Comments by the judge: "This entry looks ahead about how college football might handle its challenging issues. Getting the power brokers on the record was a great asset for the series of stories."
By Dennis Dodd & Shehan Jeyarajah, CBSSports.com
June 30, 2022
College Football 2.0: Leadership void must be filled to address sport's uncertain, unregulated future
The future of college football is up for grabs, and a leader must emerge
College athletes are becoming quasi professionals! Coaches are overpaid and overbearing! College presidents have lost control!
Those conclusions are both timely and shocking. They are also from a 93-year-old report on American college athletics.
There remains a void atop college sports despite nearly a century passing since that 1929 investigation by the nonprofit Carnegie Foundation. This time, however, the circumstances that vacuum has created are almost certainly to change.
This week, CBS Sports recognizes the first anniversary of name, image and likeness rights being granted to athletes as a jumping off point for a three-part series taking a more intensive look at the state of college football and future of the game. – The nation's No. 2 sport is at a crossroads. It must adjust. The adults in the room are no longer in charge. (At least not completely.) Players have unprecedented freedom. As the NCAA and its members have been slow to change, the courts have filled the space to mandate change.
Coaches who are frequently their state's highest-paid employees oversee their still-underpaid labor force. NCAA deregulation is sharing lanes with a landscape increasingly in need of regulation. The transfer portal is joined at the hip with game-changing NIL. Congress, if it ever catches the scent from a divisive Washington, D.C., could one day run the entire enterprise.
Whatever the outcome, college football has reached an inflection point.
"I feel a little like an escapee," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, due to retire this year after more than 40 years in athletic administration. "You think of it in "Shawshank Redemption" terms. I'm out of the 500-yard sewer. I'm in the rainwater, but I don't have my dirty clothes off yet."
The next iteration of the sport might as well be called College Football 2.0. It seems fated the NCAA has lost control over the only sport in which it does not sponsor a championship at the Division I level.
Powerful antitrust lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, who has fought the NCAA on its amateurism model, believes the legal groundwork has been set for the departure of major college football from NCAA jurisdiction.
"I think that's where we're headed," Kessler said. "It's really just a question of how quickly it gets there. We're going to head to a world where the NCAA doesn't have any regulations at all or authority regarding the compensation of benefits and athletes.";
A sport once dominated by cigar-chomping bowl directors, college football's power brokers have become commissioners, television executives and mega-millionaire coaches leading outsized staffs. Even agents and lawyers have become influential marketing representatives for players in the NIL age.
Some form of leadership must materialize to oversee this mess.
Speaking with CBS Sports, the game's stewards agree en masse: College football is destined to break away from the NCAA. What shape will that take? Will the College Football Playoff step into the power vacuum? Will the 130 FBS teams – or a reduced number of Power Five teams – form a new entity? Whatever happens, College Football 2.0 must address its longstanding problem.
There's a leadership void
"There's a leadership void right now," said UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond. "That's what we're trying to figure out. But in chaos, there are leaders that emerge. "You're going to see leaders emerge at the school level, at the conference level, at the national level."
What will be there to meet them?
College football's eventual leaders will have to consider player empowerment, perhaps even the prospect of sitting across a table in a collective bargaining session with athletes. They will need to oversee the stewardship of riches from an expanded playoff. They will have to help determine whether all – or how many – of the 130 FBS programs should be a part of this new endeavor.
Powerful people have been advocating about major college football breaking away from the NCAA. Among those who have said as much publicly are ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, Pac- 12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, Ohio State AD Gene Smith, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick and Pittsburgh AD Heather Lyke.
If they are all saying as much out loud, imagine the activity behind the scenes.
"I believe that it makes sense for the 10 conferences in the FBS to manage everything related to college football, period," Kliavkoff said. "The 10 [FBS] conferences should have full autonomy to set rules and enforce rules and eligibility. … It doesn't make sense, in my opinion, that rules related to football have to get approved by boards at the NCAA that includes membership that doesn't play football."
Kliavkoff favors a CEO or czar to run the day-to-day aspects of a new operation and answers to a board, such as the FBS commissioners.
The reform-minded Knight Commission was prescient, suggesting in December 2020 that the sport should be taken over by the CFP. The commission went so far as to hire law firms to sketch out the legal ramifications.
"To me, this is not a time to tinker around the edges," said Arne Duncan, Knight Commission co-chair and former Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama. "These are all self- inflicted wounds. The threat to most organizations, most governments, it's rarely external. It's always internal. The lack of leadership, a lack of vision for years has led to the crisis."
