More Ruminations On College Football

The potential fallout from the Big-10 annexation of USC and UCLA continues to be front and center in my mind.  Sometime down the road, someone will write a book about the evolution of college football from the 1960s through the 2020s and that someone will put all of this into perspective.  I am not that person – – but I hope to be around to read that book.

It seems to me that what will remain of the PAC-12 and what will remain of the Big-12 will need to consolidate.  When Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big-12, there will be 10 teams left; when USC and UCLA leave the PAC-12, there will be 10 teams left.  It certainly seems to me that some sort of amalgamation needs to happen there, but it does not make a ton of sense to me for the two “remnants” to merge and form a 20-team conference that extends from Morgantown, WV to Seattle, WA.

As things stand now, the PAC-12 “remnants” are a bit higher on the food chain than are the Big-12 “remnants”, but that could change immediately if the 4 teams left in the PAC-12 South – – Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah – – decide to hook up with the Big-12 “remnants”.  I am not saying such a move is going to happen; but if it does, the 6 teams in the PAC-12 North will be in dire straits.  They will be too small to have any impact in the new world of college football and they would likely have to take whatever terms are offered to them to join one of the remaining conferences.  They could be forced to join the Mountain West Conference; I doubt that is what Phil Knight envisioned for the Oregon Ducks when he became that school’s chief philanthropist.

I think Notre Dame is a pivotal player as of now.  They play an ACC football schedule, but Notre Dame is not a full-fledged ACC member.  I think – – I could be very wrong here – – such a status should allow Notre Dame to join either the Big-10 or the SEC based on which conference gives them the better deal.  About 40 years ago, Tony Kornheiser used to call Notre Dame, “The University of Football in North America”; that stature is no more, but Notre Dame would still be a prize catch for a football conference.  As I said yesterday, the question today is how strongly Notre Dame will cling to its independent status that has been so important to the school over its history.

If Notre Dame bolts the ACC to either the Big-10 or the SEC, that would give either conference an odd number of schools and that mathematical inconvenience will almost certainly spur more expansion by the conference with the odd number – – and by the conference still at 16 teams either in response to the movement of Notre Dame or as a means to secure the “best of the rest” out there.

College football has changed a lot over my lifetime.  A college football game was the first sporting event that I saw live and in person; that was more than 70 years ago.  I do not want to be the old codger telling youngsters to get the Hell off my lawn, but I am not so sure that all the changes have been for the better.  College football seems to be morphing into minor league professional football.  Players are getting paid; they can move around at will; the identification between the guy wearing the uniform and the uniform itself no longer has any “personality”; it is simply a transactional event.  That situation is the logical extension of the fact that college football is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.  I am not convinced that this is either a utopian or dystopian future, but it is what college football is going to be down the road.  There is one completely positive outcome in college football’s future:

  • We will not have to hear anyone from NCAA HQs spout platitudes about “student athletes” on the gridiron.

Please note that I still have not said anything about how the College Football Playoff affects all of this.  The reason for that status is that I really have not sorted out if that is part of the driving force for these annexations or if it is an entity that will have to be nimble enough to adapt to them.  I am pretty confident about the following assertion.  As of now – and particularly after the transfers of Texas, Oklahoma, USC and UCLA are in effect – – there will be three people who will set the course for the evolution of college football.  They are:

  • The SEC Commissioner – – currently Greg Sankey
  • The Big-10 Commissioner – – currently Kevin Warren
  • The CFP President – – currently Bill Hancock

If those three men – – and any of their successors of any gender – – agree on something related to college football, it is going to happen.  If they maintain any sort of unanimity of vision for the game and the economics of the game, that is where things will go.  The NCAA will be totally irrelevant to college football in just a few years; this troika will replace it de facto but not de jure.

The CFP pays money to conferences based on the number of conference teams that play in the CFP and the so-called New Year’s 6 Bowl Games.  Conferences get an “appearance fee” and then the conferences split TV revenue based on a formula that is way to complicated for me to put here – – and frankly way too complicated for me to understand completely.  However, the appearance fees are simple to understand:

  • The conferences of the 4 schools in the CFP get $6M per school.  [Aside:  the two teams advancing to the national championship game do not get an additional “appearance fee”, but they do get their expenses for travel to the game venue reimbursed from CFP funds.]
  • The conferences of the schools that play in the New Year’s 6 Bowl games get $4M for each school.

