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Movement not college football's problem -- lack of leader is

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Alrighty now. Let's everybody just take a deep breath and relax.

Here is what we know: The SEC has decided to stand pat for the time being, and won't invite Texas A&M into the conference -- for now.

And just so you know: Whether the SEC had issued an invite to the Aggies -- or if it happens down the road -- the world is not going to hell. College athletics as we know it will not come to an end. It will not be further evidence that the sport we all love, college football, is nothing but a money grab by people wearing expensive suits.

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But it will reaffirm both a basic principle and a basic flaw of college football.

The principle: That, at the end of the day, every institution has a right to self-determination. Texas A&M is currently a member the Big 12 conference, not the National Football League. It does not have to subjugate its mission, either academically or athletically, to a larger body unless it chooses to do so. Conference membership is voluntary. The conference serves the collective needs of the institutions. The institutions do not serve the conference. They cooperate, they consult, and they compromise, but they do not serve.

The Texas A&M folks rightfully ask: "So it was OK and made sense when Nebraska jumped to the Big Ten and Colorado went to the Pac-12? Those were portrayed as good decisions made in the best long-term interests of those institutions. There were no sinister motives involved or inferred. But when we consider it, we're charged with being petty and destroying college athletics as we know it? Seriously?"

If Texas A&M does wind up going to the SEC, it will be fine. It would establish a new identity and be able to offer students and athletes a different experience than the rest of the state's institutions. The motivation for making a move is really irrelevant. The president and the Board of Trustees will believe it is in the best interests of the university. End of discussion.

Texas A&M staying in the Big 12? It will be fine. Yes, there will be criticism and Aggie jokes, and Gov. Rick Perry will wonder why he played the SEC card to a crowd in Birmingham on Friday night. So what? Texas A&M, as a institution, explored an option and it didn't work out. Life goes on.

Having said all that, this exercise again highlights a major flaw in the basic structure of the sport.

You'll recall that back on April 4, our maiden voyage together on CBSSports.com, I laid out five things I felt were necessary to get college football out of the ethical ditch that it has been in for a while.

I return your attention to No. 2:

2. Create a commissioner of college football. My CBS colleague Tim Brando has been saying this for years, and he's right. Somebody needs to be in charge for the good of the entire sport. On cases like Cam Newton and the Ohio State Five, the commissioner has the last word. He or she will have zero tolerance for cheating (and there is a difference between cheating and breaking the rules). Only a strong commissioner, backed up by the presidents, can bring the risk-reward for cheating back into balance.

Others, like Pete Thamel of the New York Times, have written about the fact that at times like this, there is nobody who is looking out for the health and well-being of college football as a whole, making sure the enterprise isn't damaged as schools pursue their institutional self interest.

Everybody seems to want to beat up the conference commissioners when, in fact, the commissioners are doing what their presidents empower and instruct them to do. Commissioners look out for the best interests of their conferences. It's not the job of SEC commissioner Mike Slive to look out for the Big Ten. That's Jim Delany's job. It's not Delany's job to look out for the Mountain West. That's Craig Thompson's job.

If you want to change the behavior, you have to change the structure. If NCAA President Mark Emmert wants to get a handle on some of the excesses of college football, then go to the presidents and sell them on the idea for a commissioner of college football.

Would it be easy? Nope. Commissioners like their power and wouldn't want to give up even a little bit. You would have to have somebody with enough gravitas to keep from getting run over by some very strong personalities. Here are my five recommendations. For obvious reasons, no current commissioners were considered:

1. Michael Tranghese: The former commissioner of the Big East used the power of his leadership to manage an unwieldy 16-team conference and held it together when everybody said it would collapse. Instant credibility.

2. Jack Ford: Former Yale football player, scholar athlete, lawyer, and author who has done a little of everything and been successful at it all. Knows and loves the game. Superb intellect.

3. Gene Corrigan: No-nonsense former commissioner of the ACC. Once summoned basketball coaches Dean Smith (North Carolina) and Rick Barnes (Clemson) to his house and read the riot act to both of them. Not afraid to look any commissioner in the eye and tell him he's full of it.

4. Roy Kramer: Former SEC commissioner and godfather of the BCS. One of the great visionaries in the history of college sports. Led SEC expansion and the creation of the first conference championship game.

5. Kevin Weiberg: Former commissioner of the Big 12 and current deputy commissioner of the Pac-12. He also worked at the Big Ten for 18 months. Very respected by his peers. Perfect temperament for a job like this.

Those are my five. Do you agree that college football could use a commissioner? If so, let's see your nominations.

The Tony Barnhart Show will return Aug. 31 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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