Such a move away from the NCAA would be appropriate given we have reached a point where, at the highest levels, college sports is headed towards professionalization. The NCAA has been diminished to the point it may end up being nothing more than a heck of a March party planner.
That's why the next leaders to emerge must be progressive and proactive in juxtaposition to the decades-old model of the NCAA being reactive.
"Litigation typically tells you what you're not allowed to do," said Gabe Feldman, professor of sports law at Tulane. "It doesn't tell you how to run your business. There still needs to be a model in place that can survive a legal attack."
For this reason, the NCAA (and others) have begged Congress for intervention: federal oversight of college athletics with an antitrust provision capping NIL benefits.
"I appreciate people saying, eventually, there has to be a Congressional solution," Swarbrick said. "But if these guys can't figure out how to limit automatic weapons in the United States, they've got no shot at college football.";
Added a former prominent NCAA executive: "I don't see any scenario where the horse gets back into the barn. I think [NIL is] the greatest, most beneficial thing that's happened to student- athletes in 50 years."
<Boldface> Extreme Makeover: College Football Edition
College football faces the equivalent of an HGTV-style teardown and rebuild. This one involves reconfiguring a multibillion-dollar enterprise that is wildly popular with great bones but stands in desperate need of repair.
"We've set the stage to rebuild the structure, rebuild the house," said MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher. "We owe ourselves to examine whatever models are there. This is no time to be thinking inside the box."
"You got to get the right person in charge," USC coach Lincoln Riley said. "You've got to give him power like an NFL commissioner. Some of the mess we're in is there hasn't been one strong voice. … We've messed that part of it up."
The role of academics must be addressed. What is the thinnest thread tying education to athletics that will be tolerated? Will players be able to major in football? Will they have to go to school at all? As long as college-age men don Ohio State and Michigan jerseys on the last Saturday in November, does it matter?
"I really do think collegiate athletes may be – along with the military possibly – the best training ground for future leaders of America. That's my greatest interest," Duncan said. "This is about a small handful of schools, five [Power Five] conferences. If they want to play by a different set of rules, let's be honest about that. Let the NCAA focus on 95% of schools and conferences where the athlete experience is important as well as education."
TV rights, conference realignment could complicate matters. Two industry sources stressed, amid expanding revenues and a forthcoming reorganization of the sport, realignment may not be over. "Everybody is talking to everybody," one source said.
Kliavkoff says he fields an inquiry from a school wanting to join the Pac-12 every 10-14 days. His league is happy at 12 teams, especially with a new media rights deal being the priority in 2024. "I think realignment at the top of college athletics is done for now, for this round," he said.
Still, industry estimates have the 30 schools in the Big Ten and SEC each earning $80 million in annual rights fees once the new Big Ten deal is finalized this year. That would be $30 million per school more than the next-highest conference. And the SEC's rights are only going up once Oklahoma and Texas join ahead of the 2025 season.
That creates a drastic budget disparity when it comes to key mitigating factors like hiring top coaches and staff, funding a recruiting budget, upgrading facilities and (potentially in the future) paying players. As things stand already, the Big Ten and SEC have combined to win 19 of 24 BCS/CFP championships. "The concept of competitive equity is really a mirage," said Bowlsby.
That leads to a basic question: How are these diverse groups going to get along when that has already proven difficult? The disparate COVID-19 response highlighted that, even during a time of national emergency, the conferences first looked out for their own best interests.
The FBS commissioners met last week in Park City, Utah, to begin hashing out their deep divisions over topics related to playoff expansion.
"If there were a time … for us to evaluate the role of college athletics in society, it's now," Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said. "It's up to us now to collectively work together.";
Who (and what) will rise to the top?
Leadership of College Football 2.0 can take place in two forms: an organizing body with or without a czar to man the wheel.
Since 1978, the NCAA has overseen all four divisions of college football. It could grant the FBS full autonomy and keep it under its umbrella, or the FBS could break away completely and fall under a separate limited liability corporation, such as the College Football Playoff.
Discussions are already underway in terms of what a breakaway would look like. At least three Power Five commissioners are in favor. Lead1 Association – the professional organization consisting of the FBS's ADs – plans a formal working group to study the subject by September.
As a separate structure, the FBS would have more financial, ethical and moral responsibility. Its captain will need to be savvy in TV negotiations and aware that the players' voice must be paramount in the decision-making process.
