Cowen on the 'Right Side'

December 4, 2003

Nick Marinello
Phone: (504) 865-5714

It's not easy becoming a house- hold name. During the last four months, Tulane President Scott Cowen has been interviewed more than 160 times by the national press, made two trips to Capitol Hill and participated in numerous meetings and conferences related to intercollegiate athletics.

Last month's testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary has been perhaps the highest-profile event for Cowen, who chairs and is spokesperson for the Presidential Coalition for Athletics Reform, but it is only one of a string of duties Cowen has shouldered since last July, when he vowed to lead reform of major college athletics.

Cowen, who said that it was "not in my life's script" to become the leading advocate for intercollegiate athletics reform, said the extra duty adds pressure to an already tough job.

"The hours of this job are normally demanding," he said, "but for the last several months I've been working flat-out seven days a week." Cowen said that it is hard to predict when and how certain issues will pop up. "It was important for us to have a review of our intercollegiate athletics program last year. After that review was complete I made some statements regarding the state of intercollegiate athletics that were picked up nationally, and the issue gained traction.

"We need to get rid of the BCS [Bowl Championship Series]," Cowen was widely reported saying at a June 10 press conference. The Bowl Championship Series, created in 1998 to create a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national title game in college football, comprises 62 teams from five Division I-A conferences, plus Notre Dame. Teams from non-Bowl Championship Series conferences, such as Tulane, are virtually excluded from the chance at a national title and the monetary rewards of postseason play.

By late July a confederation of 54 presidents of universities not included in the Bowl Championship Series had established a coalition to reform intercollegiate athletics and named Cowen its leader. When Cowen told the Senate last month that the Bowl Championship Series was "unjust and unjustified," he was echoing a theme he has articulated in countless news articles and conferences.

"I have always said that what is happening with the BCS is just the tip of the iceberg of what is going on in intercollegiate athletics," Cowen told Inside Tulane in an interview conducted in late October. "If you peel away the layers of the onion you begin to see that college athletics is very commercialized. The goals of intercollegiate athletics are out of sync with the mission of our universities."

Ideally, Cowen said he would like to see a "multilateral disarmament of intercollegiate athletics in which we all agree to stand down to make it less commercialized with an increased emphasis on academics."

For that reason, Cowen says he believes the work he is doing on the national stage will have direct impact here on campus. "In the best case scenario, if postseason college football was reformed to be more equitable among all Division I-A teams, Tulane could see increased revenue for its program and the elimination of the perceived two-tier system, which now exists in Division I-A athletics.

"Sometimes a leader has to take on issues that are transcendent of his own institution for the betterment of the whole," said Cowen. "This issue is relevant to our institution and other institutions, as well. "The good thing is that Tulane is on the right side of this issue," added Cowen. "I would hate to have to defend the other position."

Beyond that, Cowen said his efforts will play out within a fixed time frame. "I think we will see some kind of resolution in the next six months. If I thought this would last another two years or even one, I would have to consider whether or not there was too much of an opportunity cost."

Nick Marinello can be reached at

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