Blog Entry

The State and Future of FBS College Football

Posted on: April 4, 2011 8:26 pm
As someone who has followed college football for most of my life, I can say with certainty that controversy is surrounding major college football today more than it ever has.  When you see article after article discussing the problems facing college football, you have to wonder when it will implode.  I've read my fair share of these articles, some good, some biased, and some downright bad.  I read one today that got me thinking about a previous blog I wrote about the future of college football.  My thoughts were somewhat on track, but today I've changed my position just a little.  When I wrote the previous blog entry, we didn't have the controversy as much as we have right now.  Remember the ESPN special on SMU and the death penalty?  I wouldn't allow myself to believe the corruption of those days could still be happening.  Of course, the level at which it happened isn't quite the same as it is today, but nonetheless, it is happening.  It's a sad state of affairs in college football, and I believe the BCS is one of the reasons why. 

The BCS has brought millions upon millions of dollars to the game, and since its inception, revenue has nearly tripled.  Using the Sugar Bowl as an example, in 1995 team payouts were $8.3 million.  In 2006, each team earned $17 million and in 2011, $22 million.  Granted, this money is funneled to the conferences and split, but the point is made.  College football has become a money-making powerhouse for major conferences.  Some of this revenue supports other athletic programs, which is a good thing.  But when particular football programs lack production, some folks get desparate.  This is a bad thing, and a "win at all cost" mentality is the result.  To gain a competitive advantage, coaching staffs break recruiting rules, hire independent recruiting services, boosters and agents (and perhaps coaching staffs) offer money or special gifts to high profile recruits, etc., etc., etc.  The list goes on and on.  Everybody wants to play in the money-making bowl games, the BCS bowl games.  When you do, your athletic department receives the larger sum of that conference split.  When you don't, things tend to get a bit unethical.  There's too much on the line, and that needs to change very soon.

There is no doubt the NCAA needs to review and streamline its 400+ page list of rules and by-laws.  Many are ambiguous and need to be written in a manner that allows no interpretation.  They need to be written in black and white, so when a coach or player violates a rule, the punishment cannot be argued.  I read an article where the writer suggested a set penalty for each rule violation, however that would be impossible given the varied circumstances of each violation.  I would suggest a minimum, and a maximum penalty for each rule/by-law violation.  The NCAA needs overhauled, and it won't be an easy task.  Many can say how they would change this and that about the NCAA, but the bottomline is this would be a huge undertaking and would probably take years to complete.  It still needs to be done, no matter what, and they need to start very soon.

Many recruits come into a program thinking the program owes them something, due mainly to the media attention they receive during the recruiting process.  They are followed for two or maybe three years of their high school careers, interviewed by local and national media on a near regular basis, their pictures, highlights and stats placed on websites, given star ratings, and placed in the national spotlight on national TV to announce their college choice.  They even "script" their announcement, to add to the drama.  This might be good for the fans, but it isn't very good for the game, and it certainly isn't good for the recruit, many of which never see the NFL which is the ultimate goal.

These are just a few things that I believe are wrong with FBS football.  Something has to change, and quick.  Otherwise, it may very well implode, and the aftermath will be quite disappointing.

What needs changed?  Big question, and not an easy one to answer for sure.  I read an article written today by Tony Barnhart, a refreshing addition to the CBS sportswriting staff.  He offered some suggestions for improvement, and I would like to comment on some of them.