This is the most likely option as the commissioners could appoint a CEO figure who answers to them and a board of university presidents. The structure is already there with the CFP, but these groups would have far more responsibility and liability. That's part why the NCAA struggles to handle major-college football. It's more of a disparate Fortune 500 company than a sport organizing body. With this structure, TV rights, rules and enforcement could all live together under one roof.
Asked if the commissioners can run the sport as a separate entity, Swarbrick, who would be part of that group of FBS commissioners, was affirmative.
'Yeah, I think so," he said. "The question is what's the benefit of it? Do you gain enough by doing that, or are you better off just further wrestling autonomy control from the NCAA? Could it be done? Yes. Does it necessarily put you in a better place? A case still has to be made."
College Football Playoff
The CFP seems like a logical leadership body for college football because it basically funds the sport – an average of $600 million per year for the FBS. That figure would soar to at least $1 billion per year if, as expected, the playoff field expands from four to 12 teams in 2026. With that move would come pressure and responsibility: pressure to share some of that revenue with players and responsibility to run the entire sport instead of just its playoff.
It is the NCAA that currently absorbs the liability for such hot-button items such as head trauma and academics, but the association has not thrived in that role. In fact, it has lost credibility, leadership ability and legal traction. Duncan calls it a broken governance model.
"I've never seen anything like this,"he said. ";… You have this separate corporation [CFP] that is in charge of [$600] million, but the NCAA is liable. It's mind-boggling to me."
CFP executive director Bill Hancock acknowledged that FBS institutions need a stronger voice in the room on issues facing college football. However, he was hesitant to say whether the CFP itself would someday be able to manage the responsibilities that come with governing the sport. "It's too soon to speculate about that,"; Hancock said. "There is a fairly strong feeling that the FBS group needs that stronger say, but there's many pathways to that. I don't really have a strong feeling myself on the best way of accomplishing it."
Greg Sankey, SEC commissioner: Sankey oversees one of the two biggest conferences in the nation. Some say he is already the sport's czar, but another entity could make that role official. He certainly has the most power and leverage overseeing college football's most successful and influential conference. The problem with any sitting administrator taking a CEO role is a perceived bias toward their current employer. Sankey, 58, is at the height of his power and probably better positioned to oversee the sport at his current job. While a critic of the NCAA, he believes in the foundational underpinnings of the collegiate model. Even if he isn';t CEO of College Football 2.0, Sankey will have massive input into its look and day-to-day operation.
Dawn Aponte, NFL chief administrator of football operations: Long mentioned as a rising star, Aponte has soared through the ranks of the NFL. Her long- term prospects might be in the pros, but could a successful run overseeing college football thrust her to the forefront of the eventual search for Roger Goodell's replacement as NFL commissioner? A former executive with three NFL teams, Aponte was called "a bad-ass"; by one insider. College football sure could use a bad-ass.
Paul Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner: The commissioner when free agency was introduced into the NFL might be the perfect leader for college football as it enters its own free agency era. At 81, Tagliabue'ss age might be a factor, but his experience probably trumps anyone else on this list. In addition to leading the NFL through a transformative time (1989-2006), Tagliabue was the chairman of the Georgetown board of directors from 2009-15. "He was quietly urging within the NCAA circles that what they needed to do was change the system themselves or else the courts were going to change it for them," Kessler said.
Dave Marmion, CFP chief financial officer: In a sport that is about to get another windfall, Marmion is ready to open the books. That's because he keeps them. There will be pressure to allocate that new money – at least $1 billion annually with expansion – the right way with the CFP in charge. Postgraduate health and education must to be addressed. The players might get a piece in revenue sharing, too. Marmion added the title of CFP chief revenue officer this month. Prior to joining the CFP in 2017, he spent 16 total years at Texas (five as CFO) and Wake Forest (11 as associate AD for finance).
Rick George, Colorado athletic director: George has a wealth of experience having worked for the Big Eight, Big Ten, SEC, PGA Tour and MLB with the Texas Rangers. He is also a leading voice on NCAA issues having served on the NIL working group that developed recommendations – largely ignored by the NCAA -- with some of the most powerful administrators in the country. George, a former Illinois cornerback, was previously mentioned as a finalist for Big 12 commissioner, though it appears the league is heading in another direction.
Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma athletic director: One of the most respected persons in college athletics, Castiglione would be a uniting force. In a quarter century at Oklahoma, he has restored the Sooners' football fortunes with the consecutive hirings of Bob Stoops, Lincoln Riley and now Brent Venables. It's fair to say OU has never been better athletically across the board. If he pursued the jobs, Joe C. would get serious consideration for the NCAA president and Big 12 commissioner openings. There is no evidence he has gone after either opportunity, but the respect for him is such that he would be at the top of the list once submitting his name. Castiglione is also a former member of the CFP Selection Committee.
