Disconnect and Inconsistency at Big 12 Forum

I generally think the idea of hypocrisy is overblown both generally and specifically in college athletics. The classic definition of hypocrisy (claiming to believe something you do not actually believe) has been replaced with the Daily Show-definition of hypocrisy: having done or said anything remotely inconsistent with what you are now arguing means you have lost the argument.

So I won’t use the H-word to describe what went down at the Big 12 forum on the “State of College Sports”. People can hold nuanced, even inconsistent views on the same issue at the same time. But two lines of reasoning expressed by collegiate athletics leaders at the forum deserve some scrutiny and more explanation.

One basic theme of the panel was Dr. Donna Lopiano, former women’s athletic director at Texas, attacking the autonomy portion of the new governance structure which will be voted on today. It was defended by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Kansas State athletic director John Currie, and Texas athletic director Steve Patterson as necessary because the power conferences “win most of the championships [and] have distinct needs driven by high resources”. Dr. Lopiano attacked one of the reasons for this divide:

“Why are we blaming the 365 that you won’t share money with?” said Lopiano, president of Sports Management Resources.

“Why should we share it if they are not generating it?” Patterson responded.

Keep that idea in mind. The power conferences need autonomy because they are different than the rest of Division I, at least in part because they refuse to share a greater portion of revenue with the rest of the division.

When the debate moved to professionalizing college athletics, the union decision at Northwestern, and creating an employer-employee relationship, Patterson and Bowlsby had a very different tune:

Bowlsby said he fears the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling that football and men’s basketball players at Northwestern University are employees could have ramifications that would result in massive reductions and even eliminations of various sports at schools nationwide, which would “have a devastating effect on our country.

“If we ever go down the path of creating an employer-employee relationship,” Bowlsby said, “we will have forever lost our way.”

Said Patterson, “If you go out and whack scholarships, that’s gonna be very bad for this country.”

In essence, what Patterson and Bowlsby are saying is you cannot pay athletes in the revenue sports a salary because, among other things, doing so would mean cutting scholarships in other sports (if not cutting the sports entirely). And this is not just bad for college athletics, it would be bad for the entire United States of America, devastating our society.

So let’s bring those two ideas back together. According to Big 12 leaders, athletes should have to share the revenue they generate for the school with other athletes for the good of the country. But institutions have no responsibility to share the revenue they generate with other institutions who are part of the same division within the same association. Despite the fact that the effect of further stratifying college athletics could be the same as paying athletes a salary: schools deciding to cut sports and scholarships.

This is not hypocrisy in the classic sense. I’m sure everyone at the Big 12 forum deeply and sincerely believed in the convictions for which they argued. But two ideas that create such dissonance (not to mention a fair perception of tone-deafness) being held by presumably smart people at the same time demands more nuance. It demands an explanation of why Texas football and basketball players must share what they generate for the good of the country while Texas has no duty to share what it generates for the same.

Posted on by John Infante
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