College football's problems beyond any five-step program

by | Columnist

Comrade Barnhart, one of our finest college football expertistas and a thoughtful and well-connected fellow by any measure, has decided to fix college football.

And no, smart guy, we don't mean in that Arnold Rothstein-meets-the-1919-White-Sox kind of way. I mean, he probably could if he set his mind to it, but the boss assures me he has no leanings in that area, and when the man who signs my invoice says something, I listen.

Anyway, he decided as any right-thinking human would that the game is showing its underwear way too often and needs serious reform. His offering is elsewhere on our happy site, and deserves a long and careful reading.

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Which brings us to his Five Theses, nailed to the door of Jim Tressel's executive bathroom:

1. Separate the top 60 to 70 schools from the NCAA to go their own way.
2. Create a commissioner.
3. No freshman eligibility.
4. Five-year scholarships.
5. Change the scholarship to include the full cost of attendance.

Nos. 4 and 5 seem eminently fair, reasonable and defensible on every level. I'm sure there's some argument from NCAA president Mark Emmert that would link these ideas to anarcho-syndicalism, clubfoot and accordions in the marching bands, but we'll dismiss them by saying that Comrade Barnhart is right on these, and shut up.

As for Nos. 1, 2 and 3, well, he did ask for input. In other words, he asked for it.

First, contraction:

The idea that the break from big-time college football occurs at 60 or 70 overestimates the desires of the real powers to cut the pie that fine. It also overestimates the number of schools that could operate in such an overheated atmosphere; the true number is probably closer to 40, and economic volatility is a bad way to judge who gets to stay and who has to be slain.

Worse, colleges survive in significant part on tax breaks granted by Congress that could disappear just as quickly. The traditional value of expansion has been to eliminate one's potential enemies by buying them in, which explains the NCAA basketball tournament. To contract by 40 to 50 percent surely would catch the ire of lawmakers whose alma maters have just been contracted.

Besides, exactly what harm has been done by the Sun Belt, really? They don't get any money in the current system anyway.

Second, the commissioner:

Just a notion, but are there independent commissioners anywhere? Let me answer that for you. No. They all get paid by the folks with the money, which means not that they would be the ones doing the saying, but that they would be the ones doing the obeying. A commissioner is just a civil-service job with better perks. Anyone here think DeLoss Dodds is taking orders from anyone, ever? That's what I thought.

Third, making freshmen be freshmen:

Freshman eligibility works counter to the idea that the big fish have to eat first and most. They want freshmen when those freshmen can make the yard markers and turnstiles move. But football operates on the theory that players are replaceable ornaments on a tool belt, and there's always another freshman somewhere. While the sentiment for allowing students to learn how to be students before tackling techniques is good, it just seems to work against the general idea of making college football be the gluten-free NFL.

If college football is a kleptocracy, it's because the people who move and shake it have come to like it that way. They see people and money coming in at breathtaking levels and wonder why anyone has any complaints about anything. They pretend they are educators so they can keep their tenuous links to the colleges that need them. They eat far more money than they distribute, and they know that what they don't eat they can use as patronage.

Look, I want Comrade Barnhart to be right -- well, OK, I'm not going to be crazy about No. 1, but that's a quibble. He is someone who should be heard and followed and tweeted and whatever else indicates that he makes folks think.

But his Five Theses just made me think how far away his vision is from the folks he covers. And in truth, he knows it too, and says so -- which is why he gets it as well as he does. He sees a glass half-full and he wants to fill it. I see a glass half-full, and I suspect spit.

And the college football establishment sees a glass half-full, moves the contents to a souvenir cup with a player's face and the team schedule and asks $9.50 for it. And so it goes.


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