Oliver Luck, Altius Sports Partners chairman: Life is good for the former West Virginia AD and 61-year old father of Andrew Luck. He resides in the Colorado mountains and recently said his proximity to the slopes certainly beats a 50- hour work week that one would have as, say, the new Big 12 commissioner. Think bigger. Luck'ss wealth of institutional knowledge would be invaluable as the head of college football. He has been an NFL quarterback, NFL executive (NFL Europe) and the NCAA executive vice president. If he doesn't stump for the job, you can be sure his knowledge will be tapped to shape the future of the game.
Mark Silverman, Fox Sports president and CEO Burke Magnus, ESPN president of programming: One cannot be mentioned without the other. Their evaluations of conference media rights have defined those leagues, their revenues and ultimately the game of college football itself. Silverman has positioned Fox Sports and the Big Ten as industry leaders since helping launch the Big Ten Network in 2007. As Fox has aggressively pursued sports rights, Silverman has been an industry leader. Quoting an ESPN biography, Magnus helped "set the strategic direction of the company's college sports content." Assuming the future division of the sport is going to be based on media rights, either would be a wise pick. Both have the juice to run the game. Call this one a tie. The one problem? Each probably has a better job already.
Ohio State AD Gene Smith: Smith, who told CBS Sports he not interested in such a role, oversees the second-largest athletic budget in the country. He has been outspoken about NIL in particular and recently suggested it become part of the scholarship package along with room, board, books, tuition, fees, cost of attendance, etc. "I wouldn't make this hard," Smith said. "We don't want to create some bureaucratic structure that we currently have."Smith foresees a system overseen by presidents and commissioners with day-to-day oversight going to an "operational group." That would be the body responsible for some of the heavy baggage such as rules enforcement, officiating and bowl game certification.
College Football 2.0: Players primed to influence future of sport as NIL, athletes' rights expand.
On June 1, 2020, a few months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, college football players became among the first groups to return to work.
Programs fretted about lost revenue from television rights and ticket sales devastating their bottom lines. At the same time, racial justice protests swept the country in the wake of George Floyd's murder.
That unique moment in history created a perfect storm that, in hindsight, added fuel to athletes becoming active and vocal constituents in determining what's to become of college sports.
This week, CBS Sports recognizes the first anniversary of name, image and likeness rights being granted to athletes as the jumping off point for a three-part series taking a more intensive look at the state of college football and future of the game. – "I think the last two years have been pretty pivotal," said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. "I think it's made clear how critical college football players are to this industry, that it's big business."
Huma started the NCPA in the 1990s after watching injustices spring up during his time playing at UCLA. One teammate received a full-game suspension after receiving money for groceries from an agent. Another struggled to pay healthcare bills after suffering an injury in a voluntary summer practice. (NCAA legislation at the time prevented schools from contributing to such medical bills.)
Progress toward increased rights for athletes has since begun moving much quicker since U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark NCAA v. Alston case last June that restrictions on name, image and likeness legislation violated antitrust law. In the year since NIL went into effect college athletes have not only capitalized monetarily but gained an increased understanding of the value that had long been kept from them.
"It happened so fast and there was such a push for it," Stanford wide receiver Elijah Higgins said. "Players began to understand their rights. Players began to understand how much money was actually on the table. Players started to understand how wrong it was for them to not be able to use their own name, image and likeness to benefit themselves."
Cracking the door The arrival of NIL has opened the floodgates with players seeking to address several issues, including with still-young transfer portal and even younger one-time transfer exemption that have created more flexibility and movement for players.
However, NIL – along with mysterious booster-run collectives that have suddenly taken up much of the air around the sport – only brings further questions about the long-term relationship between players and their schools.
"We could evolve into a system where they are giving more voice and opportunity to their athletes," leading antitrust attorney Jeffrey Kessler said. "There is a bill pending in Congress which would allow athletes to unionize with state schools. Otherwise, the problem is the schools with the biggest revenue are mostly state schools. Right now, they can't be denied. That's a real barrier.";
Kessler's comments come nine months after National Labor Relations Board general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo wrote in a memo that revenue-producing athletes at private schools should be considered employees, which would allow them to unionize. The memo is a non-binding decision only impacting the 18 private institutions in the FBS, but it does signal a friendlier NLRB response should a team try to unionize as Northwestern players attempted in 2015.
