The Fate of College Football
By: Adam Brown
If you’re the purist type of college football fan, I bet I can guess your favorite things about the sport. Your list almost definitely includes rivalries, tradition, school/team/state pride, love of football and the passion that it is played with. All those things have some kind of tie to the amateurism of college football. That means it’s not a business and these kids are not professionals. You’re probably wondering how I knew all of that about you. It’s because I am referring to myself, and believe me I’m about to say things that you will initially hate. There’s going to be things that make you wonder how we got here, but in the end it’s the only way that we can save all the things we love about the sport we love.
In July of 2021 a rule went into effect that changed college sports forever called NIL, or Name, Image and Likeness. This rule allowed college athletes to make money from those three things. Their name, their image, and their likeness. For the college football purist, you could see the corruption coming from miles away. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where there’s money to be had, you better believe there’s going to be corruption, shady dealings, rule bending, and in most cases rule breaking. Seven months later, Texas A&M signed the best recruiting class in the history of recruiting rankings. That’s a pretty tough coincidence to sell.
Here's why – It’s not a coincidence.
Even for the hardest of “no money” college football fans, when someone asked you why a famous college kid shouldn’t be able to make money off his own name you didn’t really have a complete answer because that doesn’t seem fair, but you also know that bringing money into college athletics was probably a can of worms that we shouldn’t open.
You were right.
Boosters, businesses, and programs are using NIL to recruit. “If you come play for me we can get you this NIL deal.” That was not the intention of the NIL rule. It is being abused. We are now in a grey area where there is money being allowed from the outside. This space has arguably made it even easier to cheat. I say “even” because I fully understand that cheating was already happening, but we have only furthered the issue. Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke about this at the Senior Bowl.
"When we start using name, image and likeness for a kid to come to our school, that's where I draw the line…and now that's actually happening. People are making deals with high school players to go to their school."
Ole Miss head coach, Lane Kiffin, also had some thoughts at his program’s Signing Day press conference,
“We don’t have the same funding and resources as some of these schools do for these NIL deals, so it’s basically like dealing with different salary caps. We now have a sport that has completely different salary caps. And some of these schools are, like, whatever, five to ten times more than what everybody else can pay the players.”
“I joked the other day I didn’t know if Texas A&M was going to incur a luxury tax with how much they paid their signing class,” Kiffin added.
Texas A&M head coach, Jimbo Fisher, was understandably upset about these comments and predictably backed his university and staff in a fiery rant to the media calling the allegations “irresponsible as hell.” That isn’t what I want to focus on though, because towards the end of this tirade Fisher let something slip that I’d be willing to bet he wishes he could take back.
“I’ll tell you what I know how some of those guys recruit too… I know the history, I know the tradition, and I know things. Trust me you don’t want to go down that avenue…and I ain't just talking about one, multiple people got NIL issues.”
So, in this new age of college football, we are not only not keeping the cheating hush hush any longer, but we are openly accusing other coaches and programs of recruiting violations. It is hard to watch a sport we love go down this road, but maybe it’s the start of the push we need for change.
So, what is the solution? How do we even the playing field in this wild wild west of a grey area? It’s too late to take the money away, so the solution is we pay the players…outright, with a salary cap and a transfer portal window just like Coach Kiffin said. The difference is now we are paying the players for the same reasons us purists were hesitant in the first place. It may not be ideal, but we’ve been backed into a corner.
The Logistics and Details
First, we all get off of our high horses, separate the group of five from the power five, and stop pretending they are equals. The reason for this is the collective bargaining that will have to take place. It would be like a minor and major league situation. They work the same, even work together, but they don’t play each other, (In football, Basketball can continue the same but the G5 and P5 would still have to separate for CBA purposes) and have separate championships (College Football Playoff). One big detail is that this only applies to football and men’s basketball. Those are the two profitable sports and are the only sports that would be contributing money back into this new system. It’s as simple as that and we’ll all have to remember that when people start complaining about the racquetball team not being paid as much as the Heisman winning quarterback. The CBA would never happen because the universities would have to spend so much more money to cover all of the non-profitable sports. All these sports would continue operating effectively as they do now. Next, we get rid of NIL in the two sports we are changing. They are all paid so it’s fair. Once the CBA decides on the cap, every program has that amount of money to distribute how they want. The players contracts will be public just like the NFL. All of this just makes it that much harder to cheat.
Everyone is working with the same amount so there’s no problem with how, it’s just up to the schools’ athletic departments to decide who and how much. How important is it to land that five-star quarterback? Do you offer him 15% of your total salary cap knowing that you’ll have to find a Left Tackle that will commit for a scholarship alone? Here’s the best part, everyone is dealing with that exact same issue. The playing field is as even as it can be, and all out of the same motivation that I would be using to argue that players should not be paid at all just a short time ago. As a recruit when you are getting roughly the same offers from all the schools that offer you, you have to start looking at other factors to decide where you want to commit. Facilities, coaches, location, campus life, proximity to home, opportunity at
the next level and home-state loyalty are all things that should be considered in the recruitment process, and where we wanted to be all along.
Because all of the power five teams are under the same CBA they all need a claim to the playoff in football. In this scenario we would expand the playoff to six teams, and all five conference champions get an automatic bid. They would be ranked by the playoff committee with the same criteria they use now, as well as the sixth team being the most deserving non-champion, and the 1 and 2 seeds would get a bye in the first week.
Let’s be honest. That is all fun to speculate about, hope for, and argue over, but in all reality, it is a pipe dream. If I could make it happen I would, but even if it does happen it won’t be any time soon. For now, just keep fighting the good fight, and hope your favorite school keeps up with the rest of the country in their NIL department.