All my life I have been a fan of college football. My parents would take me to games when I was “knee high to a grasshopper,” and love of the game has been a family tradition. But the game I have known and loved got sick a few years ago and no one seems to want to give it anything to make it better.
Now the game has gone from sick to dying. We see the end of the traditional sport coming like a slow-motion rerun on television. Today’s sport is like a rich widow wandering in the dark woods with plenty of suitors in pursuit of her money, but none wants a relationship. It is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress lived in reverse where we are on a journey from the Celestial City to the City of Destruction.
The first nail in the coffin for college football was the creation of the transfer portal. While the concept sounded good to many, it has now morphed into a crutch for both coaches and players. When coaches do not recruit well or keep young men in school, they now have a way to get rid of the underperforming players by encouraging them to transfer. Players who have been told how great they are since grade school, and who do not want to wait for playing time just leave. It only takes money to encourage a player to enter the portal and once there, money to sign them.
When combined with potential NIL deals It is nothing more than a free agent market at the college level. On ESPN I learned this week that in just the last two years over seven hundred players entered the transfer portal in just the SEC. When the coach of the University of Florida must create a video to explain their traditional rivalry with Tennessee, then we know there is only a loose connection between the University, alumni, and their sports programs.
Name, Image, Likeness, and Consortiums
The college game went further out of control with the addition of NIL deals. The concept, like the Transfer Portal, sounded right and fair in the beginning. It was a way for players to be compensated for their financial contribution to the school and placed them on par with other students who could sell, let us say, artwork or a book.
The combination of the Transfer Portal and NIL deals make the eighty-five-player scholarship limit an interesting footnote to the roster. A team with a large fan base now has a mechanism to bypass all limits. A player who does not qualify academically, or when the team reaches its scholarship limit, can use the NIL/fan linkage to be compensated. They become preferred walk-ons or just non-scholarship players.
Fans at major schools now have consortiums taking in “contributions” that are used to pay players. The larger the fan base, the greater potential for funds, the greater the potential to accumulate skilled players. It is capitalism at its finest, and it works seamlessly.
While not common, it is becoming possible for a key player to command a seven-figure salary coming directly from high school before he ever takes a snap. Signing bonuses for recruits are becoming more common and we have heard of schools where $100,000 or more is the norm. Any school without multiple consortiums raising NIL money is falling behind in the race. A logical extension of this development will be the influence of the consortiums over athletic programs. They are locked in a symbiotic embrace and neither can exist without the other.
Fan Money with No Salary Cap
The portal and NIL were implemented without complete understanding or thought, and quickly transitioned into “pay to play” schemes. With no team salary caps, supporters and fans are now free to raise as much money as possible, and to influence schools to create the “best team money can buy.”
Players who have been coddled all their lives now have tangible proof of their “value” not as people but as players. The value of a degree for these players is secondary to preparation for Pro Football and it seems likely that many would opt for practice over classwork. The most highly skilled are really encouraged to go down this path because the lure of pro sports money would far exceed any other degree or career path the college can offer.
The fan money also has another dilatory effect not foreseen at the start of this downward cycle. The University of Colorado, hungry for a turnaround in their football program and the accompanying money, bought the best team they could afford. Their new coaching staff jettisoned all but a few of their existing scholarship players and went shopping. The new coach brought in staff and players from his earlier school and went into the transfer portal for the rest. The result is a very talented team made up of over eighty players who were not there last year.
To the coach’s credit he has quickly molded them into a highly skilled team capable of defeating many established teams. As he says it, he is building a team from the outside in, not the inside out. Without realizing it he has turned college football on its head, and it will never be the same. He is the equivalent of a modern George Steinbrenner who wanted a World Series winner, so he bought one.
There is no reason to go to the effort and expense to recruit young men with academic goals and when you can entice someone to transfer. The academic goals for any transfer player are at once in question at any major university. Give eighteen-year-old players thousands in monthly “walking around” money and see what happens. Instead of questioning the academic value of these tactics, Colorado is being praised far and wide for their innovation and success. The endorsement of their administration speaks to their complicity and priorities.
At the Colorado/Colorado State televised game there was a lot of talk about the changing culture of Colorado and how this is shaking up college sports. There were DJs in the locker room, gold and diamond necklaces everywhere, rappers on the sidelines, Hollywood personalities, and who knows what else was going on. The ESPN announcers even compared it to the BET Awards. In attendance were rappers Key Glock, Master P, and Offset. Their Wikipedia listings give colorful insight into their influence on young people and society. If this is the future of the sport, then it is a circus sideshow. When a rapper with a prison record, who cannot construct a sentence is your spokesman, then the university is a complete Woke sellout.
