Years from now when we look back on the year 2020, we’ll undoubtedly remember it with an unprecedented range of emotions. I think it’s safe to say some aspects of our lives will forever be changed. That’s probably a good thing concerning many circumstances and it could very well be a bad thing concerning others.
Nonetheless, I sense change in some fashion or another, is afoot. Sociology and cultural ethics are not exactly my specialty, so I’ll leave those things in the hands of the more qualified. Come to think of it, I don’t really have a specialty, but I do watch a lot of sports.
Maybe, just maybe, COVID-19 will force college football to address its glaring deficiencies and provide the sport an opportunity to restructure itself for the better. The Power-5 programs (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12) have been inching closer and closer to total autonomy in recent years. The current situation has magnified and justified that slow trend.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has a lot of problems. Obviously, that is an understatement. I don’t have enough time, space or vocabulary to examine the complete list of its frailties, but I’ll try to hit a few highlights.
Many states across the nation have passed legislation that will allow college athletes to profit from their Name, Image or Likeness (NIL). The NCAA has fought this for years, but it is now being forced to figure out some way to deal with it.
I can completely understand an athlete feeling they deserve a portion of the revenue explicitly generated by his own name and image. That’s American as apple pie. However, I just don’t see any way this is implemented without fundamentally altering the sport in a grossly negative way. The unintended consequences would be pervasive and enormous. This is a change that is happening regardless of COVID-19.
The restructuring I’m mainly referring to is how college football teams earn revenue and compete for championships. The pandemic has pulled the curtain back on college athletics and exposed the Ponzi scheme it is.
Of course, most everyone already knew this; they just accepted it. It’s essentially a house of cards and the Power-5 schools are the foundation. If the revenue streams from the big schools dry up because of an unexpected virus from China per se, all the other sports in the NCAA come crashing down.
The other 65 FBS teams not among the Power-5 desperately need to figure out a way to generate more money. Here’s an idea. Why don’t we let those teams have their own playoff and play for their own championship? They could sign their own network deals, which would pale in comparison to the big boys, but it would be something.
Brigham Young University won the national championship in 1984 from the Western Athletic Conference. It was the last team outside the Power-5 to win it. Before that, it was Army in 1945. I would watch that playoff and that championship game. Who wouldn’t? The Power-5 could continue with its own playoff (expanded or not) and even play FCS teams to help keep them solvent. I don’t know if it will happen, but I’ve already caught myself in 2020 several times saying, “I never thought I would see the day.”
Andy Graham is a regular columnist for The Outlook.