Morris: College presidents caving to the lure of TV dollars for football

rmorris@ thestate.comAugust 24, 2013 



OREGON RECENTLY unveiled its $68 million, six-story football practice facility, giving college football fans a peak into the future of the sport, one where excess soon will not be enough.

The facility includes a barber shop for players, a 170-seat theater with leather seats and a coaches’ locker room with televisions embedded in the mirrors. Rugs for the facility were imported from Nepal. The players’ lounge includes foosball tables brought in from Barcelona. Individually ventilated lockers help deal with odor.

What really stinks about the new facility is that every other program among college football’s elite five conferences will be compelled to keep up with the Ducks. What started as a keep-up-with-the-Joneses trend in college football is headed toward a keep-up-with-the-Trumps mentality.

At first, every program needed an academic facility for its athletes. Then everyone needed the world’s largest video board. Then came much-needed indoor practice facilities. Just when you thought every area of excess was covered, Oregon comes along and takes overkill to another level.

There are two majors reasons to believe this trend is every bit like a runaway train. First, will be abolishment of the Bowl Championship Series at the conclusion of this season. Next, will be the ultimate breakout of the 65-80 schools that comprise the major five conferences

Both circumstances represented a caving by college presidents to the lure of TV dollars and, ultimately, to the lifting of many restrictions previously imposed on college football programs.

Just like NASCAR rues the day it abandoned small, backwater tracks for the super speedways of the big cities, college football and its fans will some day long for the days of the BCS.

This is a system that worked extremely well since its inception in 1998. The BCS was created for the purpose of establishing a national championship game between the two best teams. The side benefit was a season-long playoff system that, week-by-week, eliminated teams from the title chase. A game in September was equally important to one in November.

Fans moaned throughout every season about how the system was certain to fail, but year after year the two best teams landed in the title game. Sure, there were failures, like the 2004 season when unbeaten Auburn missed out in favor of a one-loss Oklahoma squad. For the most part, though, the system worked.

What the BCS also did was give programs from smaller conferences a crack at playing in the big-time bowl games. Without the BCS, we never would have had Boise State’s memorable 2007 overtime victory against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, Utah’s stunning win against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, or even the appearance of Northern Illinois in the 2012 Orange Bowl.

Critics could argue that the Boise States of the college football landscape did not deserve to be playing in such prestigious postseason games. They could not dispute, though, that those games were good for the sport, much like allowing programs such as Butler into the NCAA basketball tournament has elevated interest in that sport.

The new College Football Playoff — and the formation of a super league — essentially will eliminate the sport’s middle class. The East Carolinas, Connecticuts and Wyomings of college football no longer will be able to compete at the highest level, where the fight will be between the haves and have mores.

The four-team playoff system possibly will allow entry of a two- or three-loss SEC team, while virtually eliminating the possibility of a program from the non-super league reaching the playoffs. A single spot will be up for grabs for the lower-rung teams to play in one of the six major bowls, which amounts to a small bone being thrown to the lower-level programs.

Perhaps the best part of the BCS was that it represented the last vestige of control of the sport by college presidents. The presidents long stood by the principle that college football already was big enough and that a move to a playoff meant a further shift from the academic missions of the schools they represented.

Now that college presidents have ceded the governance of college football — heck, college athletics, for that matter — to TV executives, the restrictions on the sport are soon to be lifted.

The four-team playoff will swell to eight teams, then 16 and possibly 32. We can expect players to be paid, coaches’ salaries — particularly for assistants — to continue to climb into the stratosphere, and an expansion of coaching staffs from the current limit of 10 to 20, 25, 30 or however many the super powers want to pay.

Soon to come will be a lifting of restrictions on practice time, allowing teams to hold full-scale workouts year-round. Expect scholarship allotments to increase to 100 per program. Those annoying spring games will now become actual games against another opponent with admission charged.

That might be what college football fans want. But if you are like me and occasionally long for the good old days, then you better savor this final season before all of what remains of the game’s innocence is destroyed once and for all.

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