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CARROLL — Jamie Pollard plucked a set of observations from the distant past to help frame his current assessment of the state of college athletics.
“I was reminded that in 1929, the Carnegie Foundation did a report on college athletics,” Iowa State’s longtime director of athletics said Monday during a Tailgate Tour stop at the Carrollton Hotel and Event Centre. “They had three findings. Number one, that student-athletes aren’t students. Number two, that coaches are paid too much. And at number three, we need to get the government involved to help control college athletics.
“I think it’s really fascinating that that was 92 (or 93) years ago, because you could argue not much has changed.”
Pollard spoke with the media about a broad range of topics, including the ever-expanding transfer portal and the vital importance of finding the right person to replace outgoing Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby at the league’s helm.
Pollard also shared his thoughts on Iowa athletics director Gary Barta’s remarks last week about potentially repealing the recently-adopted NCAA rule allowing first-time transfers to remain immediately eligible at their second school. Barta cited concerns with the new name, image and likeness (NIL) rules that are currently governed strictly at the state and local level.
“I just find it fascinating that a year ago, we had sit-out (transfer) rules and everybody told us we were horrible for (having) that; that our industry, that we needed to change,” said Pollard, who shares Barta’s concerns pertaining to NIL. “And we all said — all the professionals said — ‘careful what you wish for.’ And we changed it. And now everyone says, ‘Well, we need to have stipulations that they can’t do this, can’t do that.’ … Be careful what you wish for. There’ll always be change.”
Pollard said he’s not overly concerned by the increasingly mercurial nature of the transfer portal.
“We’ve benefited from it,” he said. “So it would be a little shortsighted for me to be sitting here saying (much about it). … So if a student-athlete feels like they can get something that’s better for them — whatever that is to them — have at it. They get one chance to be a student-athlete. I get multiple chances to be AD.”
Pollard said all of the real and/or perceived problems with college athletics help make selecting a new conference commissioner who can thrive amid the chaos of paramount importance. Bowlsby helped the Big 12 navigate multiple waves of conference realignment, which will remain an ongoing challenge as other potential snags either stabilize or multiply.
“It’s a critical hire for the Big 12,” Pollard said. “We have to onboard four (BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston) and off board two (Oklahoma and Texas), and get a new television deal (in 2025) at a time when the waters are really choppy. So getting somebody hired sooner than later will be really important.”
That’s true now and was just as vital in 1929. Pollard said despite current issues, his athletics department is poised for a record-best finish in the Learfield Director’s Cup standings. The Cyclones rank 20th in the standings. They’ve never finished higher than 34th.
“Kudos go to our coaches, our student-athletes, but I believe at the root of it were some of the decisions we made (at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic) about the entire athletics program,” Pollard said.