Why we will not -- and should not -- have a college football commissioner
College football embracing biases and chaos is just one reason why a commissioner for the sport would simply never work out
It's not going to happen, but the debate is back of whether college football needs a commissioner and who it should be.
The Power Five just went through an embarrassing satellite camp debacle, plus it's late spring and media members need something to kill the down time. So voilà, the idea of a college football commissioner resurfaced, and in the process, it unintentionally reinforced the idea that many people view college football like professional sports.
The conversation restarted when ESPN's Adam Rittenberg did a fine job laying out the pros and cons of an FBS or Power Five football commissioner. It's a story worth reading. There are some valid points made by coaches like Stanford's David Shaw and Alabama's Nick Saban about the need for standardizing college football in the playoff era, such as scheduling, recruiting rules and staff sizes.
But despite the headlines you may read, there is no movement toward a college football commissioner.
More importantly, there will not be one -- not now and not soon. Here are several reasons why:
1. No one is going to give up their power. This is the biggest obstacle. You're telling me that after the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 fought to gain authority to write some of their own NCAA rules, they're going to give control over to one person? We're supposed to believe these conferences that negotiate their own futures through media deals are going to turn their fate over to one man or woman? Come on.
That one person would then need to create his or her own bureaucracy to handle 65 schools in the Power Five or 128 FBS schools. What type of power would a college football commissioner actually have? I'd love to see that job description -- and that salary! If Larry Scott gets $4 million a year as the Pac-12 commissioner, what does the ultimate college football commish get to make?
Roger Goodell oversees 32 NFL franchises, all of which pool their lucrative TV rights together. The NFL owners paid Goodell $34.1 million in 2014 to be a figurehead. A college football commissioner would be pulled in far too many different directions and have to answer to many more people than in the NFL. Left unspoken by those who want a commissioner: Not many people really like how Goodell is using his power lately.
2. There's nothing to be gained with the one-voice approach. College football isn't exactly suffering as a product. If anything, it might be overexposed, as evidenced by this burning desire to turn medium-sized issues into enormous conflicts that can only be rescued by one human serving as commissioner. I'll grant you that the lack of one arbitrator building consensus has hurt at times, but it isn't the main problem. The lack of good ideas are often the problem.
The satellite camp debacle never needed to turn into an all-or-nothing debate, yet that's how it got framed publicly. Semifinal games should always be on Jan. 1, but are we to believe that a commissioner would automatically overlook the decades-old cronyism of the bowl system to make that happen? For two straight years, controversial proposed rules changes related to offense got tabled by an NCAA rules committee. Why? Many coaches weren't informed and considered their own self-interests.
Even with a commissioner, what one person may truly believe serves in the best interest of the game will still be viewed differently by another person. Except with a commissioner, one individual would apparently broker or make the final call. Unless those decisions got voted on by the conferences and schools -- in which case, we're right back to where we are now. Coaches would be better off becoming more engaged on issues. Maybe that changes under new leadership at the American Football Coaches Association, which too often in the past was asleep at the wheel on topics.
3. It might give players more of a voice, and schools don't want that. Proponents of a college football commissioner often leave out one critical reason pro sports leagues have a commissioner: To negotiate with the players. Commissioners work for the owners, but their power is checked by the players association. They bargain over certain rights -- salary caps, health and safety, player discipline, game/practice schedules, drug-testing policies, etc.
A new NCAA survey about time demands showed just how far off college athletes are on some topics compared to head coaches and administrators. With whom would a commissioner side? In pro sports, the commissioner goes with his bosses, the owners. But the players union provides a necessary balance for negotiation.
Good luck getting universities that want no part of collective bargaining to copy pro sports' playbook with a commissioner. Even though evidence shows college sports is a multibillion dollar, professional enterprise, a commissioner for one sport would be an acknowledgment that universities couldn't stomach.
4. College football embraces biases and chaos. Admit it: Part of the fun of college football is the blatant acts of self-interest invoked by conferences across the country. Why should everything be uniform? What's wrong with arguing over whether the SEC's eight conference games and late-season cupcakes make its champion more or less worthy than the Big Ten's champ with nine conference games and early-season cupcakes? How come we can't debate how the Big 12's round-robin schedule with no championship game fits into the playoff picture? Why can't we laugh when fill-in-the-blank conference proposes some rule that blatantly helps itself or hurts a competitor?
The NFL may be uniform, but it's sterile. Fans don't chant "NFC East! NFC East! NFC East!" after games; NFL divisions don't have identities and reputations like college conferences. And sure, one reason the NFL doesn't erupt into as much chaos as college football is because there's a commissioner to "protect the shield" at all costs (even if that means trying to influence science through concussion research).
But deep down, the people who run college football love the chaos. When Jim Harbaugh, Lane Kiffin, Steve Spurrier or pick-your-villain-of-the-moment turns into a heel, well, that's more eyeballs for their next game. That's why God created polls for college football. That's why you can't surf the web without finding an Updated Way Too Early Top 25 that is, in fact, way too early yet deftly updates where 25 teams are ranked. That's why college football actually has a weekly TV show with mock playoff picks that mean absolutely nothing except to promote debate and fill the void of no football for a couple days.
That's where we are with the commissioner talk: Filling a void people want to believe exists without one righteous person looking out for a sport that has never been righteous.
Look, a commissioner might positively help nudge along some conversations before the headaches inevitably drive a fine individual insane. But a commissioner is not happening. And it's not a bad thing for college football to stick with its biased, chaotic self that we've loved and loathed for so long.
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