DALLAS — Big 12 Media Days are the two days set aside every year for the embattled league to put its best foot forward.
It’s the one time of year when the conference offers hope to its entire constituency.
Instead, the Big 12 stumbled out of the gate Monday morning — specifically, commissioner Bob Bowlsby stumbled, over and over — and Big 12 fans are shaking their collective heads.
Disgust and disgrace at Baylor was the topic of the day during Bowlsby’s annual state of the Big 12 address, first in a 20-minute press conference and then at a 20-minute breakout interview with about two dozen reporters.
Bowlsby tried, but his missteps were plentiful and prolific, and left the league a bit staggered.
He answered the first question, in regards to the Pepper Hamilton report and Baylor’s dissemination of information, by saying Big 12 leaders “will get more than the public. There isn’t any doubt about that. We already have more than the public on an oral basis.”
But then, in answering a question about the ongoing employment of Art Briles’ son, son-in-law and defensive coordinator, “I know what you know. So if you know more about those three in specific, I guess people would be glad to know the information.”
Bowlsby then added, “I have empathy for some of the young men on the (Baylor) football team and some of the people that are very close to the staff, because it would be easy to paint this with a complete broad brush and have everybody presume to be implicated and guilty; that certainly is not the case.”
But it wasn’t until more than 10 minutes into his breakout interview, when asked specifically if there was too much talk about football and not enough talk about the women who were raped and assaulted, that he finally addressed the victims.
“Well, the survivors should be first and foremost,” Bowlsby offered. “And we ought to be doing — at that institution and every institution — everything we can to eradicate sexual assaults.”
Rape and sexual assault survivors, activists and others bristled at Bowlsby’s most provocative statement.
“Our conference and our Board doesn’t have any legal standing on some of the things that have taken place or are alleged to have taken place,” Bowlsby said. “But let it suffice to say as it pertains to all of our institutions, we are very committed as a group of 10 schools to eradicating sexual assault on our campuses.
“It almost goes without saying that when you combine alcohol and drugs and raging hormones and the experiences of 18-to-22 years old, it’s probably unrealistic to think that these kinds of things are never going to happen. But we certainly want to make sure that from the center we do everything we can to ensure that they are minimized, if not eradicated.”
That came off as excuse-making.
Bowlsby said conference composition — i.e., expansion — would be on the agenda for the league’s board of directors meeting on Tuesday, but seemed to indicate the topic of Baylor will rule the day. Although there is a media conference call scheduled for afterward, Bowlsby on Monday declined to offer a deep preview.
“This is going to be a process,” he said. “It isn’t going to go away soon, and I don’t know how to characterize it other than that. I think there are going to be things that we ask questions about that we’re not going to share publicly and that will just be the way it is.”
Bowlsby even misspoke when talking about Baylor’s interim coach, Jim Grobe, referring to him instead as Al — presumably mixing up Jim Grobe with Al Groh.
Bowlsby did hit the right tone on one topic: that Baylor’s shame affects everyone.
“There are certainly those among our Board … that have felt that the image of the Big 12 and the other members of the Big 12 have been sullied as a result of this incident,” Bowlsby said.
He added that he doesn’t know where the benchmark for “sullied” actually lies.
“I don’t know where the white line is,” Bowlsby said. “I know that our presidents’ group is fairly comfortable that this one rises to that level.”
Baylor representatives already have spent time at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, and Bowlsby said there is an ongoing possibility of punishment from both the NCAA and the Big 12, though he declined to describe what those punishments might be.
The NCAA’s ala carte application of “lack of institutional control” may be in play.
“We talk specifically about institutional control,” Bowlsby said. “We talk specifically about programs in compliance with Title IX. So sure, institutional control is very much in the middle of this conversation. It will be for the NCAA, and it will be for the Big 12.
“I think there will be hard questions. There isn’t any doubt about that, to the extent that they can answer them, they will answer them.
“To say that we have a vision for what the end game is would not be accurate.”