Evanson: College football has become a headless snake
If you think you know what's going on with college football, you don't. No one does, and that's part of the problem.
Name Image and Likeness, or NIL, is causing quite a stir in and around the college games. Athletes are signing six-figure deals, coaches are openly talking about player earning potential, and fans are both literally and figuratively crying about the inherent advantages their rivals now have as a result of professionalizing "amateur" sports.
But as we all had our eyes over "here," over "there" the college football proprietors were laying waste to what we thought was left of the foundation of one of this country's most historical games.
Texas and Oklahoma appear headed to the Southeastern Conference. While not a done deal, all things point to the country's most influential conference acquiring two of the country's most influential programs.
ESPN is reporting its likelihood. Fox is too. And some of the game's most powerful talking heads are speaking not to its possibility, but rather to what it means to college football's ever-changing landscape when it happens.
So now that we — for the most part — know the answer to "if" it's happening, let's investigate "why?"
Per usual, it's about money. While Texas certainly isn't hurting financially — it's perennially the highest grossing athletic department in the country — and Oklahoma, too, finds itself on that same list's top 10, like with most any big business, they want more. That's not news, but what is and quite honestly should be, is the manner in which this and frankly everything in college sports is happening.
Unlike a country, good business, or really any quality organization, college football has no one in charge. You've got 10 FBS conferences, 14 FCS conferences, and five independents led by Notre Dame. But what you don't have is a president, CEO or anyone else in a position to call the shots.
Each of the "Power 5" conferences have conference presidents, whose responsibilities revolve primarily around making the most money for their member universities. They promote and manage the brand, assure competitive balance amongst conference competition, and build business relationships that garner the most bang for the league's buck. It's their job to put their conference first, with little regard for the bigger world in which their conference's live.
If you're keeping score at home, that's our problem.
In the case of Texas and Oklahoma, you've got everyone looking out for No. 1. The SEC wants more power, Texas and Oklahoma want more opportunity, and they all want more money that will inevitably come with the astronomical television contract that will come in the wake of the move.
But while the league and its new teams will undoubtedly win, the sport of football — and in many ways, the other sports that revolve around it — will lose.
Gone will be the historical rivalries, geographical matchups, and pageantry associated with it all. There's a reason that Texas/Oklahoma as a rivalry exists, Oklahoma/Nebraska did, and Texas/Texas A&M no longer does, and it's due primarily to history. They played annually, it often decided a lot, and they had nearly a century's worth of games that mattered to reflect upon.
But while Texas and Oklahoma have that history with Big 12 opponents, they have little to none of it with LSU, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Mississippi State and the rest of the SEC — and that stinks.
This won't end with these schools and conferences either. With the SECs imminent addition of Texas and Oklahoma, the other "Power 5" conferences are in a game of musical chairs, searching for new teams and powerful markets of their own before the music stops. But who's left?
The major markets in the West are gone, and there's little to gain for existing members when discussing the addition of schools that bring little from a money standpoint to the table. Same size pie, more mouths to feed — that's no winner.
How's this good for the game? It isn't, and if college football had a president looking out for the sport, it wouldn't be letting the sport's players operate without the whole in mind.
For years, a need for a ruling body has existed. The NCAA was supposed to be it, but the ever-growing money and the organization's equally diminishing level of control stripped it of its power. Now, college football has become like the NFL, but with the individual franchises operating with little regard for the league's overall health — which would never happen in the NFL or in any good business.
College football as we know it isn't dead, but it is dying before our eyes. Is it bigger? Yes, but is it doing so in the short term to the detriment of its long-term health? I believe yes, too. But with no one in charge and no one with the bigger picture in mind, who can or who will save it?
I'll wait for the answer.
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