Hottest Topics Entering College Football's Media Days Frenzy
Just over six months have passed since Jameis Winston’s last-second touchdown pass topped Auburn in the final BCS national title game. We’ve gone through the coaching carousel, winter workouts, spring football, summer workouts and, quite frankly, it’s time to start talking college football seriously again.
Luckily, college football writers have you covered. Starting with next week’s SEC media days (a four-day event in which over 1,000 media members are expected to attend), leagues across the nation will trot out commissioners, coaches and players to talk about the 2014 season and issues facing the game.
Some coaches and players will be media magnets. Others will speak chapter and verse from the unwritten book of cliches, making media members run for the nearest caffeine boost.
Regardless, some hot-button topics are guaranteed to emerge, giving fans and writers something to discuss before preseason practices open in early August.
Here’s a look at the hottest topics entering college football’s media days frenzy.
Coaches on the Hot Seat
College football is a win-now business. Period. With an ever-increasing amount of money flowing in from the new College Football Playoff and enhanced television contracts, head coaches are facing pressure to win big and win consistently.
If they don’t, the heat gets turned up under their seats mighty fast.
A number of major FBS coaches are facing that pressure this fall. Florida’s Will Muschamp slipped from 11-2 in 2012 to 4-8 last fall, a season that included an embarrassing home loss to then-FCS team Georgia Southern. Virginia’s Mike London is 6-18 over the past two seasons. So is Illinois’ Tim Beckman.
Kansas’ Charlie Weis is 4-20 in his first two seasons at Kansas, and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen is coming off of a 4-8 season. Rutgers’ Kyle Flood is 6-7 and coming off of a tumultuous season that saw the Scarlet Knights’ 2014 recruiting class fall apart.
Those coaches, and more like them, will all get questions about their job status. They’ll do their best to deflect them, and you’ll get your share of stories like “Coach X Isn’t Feeling the Heat” or “New Coordinator Will Help Coach X Revamp Team,” but the hot-seat stories are as inevitable as the Internet failing in overstuffed media workrooms across the nation.
College Football Playoff
For virtually its entire lifespan, the Bowl Championship Series was college football’s whipping boy. No matter how many tweaks, changes or corrections were made, fans weren’t happy with the BCS. The all-SEC BCS title game between Alabama and LSU in 2012 was the tipping point, and later that year, the College Football Playoff was announced.
A committee of college football administrators, former players and coaches and others associated with the game will select four teams to compete in the first playoff, which will culminate with the national title game at AT&T Stadium in Texas.
It’ll be a major topic of discussion across the nation this fall, simply because so much is unknown. What is the selection committee’s exact criteria to pick the field? Strength of schedule is an important factor (the Power 5 leagues, who’ll likely comprise the entire playoff field, have taken steps to improve their slates), but is it the most important factor?
Will the SEC begin another reign of dominance, or will Florida State build on 2013’s national title? Will a Big 12, Pac-12 or Big Ten team step forward?
How long will it be until talk of expanding the field begins: When the TV contract is due for renewal or the first time a worthy contender is left on the outside looking in as the fifth team?
The playoff’s shiny new nature will generate plenty of discussion, and we’ll be here, ready to listen.
Player Unionization and Compensation
In late March, the Chicago branch of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University football players qualified as school employees and had the right to unionize, giving an already hot topic a new wave of interest.
If the Wildcats voted to unionize, what would that mean for the rest of college football?
Only private schools would be allowed to unionize, but would it mean they would be able to pay their players? What other consequences would crop up with a successful unionization?
Would this affect the ongoing push for players to receive “full cost of attendance,” an entirely different discussion from unionization?
The Wildcats voted in late April, but the results of the vote are not known, as the National Labor Relations Board in Washington D.C. has announced it will review the decision and likely won’t issue a ruling in the matter for months.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald urged his players to vote against the union, according to the Associated Press.
All this can be handled with communication. It's about trust. I just do not believe we need a third party between our players and our coaches, staff and administrators. … Whatever they need, we will get them.
Regardless, you can bet that Fitzgerald and other Big Ten coaches, as well as other coaches nationwide, will be asked about unionization, the O'Bannon case and the pay-for-play debate, which will bring an interesting dimension into this month’s discussions.
Over the past five years, player safety has become a very real part of college football. Rules have been implemented banning helmet-to-helmet contact, with players ejected from the game and suspended for the next game if they commit such fouls in a malicious nature.
Kickoffs have been moved up five yards to cut down on kickoff returns, which can be dangerous events.
And this week, the NCAA issued a recommendation that teams hold no more than two “contact” practices per week and use independent doctors to evaluate players’ injuries.
What do coaches think about it? Do players have an opinion on their safety or ongoing attempts to improve it?
Surely we’ll hear about it over the next month, and the comments and stances that come out of the discussion should be fascinating.
This fall, college football’s realignment era is finally winding to a close. Forty-four programs are playing in a different league than they were in 1997, which doesn’t factor in teams that have transitioned from the FCS/Division I-AA ranks to the FBS.
Next month, the final major wave of realignment falls into place. Louisville joins the ACC, Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten and a horde of new teams join the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA and the Sun Belt.
The moves bring with them a number of storylines. Can Louisville hang with powers like Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech in its new digs?
Was gaining the Washington D.C./Baltimore and New York City/New Jersey markets worth adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, or will they further dilute a league that has struggled recently for national relevance?
Is realignment finally over, thanks to the ACC stabilizing the landscape with its members signing a grant of rights? Or is this just the calm before another storm?
Now that realignment has fallen into place, banishing the Big East/AAC from college football’s main table and cementing the ACC’s place there, the real fun starts. Which leagues truly benefited? Which moves will look silly in five years? Nobody knows right now, which is part of the fun.