College Football / Jason Gay / Wall Street Journal


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We need a horn.

A large, noisy, custom-made horn. Something along the lines of a tuba–or better yet, a marching band Sousaphone. Just a glorious horn that must be honked, with gusto, every time a college president, athletic director or head coach in America dares to suggest that big-time college football is anything other than another money-driven golden goose chase-a-palooza.

COLLEGE PRESIDENT: What’s important here is the mission of education, and a tradition of…

COLLEGE PRESIDENT: As I was trying to say, this is really about the student-athletes…

Please send one of these horns as quickly as possible to the University of Washington and the University of Oregon, Pac-12 schools that over the weekend eloped with the wintry Big Ten, eager for the joy of walleye cakes and 13-7 nailbiters. Please also send horns to Arizona, Arizona State and Utah–Pac-12 members which joined Colorado in bailing to that other famous conference of buttes and palm trees…the Big 12.

As soon as 2024, the Big Ten conference will have 18 members, including those beach bums from USC and UCLA who already announced their Pac-12 exodus. The Big 12 will swell to 16, matching the Southeastern Conference, which is splurging to add Texas and Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12, the “Conference of Champions,” will have…wait for it…four teams left.
Let’s hear it for sad math!

Conference defections like these get explained as survival tactics, and it’s true–though it’s sort of like an art thief avoiding capture by hiding behind a potted plant. It’s a hasty escape from a self-inflicted disaster, one that the Pac-12 conference, members and administrators all had a hand in, amid a brewing crisis even the sleepiest fan saw coming for years.

To say the obvious: The horse left the barn long ago in college football. It left the barn and built a newer, bigger barn, with heated floors, a home theater, wine cellar, a pool with a lazy river, a LeRoy Neiman of Secretariat and a five-horse garage. Colleges grew spellbound by the windfall potential, even if they weren’t any good at football, even if the revenue usually gets sunk right back into football, and the impact upon enrollment and alumni loyalty isn’t as potent as claimed.

One after the other, schools have fallen into a silky bed of billion-dollar network arrangements, eight-figure head coaches, millionaire assistants and conditioning gurus earning high six figures to say That is not a proper squat. (Yes, I know they do more.) In return, schools rearranged their scholastic priorities, athletic departments and the entire U.S. map to please the true leaders of college sports: television programmers.

Don’t blame TV, though! Television is just doing what television does: paying for the eyeballs, wherever they are. They want the numbers, subscribers, customers and ad dollars, nothing more. If they could get instead by paying for indoor shark pickleball, they would pay for indoor shark pickleball.

It’s the schools, conferences and the mothership NCAA that have taken us here, compromising what makes college sports great to achieve the highest financial bid, no matter the impact for fans, rivalries, or heaven forbid, the thousands of thrown-into-turmoil athletes who have the misfortune to play something other than big-time football or basketball.

Washington’s departure from the Pac-12 is a crushing blow to the conference.

Imagine being a prospect committed to play Pac-12 softball, dreaming of rivalry games with fellow West Coast powerhouses. Get ready to grab a mitt and hop on the plane to Madison, Piscataway, and College Park. The coming chaos is going to be intense. What happens to proven Olympic athlete factories like Stanford and Cal, left behind in the cobwebs of the Zombie Pac 4?

College football’s musical chairs derby might be defensible in the abstract (we’re just serving up better games) if it wasn’t creating such collateral damage. It’s another handful of hypocrisy for a sport that already held the copyright on the term. (While we are at it, let’s not forget the epic free ride currently enjoyed by the NFL, which gets a nationwide development league with no stake in the game.)

Please know: There are college sports officials making a ruckus to Congress about the alleged perils of the transfer portal (which allows players to freely change schools, like coaches do) and Name, Image, Likeness reform (which allows players to make money on their image). They are picking this battle at a time entire institutions are on the run, wiping out a 100-plus year old conference almost overnight. It’s like getting a lecture on vegetarianism from a ribeye steak.

They don’t get it. Actually, it’s worse: They do get it, but they still have power, so they’re trying one last time to grab the wheel away from athletes. History says it’s futile. The Supreme Court unanimously laughed the NCAA out of court when it tried to enforce its antitrust exemptions to limit educational benefits for athletes. You can bet that labor organizing and collective bargaining is next. They’ve tried before, and they’ll eventually succeed.

If you grew up at a time when college football felt smaller, when Bear Bryant put it in his contract that he had to make a dollar less than the University of Alabama president, this all may sound unthinkable. But the sport has been professionalized in broad daylight, over many years, from the luxury locker rooms and facilities to the expanded playoff tournament, nonsense bowls, random weeknight games, and the partnerships with online gambling companies already causing worry. They don’t even try to hide the private jets to ferry around incoming coaches. It’s all part of the deal.

