The professionalization of college football

More than likely college football will never be an “amateur” sport again.  The college football season begins this weekend in the wake of a monumental restructuring of the competitive landscape.

Two powerhouses from the Pac 12 conference, UCLA and more importantly, USC, have opted out of their commitment to the western league to wed with their perennial rivals the Big 10 conference, which expands to an alliance of 16 member schools in 2024.  Yes, Johnny can’t read, and he can’t count either, at least in this conference.

This desertion from one league to another purely is for financial gain. It followed in lockstep Texas and Oklahoma, powerful and influential football institutions, re-aligning with the Southeast Conference (SEC) in 2025, after each abandoned the Big XII which will now consist of eight schools. (Yes, Johnny can’t count in this league either.)

Now, conference leapfrogging is nothing new to college athletics. It has been occurring ever since intercollegiate sports emerged and leagues were formed, and for a myriad of reasons: economic: academic, and regional rivalries.

But, the emergence of 2 Mega Conferences created by the Big Ten and the SEC has provided them with incredible power on the college landscape, influencing and indeed dictating to the media, corporate sponsors, and the NCAA, which overlooks all things college athletics.

Now, factor into the steroid-like growth of the two powerhouse football conferences the SCOTUS decision in 2021 that allowed athletes to sell their names, images, and likenesses [NIL] to the highest bidder.

The Athletic reported:

As in June 2021, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the NCAA in NCAA v. Alston that the NCAA could not limit education-related payments to student-athletes. The NCAA then deferred to state laws on NIL — and, in states that hadn’t passed laws, the schools themselves. Two things remained verboten, per the NCAA: No pay-for-play, and no quid pro quo. Athletes weren’t supposed to receive compensation tied to performance, and recruits weren’t supposed to sign deals contingent on going to a certain school.

Some schools got out in front of it. Most were caught flat-footed.

Some schools but not the SEC or Big Ten.  They may have had enough of the NCAA interfering with their athletic business empires. The recent billion-dollar contract signed by the Big 10 and soon-to-be-new deals by the SEC, the schools will be so powerful they don’t need the NCAA to dictate to them.

Actually, schools don’t have to be a member of the NCAA

“While membership in the NCAA is voluntary, there are no bona fide alternatives. To compete at the highest level of college athletics, a school must join the NCAA, which is run by its member schools. Universities create, approve and enforce every rule and policy change of the NCAA.”

The two Mega Conferences could break from the NCAA and create their own body to allow full professionalization.  This would end the charade of amateur sports -- the student-athlete with and athletic scholarships -- and decide to pay the players outright, or encourage NIL income, rationalizing that the players are independent contractors, hired guns who can sell their brands to the highest bidders.  

This new body would monitor the teams [the NCAA was originally founded to minimize violence and fatalities] and negotiate even larger deals for football (and men’s basketball) teams. It would also formulate the own playoffs and championship game structure. The new body could include other schools fully committed to big time professional college football. Think the ACC and football independent Notre Dame.

If this happens, college football fans will face two-tiered collegiate football: Professional College Football and Amateur, with the same structure possible for men’s basketball, the other lucrative intercollegiate sport.

Why not just acknowledge what most or all college football fans know and want: professional college football teams that are unfettered and freed from NCAA rules, regulations, and investigations.

End the hypocrisy.

Public domian picture via Picryl

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