Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Who will save college football?
But for the coach winning all the titles, nobody seems interested
The Big Ten is stronger, given the eventual additions of Southern Cal and UCLA.
The SEC would be the richest, strongest, most not-to-be-trifled with league in the land even had it not opened the door to Oklahoma and Texas, because national championships matter.
The Big 12 may have put a floor underneath it with the coming addition of BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston.
The Pac-12, destined to become the Pac-10 again presuming it’s a conference at all by the time the Trojans and Bruins depart, who knows where it’s headed?
On Monday, talks between the Big 12 and Pac-12 partnering reportedly ended.
Also, “through backchannels,” as ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported this week, the Big 12 has looked into adding Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado, which is interesting for myriad reasons, one being the possibility of it briefly becoming an 18-school league were such a move to culminate before the Sooners and Longhorns finally head east.
Here’s a piece of what its commissioner, James J.Phillips, said Thursday.
“We are one of the leaders in the country in all of those things I talked about, except the revenue piece of it,” which is sort of like saying “We’re among the leaders in everything but the only thing anybody really cares about,” or, at least, “… the only thing anybody makes decisions based upon.”
Trying to catalogue all the off-the-field-goings-on as we near another college football season, what appears clear?
Schools and conferences are looking out for themselves, but nobody’s looking out for college football writ large, nobody’s looking out for the sport.
Perhaps — this will never happen, though it would be wonderful if it did — Greg Sankey, SEC commissioner, whose contract runs through 2026, will walk out after another year or two and Alabama coach Nick Saban, despite owning the game from the sideline, will decide he must save it from the boardroom, resigning as Tide coach to become the next SEC commissioner.
Because, on Tuesday, during his turn at SEC media days, Saban said what had to be said.
Though he’d listed “personal development, academic development and creating value for their football career” as “key building blocks” for players in his program, he was told by a media questioner, “You did not mention NIL.”
Therefore, he was asked, “What is your view on how Alabama can get involved in that space?”
Well, I don’t dislike name, image and likeness. I’m all for the players. I want our players to do well. Our players made over $3 million in name, image and likeness. I’m all for the players being able to do as well as they can and use their name, image and likeness to create value for themselves.
We have a great brand at Alabama, so players … their value there is going to be enhanced because of the value that our brand can help them create.
But the thing that I have sort of expressed … there’s got to be some uniformity and protocol of how name, image and likeness is implemented. I think there’s probably a couple factors that are important in that. How does this impact competitive balance in college athletics? And is there transparency to maintain fairness across the board in terms of college athletics? How do we protect the players? Because there’s more and more people that are trying to get between the player and the money.
In the NFL they have guidelines for agents because the NFL Players Association sort of has rules and regulations about how they should professionally help the players. That’s something that we really want to make sure that our players are not being misguided in any way.
The biggest concern is how does this impact and affect recruiting? On the recruiting trail right now, there’s a lot of people using this as inducements to go to their school by making promises as to whether they may or may not be able to keep in terms of what players are doing.
I think that is what can create a competitive balance issue between the haves and have not’s. We’re one of the haves. Don’t think that what I’m saying is a concern that we have at Alabama because we’re one of the haves.
Everybody in college football cannot do these things relative to how they raise money in a collective or whatever, how they distribute money to players.
Those are the concerns that I have in terms of how do we place guidelines around this so that we can maintain a competitive balance.
There is no competitive sport anywhere that doesn’t have guidelines on how they maintain some kind of competitive balance. I think that’s important to college football. I think it’s important to fans. That’s why they have rules in the NFL where you have a salary cap, you have difficult schedules if you have a successful season, you draft later if you have a successful season, you draft early if you have an unsuccessful season.
All these things are created so there is competitive balance, which is great for the game and it’s great for fans. Name, image and likeness is not an issue for us at Alabama. Our players I think did better than anybody in the country last year.
Maybe what Saban’s really worried about is Texas A&M interests and boosters shelling out more NIL cash than Alabama’s and he doesn’t want to fall behind. Still, if sincere, he could not have made the point any better.
Bolstering that sincerity …
“If we move toward the mega conference, again, that whole thing about competitive balance is going to be in question,” Saban said to another query. “Look, I’m not here to say we should have it or we shouldn’t have it, but if we have two 20-team leagues, how is that going to impact all the people that are not in those leagues?”
It’s what almost nobody’s thinking about, caring about or trying to solve, because there’s no realized motivation to think about it, care about it or solve it.
But it must be solved.
On its Instagram account, Front Office Sports, which covers “the influence of sports on business and culture” according to its website, reported Wednesday, “Texas Tech football players are receiving 1-year, $25,000 renewable NIL deals from the Matador Club, a donor collective. All 85 scholarship players and 15 of the top walk-ons are eligible.”
Is that a lot?
Does that make the Red Raiders competitive in the NIL space, or does that mean they’re behind?
That’s Tech’s floor.
What’s the rest of the Big 12’s floor? Should the conference wrangle such collectives and create a league-wide floor? Would it ever do that before other conferences agree to their own floors?
Wait, $25,000 for 100 players? That’s $2.5 million. Another half million and you’re talking Alabama money?
That’s just NIL, as yet unregulated, a virtual Wild West.
Even if such opportunities remained verboten, there’s so much more.
If the Big Ten and SEC become 20-school super leagues and, as some believe may happen, go out on their own, wouldn’t that wind up killing everything they hoped to accomplish, because why would anybody west of Oklahoma City, not residing in Los Angeles and not gambling on the outcomes, have any reason to care or watch, and when that happens what are those conferences really worth to the fans, ESPN, the networks?
Or they don’t go out on their own, yet the 40 schools between them are exponentially better funded than every other Division I program. It might take a few years, but it’s ultimately self-defeating, too. With no competitive balance, eventually, what’s the point? They’d finish in the same place.
That’s s presuming the game hasn’t lost a big portion of its audience already as it becomes too much for fans to grasp.
Do you want to follow and watch college football when it’s becomes professionalized in everything but name? When players unionize and collectively bargain? When the transfer portal becomes so busy, you can’t remember who’s on your team? When athletes announce the deal they’re holding out for, or their representation does for them, like actual free agents? When the coverage of it becomes less about competition and more about player movement, player demands and why they’re not happy the same way Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are never happy?
The SEC and Big Ten may not realize it, but they need Kansas and Kansas State, Arizona and Arizona State, North Carolina and North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Miami and Louisville, too.
When they become nothing but their own thing, that thing may eventually be worth nothing.
One conference commissioner, in an utter position of strength, generously willing to look beyond self interest, might move mountains.
But only one or two people like that exist and they’re not talking.
Maybe next year.
Or sometime, before it’s too late.
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