What Will College Football Look Like in 5 Years?
With everything that has been going on in the college football landscape this last month with the Big 12 and the SEC, and now this week's rumor mill churning once again with the news that Baylor and Iowa State have inquired into Big East membership and Big East members Pittsburgh and Syracuse have now been accepted to the ACC, it is apparent that college football alignment is about to explode.
But what does this mean for the future of college football with all this change, talk of super conferences, huge televisions deals and possible independence for some programs? And does it get us closer to a college football playoff?
Let's examine these issues and more as we take a trip into the future and see what college football looks like in 2016.
The Birth of the Super Conference
With the shuffle of college football teams and major college conferences has come talk of the "super conference." The idea first blossomed when the PAC-10 was looking at swiping six teams last year to become a 16-team league.
The super conference would exist with a minimum of 16 teams which would house the majority of the major college football programs in the nation. The results of which could create a college football landscape in five years' time that potentially held only four major football conferences: ACC, BIG XVI (formerly the Big Ten), SEC and the PAC-16. 64 teams from across the country doing battle for supremacy and potential spots in the BCS.
If this would occur, the likelihood of the number of independents coming about greatly increases. Programs like BYU, Texas and Boise State may greatly benefit from going independent and maintaining or creating their own TV networks.
But this creates serious issues for not only the BCS but also for smaller conferences wanting time in the sun or a trip to the big game. How many at-large spots in BCS games are open? How many guaranteed spots are open for the four conferences that would now house 16 additional teams in total? Would the current BCS still be efficient for the modern college football super conference?
Let's take a look at how all these things might change.
The Introduction of the Modern Conference Playoff
With the new look 16-team super conference comes trouble. This is not basketball or baseball or even the NFL where a team has several opportunities to meet an opponent and the traditional aspect of playing divisional opponents and a random draw of cross-division rivals is a fair scenario. In a 16-team conference, certain teams every year would be arguably out of the mix for conference success just by the sheer difficulty of their annual draw.
So how does the modern super conference fix this in five years' time?
The super conference playoff.
Gone are the days of two divisions of six teams. Five years from now, we are now looking at NFL-style conferences of 16 teams split into four divisions of four teams. Each team faces its three in-division opponents, but will now face two teams from each of the remaining three divisions for a nine-game conference season with only three out-of-conference opponents on the year.
But it doesn't stop there. The head-to-head division champion face-off in the yearly conference championship is for the days of the old.
In five years with the modern super conference, we are looking squarely in the face of each of the division champions facing off in a playoff and the winners playing the following week in the conference championship. Similar to the NFL, each of the four division champions would be seeded at the end of the regular season. No. 1 plays No. 4, No. 2 plays No. 3, and the winners face each other in the conference championship.
The results of which are our first taste of a college football playoff. But how does this affect the BCS?
The College Football Playoff
With the super conferences now in full swing in several years' time, the BCS has to eventually react to how it selects teams for BCS bowls. Eventually, it will be forced to introduce what has for years been referred to as the "Plus One."
The Plus One would place the four winners of the four super conferences in a one-game playoff and the teams would be ranked one to four just like in the conference playoff, No. 1 facing No. 4, and No. 2 facing No. 3 with the two winners to play for the national championship.
The result of this is the equivalent to a 16-team playoff being that four teams from each of the four super conferences would face each other in their individual conference playoff, and the four winners moving up the bracket ladder to the BCS Plus One.
The obvious question remaining is what happens to quality teams that may remain in smaller conferences like Boise State or teams that go independent?
This is where qualification rules would come into play. Only the teams the BCS ranked No. 1 and No. 2 after the conference playoff would have guaranteed spots. The remaining two conference winners from automatic qualifying (AQ) conferences would only initially be qualified for a spot in a BCS game.
However, similar to Notre Dame's BCS qualification requirements, the remaining two schools would not be qualified for the BCS Plus One if they were not in the top 20. An independent or non-AQ team would qualify if they met a minimum wins requirement and additionally won their conference as the case may be.
But what happens if the BCS refuses to adjust? That is a question for a new slide.
With the power of the new super conference, in five years time' conferences may no longer feel like they need to play second fiddle to the NCAA. Officially, the NCAA plays no role in post-regular-season play, and with the amount of money at stake, the modern super conference could either completely pull out from playing football under the regulation of the NCAA or simply wave goodbye to the BCS.
In reality, with major networks like ESPN, FOX and CBS as well as the rise of contractual agreements with networks like VS., who needs the NCAA?
It is plausible that the four major super conferences take their (foot) ball elsewhere and let the NCAA handle smaller conference football.
The four new super conferences could enter agreements to play in their own football league outside of the regulation of the NCAA for football only, create an independent organization to supply all referees for all regular and post season games and have that body set up and organize a true college playoff and any additional bowls.
Because the NCAA does not regulate college football bowl games, teams that did not win their conference or qualify by some means to participate in this new league's playoff system could still be invited to various bowl games held around the country as they do today.
Let's be clear on this point, modern college football is about money, that is the entire reason there is a current shift in conference alignment. If modern super conferences see the potential of forming their own college football league and playoff outside of the purview of the NCAA with major billion-dollar television contracts on the line, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be no remorse in leaving the NCAA behind.
But this brings up the question of athletes without the traditional regulatory body. Let's examine that in the next slide.
League Regulation and the Modern College Football Player
With the NCAA out of the picture, the newly created league would also act as a regulatory body. Similar to the NCAA, the new college football league would regulate all player recruitment and team violations.
Similar to the NFL as a league regulatory body, across-the-board rules with consistent penalties could be put in place to keep teams and conferences in check. Because this would be a for-profit league instead of a more non-profit organizational setup as is the NCAA, the league would be able to act more consistently in how it dealt with schools, players and coaches.
The last item is key. With today's NCAA, we often find that teams or players are punished for actions that mainly were the fault of coaches. With a new independent for-profit regulatory and organizational body in place, the league would be free to fine coaches as well. The fear of missing paychecks would go a long way in keep coaching staffs in line with how they recruited players and how they handled behind-the-scenes business.
While a consistent topic of argument, this new independent league would also regulate player pay. Player pay is coming, exists now behind closed doors and is a difficult topic in and of itself.
While players do in fact receive educations and special legal perks worth, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars, they are restricted from working to make extra spending cash, from selling their own jerseys and apparel and other items and the restrictions often make the "20 dollar handshake" legitimate in their minds due to various personal circumstances.
The schools they play for are making millions off their team play and in many cases individual jerseys and names.
A new for-profit league apart from the NCAA could set rates and regulate more generous stipends for the modern college football player who is earning millions for his school via apparel, television contracts, etc. The results of which could curtail behind-the-scenes payoffs to a huge degree.
Furthermore, the introduction of player payment could, on equal footing with pay, come with league fines and game suspensions. The thought of not only missing play time, but also being fined will create a huge negative psychological impact on players' considerations of cheating.
Additionally, while this works in the NFL to an extent, the problem with the fear of the fine with a professional league is that certain players make huge sums more money than others. With equal across-the-board payment to players in an independent college football league, league fines could be established at set rates that, along with play-time bans, would keep any and every college football player in line.
The future is bright in this modern college football era. If you have a different take, let's hear about it in the comments!