DALLAS — Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a dire warning Monday for anyone who likes intercollegiate athletics the way they are now.
"You're going to hate it going forward," Bowlsby said. "There's a lot of change coming."
During his opening address at Big 12 football media days, Bowlsby talked about growing financial constraints athletic programs face going forward and the "strange environment" that exists with class-action lawsuits against the NCAA and its member schools.
Bowlsby said he's doesn't think there is a real understanding of how much lawsuits — which he numbered as seven and "growing all the time" — could radically alter things.
"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."
While acknowledging the outcomes are unknown, the former Stanford athletic director expressed concern about fewer opportunities for some athletes to go college in the future.
"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," he said. "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."
A year ago, Bowlsby's opening address was part of a coordinated effort by the leaders of the power conferences — the Big 12, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC — in calling for transformative changes in the governance system of the NCAA.
The NCAA board of directors is set to vote Aug. 7 on a proposal to give schools in the highest-profile conferences more influence over college rules. The proposal also would give athletic directors and athletes bigger roles in the legislative process, and give the power conferences autonomy to make their own bylaws.
That vote will come a day after the Big 12 sponsors the first in a scheduled series of forums on the state of college athletics in New York.
When addressing potential unionization of football and basketball players, Bowlsby said "student-athletes are not employees. They should never be employees. It's not an employee/employer relationship."
Bowlsby also said the NCAA is "headed down a path of significant financial difficulty" with revenues from television packages going up about 2.5 percent a year while expenses are increasing more than 4 percent annually.
That includes schools paying $1 million or more per year under new rules to start providing unlimited food and nutrition to student-athletes. Plus, future scholarships could provide more money to cover the full cost of attendance.
"I think that's great. I think there are ways that it costs more than room, board, books, tuition, and fees to go to school," Bowlsby said. "But 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.
"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," he said. "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."
Bowlsby also addressed the NCAA enforcement program, which he said "is broken" considering no hearings before the infractions committee in almost a year even though he doesn't believe cheating is rampant.
"I think it's not an understatement to say cheating pays presently," he said "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 fight howitzers."