"It definitely opens the door for college athletes to attempt collective bargaining," said player advocate attorney Tim Nevius. "This helps lay out a roadmap for action by athletes to be recognized as employees and perhaps form a union."
The NCAA refuted the NLRB's findings, claiming that athletes are amateur students who participate in a glorified extracurricular educational experience. However, over the next five years, this question will almost assuredly be put to the test. If responses to those are the same as the results of nearly every NCAA court case over the past decade, players have a real shot at winning.
"Employment doesn't change the nature of what players are to universities," Huma said. "It finally validates the nature."
Athletes could benefit massively from becoming employees as that status comes with numerous legal protections. It would clear the way for players to form unions and collectively bargain. That could lead to revenue sharing, along with overtime pay and regulations covering their health and safety.
Leading officials across the sport are reluctant to buy into the concept of athletes being defined as employees. Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff called the idea an "existential threat to college athletics"; in comments to CBS Sports.
"If you create an employment structure, the other kids on the teams are going to lose their degrees. They're going to lose freedom where they want to play," Kliavokoff said. "By definition, we're going to have a draft system: They can be traded or fired."
While Kliavkoff's stance has merit,running off scholarship players is already common practice for major programs. In his own conference, USC coach Lincoln Riley has notably utilized a little- known rule to cut 10 scholarship players from his 85-man counter, according to The Athletic.
Conversely, players being contracted as employees could create advantages in the realms of player movement and compensatory benefits. Schools could offer guaranteed contracts with buyouts or option deals. They could also require athletes to stay in college for a set period. These are all common features of professional sports contracts.
Of course, unintended consequences are sure to pop up as massive public educational institutions must start asking complicated questions about compensation.
"There are certainly things that have cried out for flexibility for a while," said Bob Bowlsby, outgoing Big 12 commissioner, "but we shouldn't be thinking about creating yet another layer of professional sports because I don't think that's what higher education is about. I think there would be a fair amount of higher education that would repel that idea."
How do players get there?
Whether it comes from unions, employment status or national legislation around college athletes – like the College Athlete Bill of Rights proposed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in December 2020 – change is coming fast.
"There's never been a more important point,"; Huma said. "This is a time when lawmakers are listening, the media is listening, federal agencies are listening, lawyers are active. Ten years ago, it wasn't quite like this. Ten years ago, many people would have stood on the NCAA's side.
"Now, the NCAA is pretty much isolated."
NIL and player compensation remains a distant secondary issue to Huma behind further protections for health and safety. He sees the coming years as a critical time for athletes as competition grows. Ultimately, achieving a collective voice or Congressional action to lean upon would make it much easier for players to get their say.
College programs can try and get ahead of player demands by being proactive. Increased player involvement is almost a certainty.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond foresees players organizing for group licensing opportunities within 2-3 years.
"I think that's on the table,"; said Jarmond regarding the prospect of revenue sharing with players. "I think that's possible."
Jarmond has looked into the prospect of involving athletes in marketing campaigns. For example, he suggested promoting an autograph opportunity with a star such as Jaime Jaquez Jr. at a game that would not otherwise be well attended.
"I think it's got to be more of a partnership,"Jarmond said.
That timeline could be accelerated if EA Sports restarts its "NCAA Football" video game franchise in 2023, as has been previously reported. Players will almost certainly share in revenue from that game for the use of their names, images and likenesses.
"NCAA Football"; was discontinued in 2014 because NCAA rules didn't allow revenue sharing. Making common sense reforms and opening the door to group licensing opportunities – and perhaps even collective bargaining – could appease athletes.
"The more fair and equitable the treatment of the athletes, the less pressure there is to push for more," said Gabe Feldman, professor of sports law at Tulane. "The need for a union decreases as athletes are given [more rights]."
One complication for college football players – compared to other professional athletes – is the transient nature of their workforce. Players only have up to five years eligibility with many departing after just three years. It's unusual for players to have more than 1-2 years of maximum value as leaders on and off the field, whereas an NBA star Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul spent eight years as president of the National Basketball Players Association.
The NCPA and other like-minded organizations have set out long-term goals in hopes of furthering players' rights long term. Those around the NIL space also take issue with the characterization that players are solely motivated by short-term financial gains.
"People have the wrong impression," said Miami mega-booster John Ruiz, who has signed more than 100 athletes to NIL deals across South Florida. "These kids and their families are not just looking for a payday. They're looking for education, for stability, for knowledge, for networking. They're looking for a place where they can play for 2-3 years and have the best opportunity heading forward."