1. Find a way for the top 60 to 70 schools that play major college football to work independently from the NCAA. The sport has become too big to be managed within in the limitations of the NCAA framework. If a way cannot be found to accommodate these schools then they should leave the NCAA and form their own organization and make their own rules
I've said before that I feel there are too many teams in FBS, along with too many bowl games.  The BCS doesn't fairly distribute revenue between all of these schools, and that's another problem with this system that needs to be corrected.  I'm not sure I would agree with 60-70 schools breaking away from the NCAA, especially leaving the NCAA entirely.  If this happened, all other sports at those schools would lose their NCAA status, which would do more harm than good in my opinion.  College athletics need the NCAA, the NCAA just needs to streamline some things.  As such, FBS needs to streamline as well.  Tony is partially correct when he wrote "The sport has become too big to be managed within the limitations of the NCAA framework."  I think a streamlined NCAA and FBS could be managed very well within a new NCAA framework.  FBS needs to be realigned into two separate entities.  The six major conferences would "break away" from the existing alignment, and expand to 14-team leagues, two 7-team divisions each.  This would make for an 84-team FBS.  The remaining teams would fall back into the FCS.  The new FBS would be governed by the NCAA, with added procedures for schedule and post-season play.  The regular season would be reduced back to an 11-game season, and all teams would be required to play a 9-game conference schedule.  Of the nine games, six would be against division opponents and three cross division, to be rotated and to preserve rivalry games.  For the OOC portion of the schedule, FBS teams could only play other FBS teams, therefore eliminating games against FCS opponents.  All teams must play their first two games against FBS teams from another conference.  Schedules could only be made up to five years in advance, to help prevent scheduling problems long term.  a team would need to achieve at least a 6-5 record to be eligible for a bowl game, and the FBS would have a total of 21 bowl games.  The BCS would incorporate a plus-one system for the national championship game, and distribute revenue equally between all six conferences.  This would just be the beginning of change, as recruiting policies, media, booster and agent activities would also need to be revamped. 

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.
I agree, a FBS commish would work to better the sport.  This person would work closely with conference commissioners to provide management and oversight of all FBS conferences, and be the spokesperson to the NCAA for all FBS matters.  University presidents should focus most of their attention on the academic arena of their universities, and leave the athletics to the ADs and the conference commissioners.  Where I disagree is giving the FBS commish sanction authority.  This should still fall within the NCAA purview.  In the event of a violation, the commish would advise the NCAA after consulting with all conference commissioners, but the NCAA should have the final decision on sanctions.  Yes, outright cheating should be dealt with in the most extreme manner, and there is a difference between cheating and breaking rules.  However, if breaking certain rules leads to an advantage on the football field, then it should be dealt with in the same manner as cheating. 

3. Freshmen will be declared ineligible. There is a whole host of pathologies that are created by a recruiting process that tells 18-year-old children they are stars and should be treated (and paid) like one. Until 1972, freshmen were not eligible to play. There was a reason for that. Most are not mature enough, emotionally or academically, to commit to big-time college football. It's simple. If you make your grades as a freshman and prove that you can handle college life, then you get to play as a sophomore. Would this be tough to do with only 85 scholarships? Yep. But it's for the greater good. This will never happen, but it would address a lot of ills.
I agree wholeheartedly.  Although this practice wouldn't prevent the media from hyping a recruit, it would surely create a different environment on campus and in the locker room.  Joe Paterno continued this practice when the NCAA allowed freshman to start playing back in 1972.  It wasn't until maybe five or six years ago he started playing freshman.  He had to, to stay competitive.  I could see this happening, and working very well for the sport as long as all teams were held to follow it.

4. Football scholarships become five-year commitments by the school. In exchange for giving up freshman eligibility, the student athlete will get a five-year guaranteed scholarship if he stays in good academic standing and doesn't get in trouble with the law. The one-year scholarship is a bad deal for the students. Red-shirting is eliminated. And one other thing: No oversigning. No gray-shirting. You sign a kid and he gets a scholarship. Period.
I agree again, especially with the elimination of oversigning, red and gray-shirting.  He mentioned "trouble with the law".  This is another issue that the NCAA doesn't have jurisdiction, and shouldn't have.  A FBS commish would make final decisions about player eligibility based on circumstances of the crime committed.  When a player commits a crime (misdemeanor or felony), he should expect at least a one-game suspension.   Felonies could result in a season suspension, or even team dismissal.  I see too many players getting into trouble, with little to no consequences.  Missing games would have a direct impact, on the player and the team.

5. Change the scholarship to include the full cost of attendance. The top academic scholarships include a stipend for incidental living expenses based on the location of the campus. Athletic scholarships should do the same. This stipend of several thousand dollars (plus a Pell Grant that can be as much as $5,500) takes the argument off the table that athletes from poor backgrounds do not have spending money. The NCAA has a Student Opportunity fund of more than $50 million available to help students in need (clothes, trips home in an emergency, etc.)
I disagree.  Football players get enough, when you factor in the free education, medical, meals, coaching, facilities, etc.  Most of the stipends he mentioned are for incidental expenses like books and supplies, not for living expenses such as room and board or gas for the car.  These academic scholarships aren't given to just anyone, and most of those who get one don't get a full ride.  Football players, they get a full ride and more. 
Category: NCAAF
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