With the advent of name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals, the one-time transfer exception, conference realignments, and staggering new TV deals, college football is seeing some seismic changes. But last week, the College Football Playoff (CFP) board of managers provided a brief hint on the next big change that might alter the complexion of college football entirely.
That hint came during a Zoom call when there was a brief conversation about the possibility of moving college football outside the NCAA’s control to be governed by the CFP instead. It was reported that the topic was only discussed for about five minutes and no further actions were planned.
A Brief Chat With Big Implications
The CFP board of managers is composed of 11 college presidents and chancellors. The primary role of the board of managers is to oversee the College Football Playoff and its contractual ties with several major bowl games. Given that, it’s been assumed by many that the CFB would be the most appropriate entity to manage college football should it ever be operated outside the NCAA. While those assumptions were always speculative, the fact that the topic arose during a board call may be the first small step toward a giant leap in how college football operates.
Why Would College Football Leave The NCAA?
What’s at stake is millions and perhaps billions of dollars. Which is to say, college football has become a big money business and the schools want a bigger piece of the money pie. It should be noted the CFP left an estimated $450 million on the table when it couldn’t come to an agreement on expanding the current playoff format. That plan was said to have been derailed by presidents from some of the smaller conferences. Hence, most believe a CFP move away from the NCAA would allow the “haves,” such as the SEC and the Big 10, to have more say and make even more money. As those so-called super conferences continue to grow, it’s widely believed their influence over the direction of college football will also increase.
As background, bigger football schools wanting more money isn’t a new problem. The first notable challenge to the NCAA’s control of college football dates back more than 40 years. That’s when several schools formed the College Football Association (CFA) to contest the NCAA’s control of television rights. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled the NCAA’s limits on television appearances and control of TV contracts were a restraint of trade. Since that decision, schools and conferences have been free to make their own TV rights deals, and for bigger schools and conferences, athletic department profits have soared.
While the NCAA contested the CFA’s move in the early 80s, it may be happy to cede control of college football now. As college football has become a multi-billion dollar business, the NCAA is still outwardly committed to amateur athletics. For many observers, however, the NCAA’s allowance of NIL deals, and its lack of oversight of those deals, shows that big-time college football may have outgrown that ideal of amateurism. But don’t worry too much about the fortunes of the NCAA, as it still controls college basketball’s March Madness, which will soon be worth more than a billion dollars annually.
What Happens Next?
Most experts assume that the CFP will someday break from the NCAA, and the five-minute discussion in a Zoom call was merely the first time the quiet part has been said out loud. However, that discussion doesn’t mean anything is imminent, and the CFP taking control of college football from the NCAA could be a long, drawn-out process.
For many, the advent of NIL deals signified the end of the NCAA idea of “amateur” college football players. CFP control could one day lead to a university-controlled, hugely profitable minor league, dedicated to preparing players for the National Football League. Without Division I college football, the NCAA could still apply its ideals of amateurism while maintaining oversight of Division II and Division III football.
All of that is speculation and, for now, in the future. But, as that five-minute discussion on the control of college football shows, as TV revenue and “super conference” influence grows, the College Football Playoff managers clearly want even more money and more say in how they make it. Which is to say, when it does happen, the inmates will soon be running the asylum, and college football may never be the same again.