Dust is settling on the season and eyes are turning to recruiting. College football is going into a rest cycle where reflecting on the state of the game is an absolute must. Regardless of the teams we root for, or the regions we inhabit, we should all agree on one thing: There is a lot wrong with college football.
If the power brokers are going to work on something this offseason, fixing the game should be job one. Between paying players, splitting the subdivision further and working on concussion safety, there are plenty of changes needed.
Sure, the sport is as healthy, from a financial standpoint, as it has ever been. More viewers on television than ever before. A skyrocketing popularity that has got the game sitting pretty as the second-most popular sport in America. There's a four-team playoff coming down the chute in a couple years that is going to swell the cash coffers to a level most people never dreamed of.
Yet, as the sport is set to grab more cash than ever before, the current plan is to continue to give the players the same amount as they currently draw: zero.
Now, before we get into this, let's just talk about what's on the table. We're not talking about turning college into the pro ranks or offering kids millions of dollars in contracts. This is not even the idea of letting them take agent money or cash from boosters.
No, this is about the full-cost stipend that schools voted down in droves because they were worried about affording it, as Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated revealed last year.
With the passing of the playoff, everyone's money is going to level up. Payouts are getting bigger for the little guys and the big guys. As the payout increases, the amount of cash that will be thrown around for facilities, salaries and recruiting budgets is going to increase as well.
The other element that needs to increase is how much a scholarship is truly worth. The scholarship gap is very real, and by ratifying the stipend, schools will help their athletes, and their families, out by closing the real chasm that exists. Hell, for the way athletes work and grind, making sure they can afford food, travel home and some standard living expenses should not be too much to ask.
Which brings us to our next major issue to tackle, splitting the divisions. If schools cannot afford to increase the value of their scholarships to full-cost, then that is where you start drawing the line for restructuring the divisions.
College football has over 120 teams, and the disparity between schools on the inside and those on the outside looking in is most greatly noted, not by wins or losses, but by their bank accounts. Cash money is how you lure a quality head coach. Cash money is how you build a quality staff. Cash money is how you keep a quality head coach. Cash money is how you keep a quality staff. Cash money is how you upgrade facilities.
Cash money is also how you close the scholarship gap.
If schools cannot afford it, then odds are, regardless of their record, they are a lot closer to FCS than they are the big boys of FBS, and that's OK. Instead of limiting things to play to the lowest common denominator, schools who cannot afford to truly be FBS, splitting the division would allow for higher achievement out of the big guys.
We've talked about this with respect to coaching staffs here at Your Best 11, and whether you look at it from the coaching staffs' or the stipend's standpoint, the point remains the same: Relegating teams down to a brand of football that is more sustainable for them creates better competition and allows the bigger teams to run at a pace that is less hindered by catering to the little guy.
Stop the chasing of an impossible unicorn by the little guy. It is depleting their cash and robbing the overall structure of providing relief to the athletes. If your school is working to stay at FBS to the detriment of their athletes, then they shouldn't be FBS.
The last issue that most certainly needs to be addressed is also the most pressing: brain safety. Not just concussions, but rather the overall treatment of brain health and regulating safety across the board in college football.
Job one should be to stop focusing on the way things "look." Instead, the sport really has to look at the research and focus in on the actual dangers associated with the game. Referees and fans are for more concerned with whether or not a hit appears dangerous than they are with the steps in this process that actually matter: evaluation and monitoring.
Concussions happen in football; the problem with concussions is when they are compounded by returning to the playing field too early in both games and practices. Add in the truest danger associated with football, sub-concussive blows, and that's where efforts should be targeted—not whether or not a player's helmet falls off.
While the stipend and division split are still in varying stages of the developing process, the technology required for making football safer, on real terms, is already readily available; they just refuse to use it. Impact monitoring sensors that work in real time, they exist. Hit counts to limit the amount of blows to the head, both concussive and sub-concussive, also exist. Unfortunately, as Jon Solomon from AL.com points out, schools would rather do nothing:
Brain trauma expert Stefan Duma: Some CFB teams don't use helmet senors to avoid knowing the data. bit.ly/110urbo
— Jon Solomon (@jonsol) January 5, 2013
The tools are out there and schools, conferences and the NCAA refuse to utilize them. As a guy who cares about the players, that makes me sick to my stomach.
There are plenty of issues to fix in college football, the most pressing come in the form of the stipend, the bloated FBS division and, most notably, brain health. If the game does not address these, especially the safety angle for their players, they are doing the players, the ones the NCAA and the schools are supposed to protect, a massive disservice.