The CFP had determined that it would not expand beyond 4 teams until the late 20s at the earliest.  Now with the emergence of two dominant football conferences, it is fair to ask if that decision will stand.  The history of “conference diversity” in the CFP is interesting.  The CFP has been in existence since the 2014/15 season:

  • In the first 3 CFP tournaments, four different conferences participated.
  • In 2017/18, there were two SEC schools
  • In the next 3 CFP tournaments, either four different conferences  or three different conferences plus independent Notre Dame participated.
  • Last year, there were two SEC schools.

How long until the CFP becomes a tournament only involving teams from the SEC and the Big-10?  And because of the complexity of the TV revenue calculations for the New Year’s 6 Bowl Games, the Selection Committee is motivated to put “brand names” on the air for people to tune in to see.  How long until the New Year’s 6 games become dominated by the two mega-conferences?

That is too much for my cerebellum to process at this point, so I’ll just sit back and wait for more data to roll in – – and hope that the new data clarify things instead of adding to the confusion.

Finally, let me close today with some observations on “confusion” from others who are wiser than I:

“Willingness to change is a strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while,”  [Jack Welch]

And …

“Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.”  [Henry Miller]

And …

“The interval between the decay of the old and the formation and the establishment of the new constitutes a period of transition which must always necessarily be one of uncertainty, confusion, error and wild and fierce fanaticism.”  [Senator and Vice-President John C. Calhoun]

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



4 thoughts on “More Ruminations On College Football”

  1. Change…certainly something I understand and generally embrace, but enough is enough! I’m sitting far away from the good ole USofA at present and witnessing all sorts of unraveling in terms of politics etc. and NOW I have to also put up with the total disruption of college football.

    I, like you, am advanced in age…over 75…I also am an ACC person…(boo, boo many will say) and it breaks my heart to see the stuff going on at present. The ACC made a really bad deal with ESPN when the ACC Network was created…a fellow UNC Alum was in charge at the time BTW, and the lack of foresight at that time is now coming home in a painful way.

    I’ve already read a lot of current speculation RE the UNC/DOOK pairing as attractive for some sort of conference morphing (“raiding?”)…there is irony there that some will appreciate. Well, while many wiser they me will pooh-pooh any concern for ACC football, I for one have found over the years that it has been an enjoyable brand of football: says he who has been affiliated with PITT, Iowa, Indiana, and AZ State over his academic/professional life. In short, to see the demise of the regional rivalries…I’m speaking of football here…that is the current ACC would be a loss of something that continues to represent a unique quality of geography and history (particularly before expansion of the conference).

    While ESPN, Vitale and others tout the histrionic importance of the BBall UNC/Dook rivalry, I will really go out on a limb here and say that those two schools also provide one of the best football events each fall…(I will wait for folks to pick themselves up off the floor laughing)…but I don’t care how bad or good either of the two teams are each year there is no better game to see than when the two schools play. As a matter of fact, I try to attend the game each year regardless of how far away I have roamed from the Triangle.

    So, I am not a happy camper with what seems to be unfolding…for the ACC as well as for college athletics in general. In short, I’m feeling very, very Curmudgeonly at present!!

    1. Gary (UNC ’65):

      Real rivalry games – – in must about any sport – – provide entertainment for those folks who observe the contests.I have a son who went to Duke and some good friends who preceded him there. I have seen several games in Wallace Wade Stadium against UNC and NC State. At no time would anyone in the audience have confused the talent on the field with teams that would compete for national championships, but the games were great to watch.

      I have seen basketball games in Cameron Indoor Stadium and in the old Carmichael Aud and in the “Dean Dome”. There is a quantum jump in entertainment value when it is a “rivalry game” as opposed to an early season tune-up contest where the home squad is going to win by 20 points or more absent an intervention by the basketball gods.

      The fact that USC and UCLA are both headed to the Big-10 preserves that very real rivalry. Same goes for Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC as a tandem.

      Having said that, I feel like the proverbial child in a room full of horse sh*t who goes digging around in the muck because he figures there has to be a pony in there someplace.

  2. OOPS…didn’t mean to imply that you were an ACC person…poor sentence construction.

    1. No problem. In terms of collegiate sports “affiliation”, I would be an “Ivy League Guy” which is not very high on the sporting food chain… 🙂

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