As college football consolidates and TV revenue explodes, making the case that football programs that generate $100 million a year are amateur operations becomes more tenuous.
The NCAA is working overtime to try and weigh the consequences of this new world as it continues to rebuild its constitution through the NCAA Division I Transformation Committee. If the NCAA fails to respond fleetly enough, the enterprise may find itself changed from the outside in.
"The people who are benefitting off of [the system] aren't going to find a reason to change," said Higgins, an All-Pac 12 pass catcher. "Obviously, it will need to be a push from the people who are affected, the people who care about the issue or people who understand the issue – and want to fix it."
College Football 2.0: Who gets left behind as realignment, new leadership, player empowerment reshape game?
One year ago today, college athletics changed forever. July 1, 2021, marked the beginning of the name, image and likeness era, and it set the stage for what has become perhaps the most transformative 12 months in college sports history.
This week, CBS Sports recognized that anniversary as the jumping off point for a three-part series taking a more intensive look at the state of college football and future of the game. – "I think we all knew something like this was going to happen," TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. "For so long, we had turned a blind eye to what I thought was right in college athletics. We were filling these stadiums, putting 50,000-100,000 people in these stadiums, making tens of millions on television contracts. It was like, well, we're not going to share any of this with the people that fans are showing up to watch? "It was a day of reckoning and something I thought was long overdue."
NIL is simply the latest crack in the decades-old fading facade of college football with more significant changes coming just around the corner.
The NCAA's lack of preparation for the defining issue of its time has set the stage for what could be a truly transformational moment in athletics.
"In theory, could there have been [NCAA] legislation? Yes," Miami megabooster John Ruiz said of NIL. "In reality, maybe we're in a better place today than we would have been had we had legislation [from the NCAA]."
With that in mind, CBS Sports broke down a handful of the biggest issues that must be resolved as College Football 2.0 forms. The future of college football hangs in the balance entering this uncertain
new era with governance, postseason structure and programs with disparate financial situations serving as pivotal factors.
Who (or what) will run college football?
Right now, it's the SEC and the Big Ten. With the shocking news that USC and UCLA are joining the Big Ten, the two conferences have the biggest, best collection of college football brands in history.
That means, someday soon, they'll be dictating – a lot – and perhaps even staging their own playoff. In that scenario, do you care if an undefeated Cincinnati is left out? At the least those two conferences will be hoarding money, talent, coaches and television windows.
Will anyone be able to tell commissioners Greg Sankey (SEC) and Kevin Warren (Big Ten) what to do? The NCAA will be out. That is all but assured as detailed in this series. Ultimately, those running the game will be the same who are running it now: conference commissioners and university presidents. The difference being the FBS – either all or a significant portion of the 130 teams – will break away from the NCAA and create its own entity.
The day-to-day wouldn't change, but the new entity might be responsible for duties previously left to the NCAA: rules enforcement, health care, officiating, etc. The NCAA was formed 117 years ago because the sport was too violent, but college football has grown to such a degree that it can no longer manage to regulate it.
One major question is stewardship. Whoever takes over college football will clearly have a lot on their plate. In the event of a breakaway, that new entity will be responsible for athlete welfare, including mental health and post-graduate healthcare. This has always been an NCAA responsibility. If the new entity doesn't assume these responsibilities, will it at least contribute to a medical care fund?
That entity would do well to hire someone with significant experience in law and sports administration. That means someone less like current CFP executive director Bill Hancock and more like a CEO or czar who will answer to the commissioners and presidents. Diversity will have to be addressed at the highest levels in a sport that has been run by older white men. That's one among many reasons why someone like NFL executive Dawn Aponte seems right for the job. The anti-Mark Emmert, if you will.
Somehow, legal liability must be reduced. At last check, the NCAA was facing upwards of 30 lawsuits dealing with player health alone.
Complicating the situation? Four of the Power Five conferences have changed leadership since 2020. Three of those four took over leagues without prior collegiate experience. The Big Ten's Kevin Warren came from the NFL. The Pac-12' George Kliavkoff made his bones in the entertainment world in Las Vegas. The Big 12' Brett Yormark is about to take over with experience from the NBA and Roc Nation.
There's no guarantee these stakeholders will see eye-to-eye with college stalwarts like Sankey and the ACC's Jim Phillips in this critical moment. But someone, somewhere needs to make a decision – and lead.
Will money go directly to the players?
Yes, and more of it. When college football separates, there will be an opportunity to pay the players what would be defined as a "stipend" – the same as cost of attendance and Alston money.