Where does college football go from here? It’s going to the haves, perhaps in the form of two super conferences: the Big Who Knows What and the mighty SEC. Maybe the ACC and Big 12 reinforce themselves, to create some version of a Power 4 (down from a Power 5). Notre Dame will stand in a corner, fists up, until it likely relents.

The expanded 12-team playoff, meanwhile, will create new revenue, but who knows what it does to the regular season? Will these fab new conferences matter as much if a September loss isn’t a problem anymore? The Big Ten is getting rid of its divisions, which means Michigan and Ohio State have a chance to play each other three times (regular season, Big Ten championship, expanded playoff). I may have to move to the moon or beyond.

There’s a weird hubris that this party (and the growth) is going to keep on rocking. I’m not so sure. If you follow anything about the TV business in 2023, you know that it’s a volatile place, as the profitable cable bundle (customers even paying for stuff they don’t watch) declines in favor of streaming (customers paying only for what they want), and the latter hasn’t proven to be anywhere near as lucrative as the former.

Current TV deals run into the 2030s. Then what? What happens when a network looks at the product and says: Wait, why are we paying for ________? Nobody watches them and they never win a thing. There’s a faith that tech companies will keep the bidding high, but the Pac-12 wound up the Pac-4 partly because Applereportedly looked at the conference’s lack of leverage and made a practical, not obscene, offer.

Maybe they’re right, and tech keeps the party going. Maybe I have this all wrong, and fans love seeing Ducks vs. Hoosiers. Or maybe the party stops with a television/streaming market correction. Maybe there’s a further reduction, to a conference of elite football programs, a “super league” that can be salaried and even partnered to the NFL.

Before then, there’s probably (hopefully?) going to be a few presidents saying enough is enough, and dropping football altogether, or at least living a more sensible life in Division III. I’m sure there are plenty of college presidents who would like to take this door now.

At least we all see big-time college football for what it’s become. Until recently, it had some of us fooled, that it was still about Saturdays, tribal rivalries, giant tailgates, silly chants and singing the alma mater with bare-chested freshmen who somehow misspelled DFENESE. That version of college football can still be found, and it’s fantastic, but what matters most to the people in charge is how much money it’s going to bring in. They’ve made it clear where they stand. Reality can be a bummer. Bring me the horn.
jerseyshorejohnny, thanks for posting…..
Off topic a bit, but I am not sure where “this” is all going but as far as our higher educational system; it is amazing to me the resumes we get now where during the review to decide on interviews we look at each other and ask, “what the heck is that major and does it provide anything that is marketable?” And for some, not all, not even close to the majority but a significant some, during the interview you are left wondering if they even know what a “job” is.
Not even sure where to put this since I hardly watch college football but I think this whole Colorado thing is riveting and actually planned my day to make sure I could watch that game
Not too surprised. He was highly rated out of HS with offers from a lot of big programs.
Thank you for that info. Much appreciated as I was not aware of that. Best of luck to him. If Colorado can continue to make some noise his dad will have a good recruiting class and with good use of the portal next spring can take another step up.
goes to show how much a coach can have an impact on tasing a national profile
Although I do not see Sanders at Colorado for the long term. He was born in Florida, and if an SEC team comes calling, he will go.

I wonder how much longer Saban continues to coach. I could already see those Aflac commercials as Saban retires and advises Sanders to get better insurance now that he has a higher stressful coaching job with Alabama.
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Colorado lead Stanford 29-0 at halftime. Regulation ended up at 36-36. Double OT and 1-4 Stanford upsets Colorado 46-43 in double overtime. I’ll give it to Colorado that they do play exciting football 🏈 games!
Colorado lead Stanford 29-0 at halftime. Regulation ended up at 36-36. Double OT and 1-4 Stanford upsets Colorado 46-43 in double overtime. I’ll give it to Colorado that they do play exciting football 🏈 games!
I fell asleep at halftime. Looks like I missed a crazy game. How did Stanford out score Colorado 36-7 in the second half?

I get Colorado’s defense is a sieve, but how did that offense fall asleep?

On separate note, I watched most of Fresno St.-Utah St. Fun game. I love the Mountain West football conference.

They will be my go to once Washington St. and Oregon St. become members. If Stanford and Cal Berkeley have not settled in a conference yet, they would fit in well there.

I understand some of the schools may not have the academic cachet, but floating around as an independent is hardly sustainable either.
The Washington and Oregon was entertaining. Problem is “entertaining“ isn’t always winning football.

Like Colorado but just not as bad, defense appears OPTIONAL.
Anyone ever considered St. John's starting a college football program, playing at MetLife / City Field / Yankee Stadium / etc, and getting an invite to a conference that wants eyeballs in NYC?