by | CBSSports.com

College football faces landmark month off the field

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When he was commissioner of the ACC from 1987 to 1997, Gene Corrigan used to say that every now and then college athletics gets overheated and "we need to throw some cold water on it."

Looking at what has happened this summer and what lies ahead of us in August, this could be one of those times.

Beginning Monday in Dallas, Big 12 athletic directors meet, trying to avoid yet another potential implosion of the conference. The issue: Whether or not The Longhorn Network, scheduled to launch on Aug. 26, should be allowed to show high school games. Other conference members, most notably Texas A&M, don't think that is a very good idea. Our Dennis Dodd talked to Bill Byrne, the Texas A&M AD, and the plan is for everybody to play nice. We'll see.

Gene Corrigan is a former athletic director, ACC commissioner and NCAA president. (Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)  
Gene Corrigan is a former athletic director, ACC commissioner and NCAA president. (Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)    
On Aug. 9-10, NCAA president Mark Emmert will convene a summit meeting of 50 college presidents to discuss the future of Division I athletics. He has the backing of the six major conference commissioners for significant change.

The NCAA has called an Aug. 22 meeting where it wants Texas and other like-minded schools to discuss where they want to go with their individual networks. There is going to be significant pressure for the NCAA to do the heavy lifting and prohibit schools from showing high school games. There will also be pressure from Texas and others not to make such a rule.

Good Lord. Will this college football season ever get here?

"All I know is that I don't think I would want to be an athletic director at a major state school right now," said Corrigan, who was an AD at Virginia and Notre Dame before becoming the ACC commissioner. "You're talking to a guy who had to hire three football coaches in 10 years at Virginia. I never would have lasted today. They would have gotten rid of me."

Corrigan, who has retired to Charlottesville, Va., said he agrees with the conventional wisdom that college athletics changed "when salaries went completely berserk."

"I'm not saying it to be critical but things just change when you're talking about TV contracts in the billions of dollars," Corrigan said. "When I hired Lou Holtz [in 1986] at Notre Dame he told me he should make about $300,000. But [Notre Dame president] Father [Theodore] Hesburgh told me that nobody could make more than the provost. So I told Lou he was going to make $82,000. That was it. And Lou wanted the job. Obviously, you couldn't do that now."

But Corrigan said he doesn't fault commissioners and athletic directors for pursuing the dollars, "because when you sit in that chair you feel like 'I've got to maximize everything for my guys.'

"Look. At one point at the ACC we were making $16 million from basketball and only $3 million from football. I wanted to add Florida State because it would get us into Florida and all of those television sets. So we added Florida State and the next football TV deal we signed was for $18 million."

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Corrigan said that in retrospect it was a mistake to put the presidents in charge of athletics because they have been forced to get directly involved. Now we have college presidents like Ohio State's E. Gordon Gee uttering phrases like: "I'm just hoping that the coach doesn't dismiss me" or "We don't play the Little Sisters of the Poor."

"I think the system worked better when faculty [athletic] reps handled it and presidents could stay above the fray. When I was NCAA president [in 1996-96], Father Hesburgh and [North Carolina chancellor] Bill Friday begged me to put the presidents in charge," Corrigan said. "I feel bad for the presidents. The system is way too complex."

Corrigan says he doesn't have a silver bullet for the issues that continue to face the major sports of football and men's basketball. He agrees with many that the rule book is complex to the point of being "un-definable."

"But at the end of the day you have to make people understand that while rules will be broken, you can't break the principle of the rule. Nobody knows all the rules but everybody understands the principles of the rules. If you break that then you have to go."

Talking to Corrigan reinforced my belief that if college football is going to solve an ever-growing credibility and integrity issue, the sport's strong leaders are going to have to be stronger than ever. The Big Six commissioners took an important first step during their preseason football meetings by calling for specific reform. Now they have to follow through and back Emmert in his call for substantial change, even if it makes a lot of college football's stakeholders -- players, coaches, fans and TV networks -- mad. And change will make them mad.

Tough.

It's going to take some courage. Courage is when you're willing to change, even though it will cost you, because it's the right thing to do.

Stay tuned. August is going to be quite a month.

The Tony Barnhart Show will resume on Aug. 30 on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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