Seduced by Television Money
One would think that university administrators would be the guiding hand here, the adult in the room. Someone must remind coaches, players, and fans that this is a college sport, and that sports are secondary to educational goals. But in this dystopian world, education has become secondary, maybe even tertiary. If a free college education, books, tutors, room, board, a personal dietitian, unlimited access to healthcare and exercise facilities are not enough compensation, then what is? Apparently for players it is all of this plus a lot of cash or they move on to another stop.
University administrators are being seduced by the money in addition to the prestige of a successful college football program. The free advertising, recognition, and perks that come from a winning program far exceed any other recognition they can get otherwise. We should expect no less from people who have let their budgets run wild for decades and yield to every Woke infringement that comes their way. Like the Federal Government the solution should be better administration and management, not more money. But with fans paying the bill through consortiums and NIL deals administrators love the process.
The Greed of Inclusion
Television now dominates college football. In many if not most cases all games are televised in some way. Television networks dictate when teams will play, how long the games will last, and which advertisers appear in each game. The payback to the schools is too high for them to object.
Like any Woke government program greed has set in like a cancer that cannot be expunged. One of the original goals of NIL and the Transfer Portal was to stop exploiting players for financial gain. But universities, fans, alumni, television, and gambling interests have discovered ways around all obstacles.
Starting with the annual four team playoffs, television and university officials discussed and argued about the fairness of only allowing four teams to participate. Like pro football they know the greater the pool of teams, the greater the revenue. Great debates have occurred over four versus eight, versus twelve teams. As the argument goes, we were leaving out conferences and great teams with only one loss.
They know that the system of selecting the ranked teams has always been political and arbitrary. Expansion to twelve playoff teams will solve nothing because team rankings will always have some subjective components. A four-team playoff is only three television games, while a twelve-team playoff produces money from eleven games. With a twelve-team playoff they also have a chance to bring in more teams from diverse regions of the Country. Since the real goal is maximizing advertising revenue and not a true playoff, the more fans they can keep engaged the greater the interest level and the greater the ad revenue. Keeping the fans of twelve schools engaged is obviously more lucrative than just four.
None of us want to believe that gambling interest can influence the outcome of any sporting event, but history tells us just the opposite. It has been estimated that within just a few years the marketing value of the college football playoffs will exceed $2 billion. This is a dramatic increase from the $600 million value of the four-team playoff format.
With this much money at stake, nefarious people always find their way into the tent. It is no accident that there has been a trend to legalize betting on college sports. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. College sports are just too easily rigged and there are too many hands in the till to believe it will not occur. A bad throw, a dropped pass, a missed block, a missed field goal, or a bad officiating call, are all part of the game, but also vulnerabilities. The outcome of any game might not change, but the point spread, and total points scored are connected to millions of dollars every weekend.
Now that I have expressed my concerns for college football, and more importantly players, I want to say I have turned the corner. I no longer look on my college team as one with student athletes giving their all for the honor of the school and alumni. This is semi-pro football, the NFL farm system, nothing more or less. The show in Colorado has exposed the game and colleges in full.
I believe that over time the affiliation with the schools will fade and the sport will be spun out as a separate business. Controls like salary caps will eventually make it into the mix, and standard salaries will be set all in the name of fairness. Players will be employees of the corporation with salaries and benefits, but it will not be as lacerative for them. But like NIL and the Transfer Portal these moves maximize profits for the colleges.
So long as I focus on the game and set aside all I know about the ugly underbelly of the sport, then I can watch. But I no longer delude myself that I am watching classmates or future alumni. Many will never see either a classroom or a textbook. A few will make it to the pros, some will even get a degree, but most will wind up where they were before with no degree and no profession. The outcome is the same, just a different road taken.
The clown show in Colorado is coming to your university, sooner than you think.
As students of the game know, football is often unpredictable, but not in this case. Colorado fans got a rude awakening when they went to play Oregon on September 23 in Eugune. The Ducks were ranked number ten because they are a complete, talent-rich team. The game was no contest, with the Ducks winning 42 to 6, and the 6 was a mere footnote late in the game.
For now, in this sports world, hype, DJs, rappers, television hype, movie stars, diamonds, and gold are secondary to the contest. American-style football may be the last gladiatorial sport on the planet, and it is not for the faint of heart.