of other bowls, it was assumed the days of crying poor might subside in college sports.
Silly me. I didn’t account for the greed quotient.
The money grab is on. It is fueled by an unprecedented period of peril for the once-almighty NCAA, which could cease to exist as we’ve known it as quickly as one legal decision against that grotesque blob in the Ed O’Bannon case. If, as expected, a judge rules that college players deserve an ample share of revenues for their likenesses, names and images, the NCAA will be crippled like never before.
And who stands to inherit the power and even more money? Why the five “power conferences,’’ of course — the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and Big Ten.
As if announcing the coup in incrementally orchestrated speeches at the conferences’ football media gatherings, Bowlsby’s staggering message this week followed last week’s bombshell from SEC commissioner Mike Slive. In invoking the names of Nelson Mandela, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Winston Churchill, Slive basically said he and his four allies are ready to pounce. “We are not deaf to the discontent,’’ he said. “It is critical for the NCAA to change, and to change in accordance with the vision proposed for the 21st century by the five conferences.’’
Translated, it means get the hell out of their way, or the Slive Five will trample the NCAA and anyone else in their path. They seek autonomy to run their conferences as they please, without NCAA interference, and that would include enforcement (or lack thereof). To hear Bowlsby, the NCAA no longer is serious about investigating even the most flagrant red flags involving cheating and other wrongdoing in programs. It’s hard to disagree, seeing recent wrist slaps for what were obvious infractions involving the University of Miami and Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M.
“Enforcement is broken,” Bowlsby said. “The infractions committee hasn’t had a hearing (for a major program) in almost a year, and I think it’s not an understatement to say cheating pays presently. If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.
“They’re in a battle with a BB gun in their hand. They’re fighting howitzers.”
Why is he telling us that cheating is easier than ever? Oh, maybe so we’ll think the system already was “broken’’ when cheating continues in the power conferences — unchecked — after the Slive Five take over. And once they do conquer, Bowlsby wants us to think the conferences still will be cash-strapped, despite their new megabillions, because of various class-action lawsuits against the NCAA and its member schools.
“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,” he said. “I think there may be tension among and between sports on campus and institutions that have different resources. I fear that we will get past the change and then we’ll realize that all the gymnastics programs went away, or that we have agents on campus all the time negotiating playing time for student athletes. There’s all kind of Armageddon scenarios you could come up with. … You wouldn’t have to be a very good fiction writer to come up with some scenarios that would be pretty scary.”
No fiction writer is necessary. The Fib Five are lying quite well. Look, the $7.3 billion is going somewhere, and I’ll assume some of it is going into the pockets of recruits and their parents if it’s so easy to cheat without fear of being caught. If so, why pay the players? Though Bowlsby is correct in wondering how you can pay football players and not women swimmers, per Title IX, $7.3 billion is still SEVEN POINT THREE BILLION. Where is it all going, fellas? Bowlsby says an ample portion will go to third meals for athletes, who have complained they get two meals a day but go to bed hungry.
“Even in an environment where we have some additional revenue coming in from television resources, primarily, it is going to be very difficult for many institutions to fund that,’’ he said. “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. 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.”
I’d suggest ESPN’s crack investigative unit do some probing. But, really now, do you think company president John Skipper and his bosses at Disney Co. want to publicize the crimes of their own business bedfellows in college football? ESPN cannot invest in Big Sports and pretend it still is investigating Big Sports. It should stop the charade and abandon journalism altogether, as Fox Sports has, and let the non-conflicted likes of Sports Illustrated do the honest reporting on the filth of college sports. Last year, SI did a thorough expose on multi-layered ills inside Oklahoma State’s football program, a story ESPN barely has acknowledged beyond a rip job on one of the story’s authors. Since then, Skipper has branded the performer of the rip job, Jason Whitlock, as immature, which doesn’t mean Skipper didn’t like Whitlock’s rip job on SI and how ESPN is distancing itself from such meaningful, necessary reporting.
Which will allow the Slive Five, after the coup, to do no investigating at all while taking $7.3 billion from a media monster that will do no investigating at all.
“You’re going to hate it going forward,’’ Bowlsby said. “There’s a lot of change coming.’’
Brace yourself for new depths of lying, cheating and big-media complicity.
Somehow, I miss the NCAA already.