The nation’s No. 2 sport is at a crossroads. It must adjust. The adults in the room are no longer in charge. (At least not completely.) Players have unprecedented freedom. As the NCAA and its members have been slow to change, the courts have filled the space to mandate change. NCAA deregulation is sharing lanes with a landscape increasingly in need of regulation. Congress, if it ever catches the scent from a divisive Washington, D.C., could one day run the entire enterprise. Whatever the outcome, college football has reached an inflection point. You think of it in ‘Shawshank Redemption’ terms. I’m out of the 500-yard sewer. I’m in the rainwater, but I don’t have my dirty clothes off yet.
It’s really just a question of how quickly it gets there. We’re going to head to a world where the NCAA doesn’t have any regulations at all or authority regarding the compensation of benefits and athletes. A sport once dominated by cigar-chomping bowl directors, college football’s power brokers have become commissioners, television executives and mega-millionaire coaches leading outsized staffs. Even agents and lawyers have become influential marketing representatives for players in the NIL age. Some form of leadership must materialize to oversee this mess.
What shape will that take? Will the College Football Playoff step into the power vacuum? Will the 130 FBS teams — or a reduced number of Power Five teams — form a new entity? Whatever happens, College Football 2.0 must address its longstanding problem.
‘There’s a leadership void’
There’s a leadership void right now, said UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. But in chaos, there are leaders that emerge. You’re going to see leaders emerge at the school level, at the conference level, at the national level.
What will be there to meet them?
College football’s eventual leaders will have to consider player empowerment, perhaps even the prospect of sitting across a table in a collective bargaining session with athletes. They will need to oversee the stewardship of riches from an expanded playoff. They will have to help determine whether all — or how many – of the 130 FBS programs should be a part of this new endeavor.
Powerful people have been advocating about major college football breaking away from the NCAA. Among those who have said as much publicly are ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, Ohio State AD Gene Smith, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick and Pittsburgh AD Heather Lyke.
If they are all saying as much out loud, imagine the activity behind the scenes. I believe that it makes sense for the 10 conferences in the FBS to manage everything related to college football, period, Kliavkoff said. The 10 [FBS] conferences should have full autonomy to set rules and enforce rules and eligibility.
To me, this is not a time to tinker around the edges, said Arne Duncan, Knight Commission co-chair and former Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama. These are all self-inflicted wounds. The threat to most organizations, most governments, it’s rarely external. It’s always internal. The lack of leadership, a lack of vision for years has led to the crisis.
That’s why the next leaders to emerge must be progressive and proactive in juxtaposition to the decades-old model of the NCAA being reactive. It doesn’t tell you how to run your business.