Let's call it $30,000 for each player in the form of revenue sharing that would be collectively bargained. (If that the stakeholders try to cap that figure, they'll end up right back in court for antitrust violations.) If the sides collectively bargain, say, two years in residence by the players – thus providing some roster stability – in exchange for that money, it might work. Legal experts have told CBS Sports this approach could work. Working conditions could be collectively bargained without the formation of a union or an employee-employer relationship.
"I think that's where we're headed," antitrust attorney Jeffrey Kessler told CBS Sports. "It's really just a question of how quickly it gets there. We're going to head to a world where the NCAA doesn't have any regulations at all or authority regarding the compensation and benefits of athletes."
There will be pressure for the revenue windfall created by an expanded College Football Playoff to be shared with the labor force that gives the game its value. Will the game's stakeholders and players sit across a table from one another and negotiate for a piece of what is believed to be at least a $1 billion annual media rights deal?
That proposed $30,000, expanded across 11,050 scholarships for those 130 teams, results in an outlay of $331 million annually. That's approximately 33% of that $1 billion. Sound fair? NFL players earn 48% of the league's revenue.
However, if the top of the FBS breaks off, that would create an opportunity for a completely new model. Players may push for the ability to have employment and contract protections, along with other concessions as part of a collectively-bargained process. With revenues at SEC and Big Ten schools expected to easily clear $100 million – and counting – the case for limiting compensation grows infinitely weaker.
Whether through legislation or unionization, player empowerment is not slowing down. NIL legislation has opened the door to athlete compensation, and their power will continue to grow. It's almost unfathomable to believe a new era of college football could be achieved without players at least becoming limited partners.
What's the College Football Playoff's role?
Potentially irrelevant if the FBS forms its own limited liability corporation (LLC). However, the CFP remains the most likely entity to take over the FBS as it already has some structure in place.
When a CFP working group proposed a 12-team expansion model a year ago, most expected it would be rubber stamped in time to be implemented as early as the 2023 season. Then Texas and Oklahoma decided to ditch the Big 12 for the SEC. And now, with USC and UCLA jettisoning the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, the waters are further muddied.
None of it can go forward now until we know who is playing in what conference. The political football of "he Alliance"; between the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 is now dead. If the CFP is to absorb the FBS, it must first figure out the expansion piece. As it stands, the playoff is almost guaranteed to move to 12 teams in 2026, though questions remain on the structure, especially with the SEC and Big Ten growing financially well past the rest of the sport.
Left on the table when expansion was paused earlier this year: A proposal for the six highest- ranked conference champions to receiver automatic bids with the top four getting first-round byes. The remaining six spots would be populated with at-large teams, including at least one Group of Five school.
Beginning in 2026, a unanimous vote wouldn't be needed to proceed with expansion. Given Thursday's developments, the SEC and Big Ten could simply dictate the look of the playoff.
Who will ultimately make these decisions?
A combination of the NCAA, whatever the FBS becomes and lawyers. Always lawyers. The NCAA is in the process of allowing its divisions to make more decisions for themselves as NCAA deregulation is being overseen by the Transformation Committee. However, whatever entity oversees major college football will most likely be a for-profit business.
College athletics has been notoriously glacial when it comes to evolving with the times. With considerations including player associations, state laws and potential federal legislation, the decisions could soon be taken out of the NCAA's hands.
This is a critical juncture in which university presidents can take charge. It's their put-up-or-shut- up opportunity. In times of strife, these men and women make a lot of noise about integrity only to ultimately do little.
Eventually, they will link up with conference commissioners to oversee a new business, not just a new division. It will be on their agenda to decide the role of academics, organizational enforcement, etc.
These officials often preach the importance of institutional integrity, but a future with NIL and perhaps direct compensation will require a complete mental realignment. College sports will
almost certainly have a for-profit component, and it's important for these presidents to rationalize that enterprise existing within a higher education framework.
"Previously, there's been a lot of talk about, Congress is going to fix this, Congress is going to fix that," said Bob Bowlsby, outgoing Big 12 commissioner. "Repeatedly, we've been told, don't bring your problems to Congress. Bring solutions to Congress and ask them to help you implement them.I think that'ss what we'll need to do."
This is the presidents' most existential challenge since the NCAA formed in the early 20th Century. They're losing credibility by the minute. Please don't tell us about the importance of academics when USC and UCLA athletes will be flying 3,000 miles to play at Rutgers. Their charge will be to find the thinnest thread that connects big-business college football to the old educational model because the new model is going to be more professional, more corporate, more about the money.
