Breathing Under Water: The Need For Revolution In College Football

Mordecai BrownerAnalyst IDecember 21, 2008

Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.  NCAA "Core Purpose" and/or Comedy Bit

In one of his better-known short stories, the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem depicted a land where the government dictated that all citizens shall breathe under water.  In a blatant parody of communist tendencies, its inhabitants sing about breathing under water and argue over what constitutes breathing.

The moral of the story should not be lost on college football fans.

I don't wish to beat dead horses.  It's blatantly obvious the BCS is a failure, a product of collective stupidity under ridiculous guidelines.  The notion of the student-athlete in big-time college football is a transparent fallacy, and has been for decades.  And the NCAA's definition of " a fair...manner" is to go soft on Indiana basketball and USC football while nailing Ball State and Coastal Carolina for textbooks and golf coaches, respectively.

But what few discuss is a simple fix to much of what ails college football: stop breathing under water and overthrow the NCAA.

To playoff or not to playoff is question that distracts the public from the main issue.

A playoff isn't happening under the status quo.  Jim Delaney gets paid handsomely to keep it from happening so that the Big Ten can protect its revenue stream.  Not even Barack Obama can change the fact that Delaney was instrumental in renegotiating the Rose Bowl television deal through 2014.

What needs to happen for the sport to truly thrive is for the entire power structure to be undercut.  Even if college football went to a playoff, the game would still be tarnished, damaged like an old car boasting a decade of ad hoc duct tape repairs.

College football doesn't need reform; it needs a revolution, a coup against Delaney and his suit-wearing peers.

What if, tomorrow, the eleven Big Ten schools formally disbanded their football programs concurrent with establishing eleven corporate entities that took over operations?  Free from the NCAA's oppressive rule, they could engage in a bidding war for the nation's top recruits and it would unfathomable to think other schools would resist following them.

What would the NCAA be able to do in response?  Censure or ban the gymnastics teams?

What people like Florida President Bernie Machen need to realize is that the value in college football is ultimately in the fan, the consumer who pays money to support their team.  Fans inevitably follow their team, not the NCAA or a conference or the game as a whole.  Just as Lem and other dissident writers understood power ultimately lies with individuals and not with system under which they live, Machen and his peers need to grasp the power they have against the Delaneys of the world.

There would be a few disadvantages with privatizing profitable college football.  Unless profits from the new corporate entities were directed back to the universities, many schools with self-supporting athletic programs would suddenly show a department in the red, which would raise the ire of academic administrators prone to disliking sports.  The legal battles regarding contracts would be merciless, expensive, and time-consuming, as well, and the NCAA would surely find some recourse to prevent privatization.

But in the end, it makes fiscal sense.  Schools like Oklahoma turn ridiculous profits from their football programs under an oppressive system; with freedom from the complex NCAA rule book, the big-time schools could boost profits even more.  Instead of being governed by the warped justice of the NCAA, football programs would be judged against the actual law like ordinary companies.

Furthermore, removing football from a University's sanctioned sports list allows for broader participation by male athletes as a whole given the constraints of Title IX.  Real, actual want-to-be student athletes who may have been denied a wrestling team so as to keep in step with gender equality legislation would be able to gain access to those resources previously allocated to men's football.

Bowl games would likely not go away under this hypothetical reality.  The reason bowls still exist is that they usually make money and that, frankly, the consumer wants them.  Without the NCAA, teams might be free to play in more than one bowl game.  If a new institutional hierarchy is established, they could theoretically create an 8-team playoff AND keep bowl games.

The NCAA, of course, could allow this to happen.  They could eliminate regulations on when and how teams play.  They could give more leeway to individual schools to pursue income-generating activities.  They could sanction a playoff while still allowing schools to hear overtures from the bowl committees.

Instead, the NCAA would rather live by ideals its member institutions left behind long ago.

The value of college football lives in approximately sixty schools.  At most of these schools, football reaps nice profits, and it's a continual violation of capitalist belief to place arbitrary limits on their ability to maximize profits on specious moral grounds.  Furthermore, it prevents the consumer from getting the product they want (namely, a true champion).

A new institutional hierarchy could protect the game by limiting players' ages and setting limits on players' contracts just as other sports bodies do.

Crazy delusional fantasy?  Perhaps, but it's obvious that college football needs something else.  Fear keeps people like Machen from acting unilaterally, fear that he would lose money and fear that no one would follow him.  But when a University's privatized booster organization can raise millions by itself, isn't fear of starvation or loneliness a sign of paranoia?

Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a place in a shiny new organization, and the money ultimately rests with the fans and, transitively, the teams.

The current system is broken beyond repair, neither consumer nor business gains what they wish from the current arrangement, and ardent supporters of such a hypocritical umbrella government are merely trying to breathe under water. 

Unfortunately, we won't evolve into fish and as long as our favorite teams operate under the conditions of the NCAA, we'll continue the annual griping, playoff or not.  Listening to orthodox ideals instead of the average consumer's wishes has never worked in business, and the average consumer wants a true champion, a fair system of justice, and opportunity for their favorite team.

The only way to achieve these ends to is to eradicate the archaic institution, and it might only take one intrepid soul to begin the dominoes.

You reading, Bernie, or do you still have your head under water?