College Football Today…

This week saw various college athletic conferences put on “media days” where the football coaches and the conference commissioners get up and rhapsodize about the current state of their team and their conference and college football as a whole.  In past years, these “media days” were formulaic because of the relative stability of college football.  Every season, fans could bank on a few things almost to the same degree of certainty that night follows day:

  • Alabama will be good
  • Rutgers will be bad
  • Attendance at weeknight MAC games will be sparse
  • You get the idea…

This year, things are a bit livelier because the landscape of college football has fundamentally changed – – and it is not clear that all the change is for the better. The event that seems to have kicked this snowball over the cliff was the Supreme Court ruling that allowed college athletes to retain their eligibility even if they were paid “royalties” for the use of their name, image or likeness (NIL).  Most folks agreed with that outcome, but I do not think that too many fans saw where it would go in short order.  If a pizza chain wants to pay Quincy Quarterback to talk up their brand and use his picture on their pizza boxes, that should not make him ineligible to play football in the Fall.  However, when a bunch of rich alums get together and pool together millions of dollars to recruit and retain Quincy Quarterback and the Beefy Brothers on the defensive line and Randy Running-back, that alters the perception just a bit – – at least it does for me.

The focus on money in college football has been dominant for at least the last several decades but now the focus is even sharper.  All the conference expansions/realignments that have taken place over the past year or so are purely financially driven.  I am positive that UCLA’s decision to join the Big-10 had more to do with TV revenue money than it did with establishing a football rivalry with Indiana.

The TV ratings for Big-10 games and SEC games – – and to a lesser extent ACC games – – will dominate the ratings books once all the conference transfers are in effect.  However, the overall growth of college football may not be enhanced by that situation for at least four reasons:

  1. College football has always been a “regional sport”.  Rivalries tend to arise where there is “proximity”.  Spreading out the conference footprints removes some of that intimacy.  Think of the really intense rivalries like Duke/UNC (proximity), Alabama/Auburn (proximity), Oregon/Oregon St. (proximity), USC/UCLA (proximity), Ohio State/Michigan (proximity), Michigan/Michigan St. (proximity), Utah/BYU (proximity), Florida/Florida St. (proximity), Texas/Oklahoma (proximity), Oklahoma/Oklahoma St. (proximity)…
  2. College football rivalries – because they are often close by each other – often revolve around making the rival suffer more than you do.  Ole Miss and Mississippi State have not threatened to win the SEC for quite a while, but their fans can and do focus on being better than those “other guys in the State of Mississippi.”  Establishing that sort or relational rivalry is not easy or natural; if you doubt that, check out Missouri and all its blood-rivals in the SEC.
  3. Chasing big money does not always cure everything; it cures a lot – – but not everything.  Take Maryland for example… The Terps were in the ACC, but they were geographically an outlier in the conference and complained that it hindered their recruiting  efforts.  I do not know if that was necessarily the case, but it was an ongoing narrative coming from the Terps for years.  So, they jumped ship and are now in a geographic vacuum in the Big-10; I call that the Great Leap Sideways – – with a hat tip to Mao Zedong and his Great Leap Forward.  Maryland’s nearby conference neighbors are now Rutgers and Penn State.  The Nittany Lions barely acknowledge Maryland as an opponent, and who cares if they are arch-rivals with Rutgers – – which they are not?
  4. The establishment of the so-called super-conferences is the athletic department equivalent of placing a bet that college football can become a national sport.    That presents no problem to me personally, but I have no real evidence to offer that suggests such a thing is going to work.

Imagine for a moment that the SEC and the Big-10 concentrate the college football talent in the two conferences to an even greater extent than it is today.  Imagine that even the ACC begins to lose stature in college football.  In that circumstance, what a nationally focused sport of college football would look like is a minor professional football league.  Imagine that either the USFL and/or the XFL manages to survive as a “developmental league” for the NFL.  Then what would that pair of nationally focused pair of super-conferences be?  Feeders to the USFL/XFL survivor?

I am not predicting the demise of college football and I certainly am not one to wish for such an outcome.  As an alum of an Ivy League school, I have no hormonal ties to MY college football team; I like college football as a large and gangly entity all on its own.  The super-conferences are not going to lose me as a viewer for the rest of my time on the planet.  But the folks who run the big conferences and the folks who run the College Football Playoff need to avoid looking at the world through rose colored glasses.  There will be bumps in the road ahead and the folks in charge need to be prepared to react to those bumps.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Jon Berti of the Miami Marlins leads all of baseball in steals, with 25, at the season’s halfway point.

“Unless you count the former treasurer of the Oakville, Ontario, Minor Baseball Association, who is accused of embezzling $468,000 from the league.”

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



5 thoughts on “College Football Today…”

  1. Was USC/UCLA the only intense college rivalry based out of the same city? Maybe NYU/Columbia?

    1. TenaciousP:

      Cannot think of a college football rivalry in the same city other than USC/UCLA. The TCU/SMU rivalry comes close; the schools are only about 25 miles apart.

  2. Ga Tech used to have three important rivalries, Georgia, Auburn, and Clemson. GT leaving the SEC killed the Auburn rivalry. While GT still feels strongly about the other two, they are almost never important games to those opposing fans.

  3. The Supreme Court did not rule on Name, Image and Likeness. The issue has never been before the Court. It did rule that NCAA members could not be prohibited from providing educational benefits (i.e. a laptop computer) above and beyond tuition, room and books. When that ruling was issued, the NCAA knew it had no chance to turn back NIL and surrendered. The Supreme Court did not rule on NIL.

    1. William in Virginia:

      Welcome aboard…

      Thank you for the correction. I had thought that NIL was part of the case brought to the court which opened the floodgates here. I stand corrected.

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