Who will keep the peace?
There will be an enforcement piece but not much of one. The members don't want it. NIL has defined the future of compensation. Schools don't want any outsider telling them about academic fraud.
There are already reports a new NCAA enforcement structure won';t touch innocent players. Guilty coaches will be banned and fined. Seems fair.
However, pitting athletic and business partners against one another presents its own set of problems in this new endeavor. There will be fewer rules in the future as deregulation of NCAA oversight continues, but is that a good thing given NIL is already running wild?
"Greg Sankey totally dislikes the NCAA enforcement process," one Power Five athletic director said, "But I'mnot sure what rules you'd be enforcing. A lot of this stuff is going to be deregulated anyway."
The Wild, Wild West will only get wilder.
How will gambling impact the game?
The NCAA got rid of its gambling, agent and amateurism division years ago. It may be time to bring it back. Sometime soon, every FBS conference – perhaps every school – will have a gambling partner.
As unsavory as that sounds, it's a reflection of culture change. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed sports gambling in 2018. College football is still in the process of figuring out its role.
The MAC made an aggressive move by partnering with sports data firm Genius Sports to provide internal statistical data to be sold to gamblers. However, there are several other avenues to resolve if college football wants to be a gambling-friendly sport – and reap the financial benefits.
Now, the issue is how much gambling the stakeholders will allow. Coaches largely don't release injury information. That information legitimizes NFL betting; all the injuries are public. Some administrators are worried that prop bets – wagers on individual occurrences – add a new level of pressure.
"We don't have a month go by during the season … where there's not at least one real issue around misuse of inside information," said Matt Holt, founder and CEO of U.S. Integrity, a gaming oversight company that works with colleges.
College sports is waiting for its next big gambling scandal. Ultimately though, gambling is too big a financial force long term to get pushed down by bylaws, especially in a gambling marketplace that embraces the volume of college football products long term. The new governing body will have to make rules to protect gamblers.
Will programs get left behind?
Conference realignment shifting into gear again suggests there will be several left out in the cold. The age of the superconference is upon us. It's up to everyone else to keep up.
It's hard to believe the 130 FBS teams will not be trimmed to a more historically dominant and successful group as financial gaps between programs continue to increase. If the FBS does get divided, the "lower" tier of teams will have to face and answer some difficult questions.
Look for the SEC and Big Ten, who have already separated from the crowd with monster media rights deals, to set standards – scholarship limits, spending, rules -- that force schools to keep up.
The FBS could split into two (or more) tiers: elite brands (30-50) and everyone else (100-80), a group that could be subdivided further. The SEC and Big Ten will lap the field, but what that means for the rest of the sport is undetermined.
A Group of Five playoff was valued at $160 million in a 2017 study. Considering the continued rise of sports media rights, that number will have increased significantly from five years ago. A formally multi-tiered FBS system would officially end the mirage of 130 FBS teams competing at the same level with legitimate shots at winning the CFP.
At what cost will that come for the sport? We're about to find out.
Dennis Dodd CBSSports.com Age: 66 College: University of Missouri Background: Dennis Dodd is back in the winner’s circle. He has placed first in an FWAA writing category multiple times during his career, as well as collected other awards in the FWAA contest. He was the Bert McGrane Award winner announced last January for 2022. He was the FWAA’s Steve Ellis Co-Beat Writer of the year in 2018 and President of the FWAA in 2006. Still living in the Kansas City area with wife, Janet, Dodd celebrated his 25th year with CBS Sports in 2023. He remains one of the top writers in college football. The couple can be seen often in Arizona when Dennis is not criss-crossing the country on the college beat.
Shehan Jeyarajah CBSSports.com Age: 29 College: Baylor University Background: Shehan Jeyarajah captures his second FWAA writing award, and earns a first-place finish for the first time in his career after collaborating with the legendary Dennis Dodd to report on the future of college football. Jeyarajah had no intention of pursuing journalism when he joined the school newspaper as a sophomore, but college football reporting was love at first sight. Since then, he has been blessed to write for some of the greatest publications in the industry, including Dave Campbell's Texas Football, the Dallas Morning News and now CBS Sports. A proud second-generation Sri Lankan American, Jeyarajah takes special pride in mentoring the next generation of great AAPI journalists as a member of the Asian American Journalists Association. Jeyarajah lives in Dallas with his wife, Bhargavi, a fellow Baylor graduate. The happy couple is expecting their first child.