25 Most Influential Men and Women in College Football

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2013

25 Most Influential Men and Women in College Football

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    Though the on-field warriors decide the outcome of college football games, the multimillion dollar sport is controlled by folks who wear dress shoes rather than cleats.

    This elite group consists of a wide array of individuals from different backgrounds, but all share the common bond of power.

    While the rest of the nation is watching final scores, stat sheets and recruiting numbers, these are the people who often silently steer the ship that is college football.

Nick Saban, Alabama

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    With three BCS titles in four years, Nick Saban has become the Pied Piper of college football.

    With results that are unprecedented in the BCS era, Saban and his “system” are understandably the program that everyone wants to emulate.

    Saban is the most influential coach in the game.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State

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    Though Urban Meyer hasn’t enjoyed Nick Saban's level of success, he has influence that continues to grow.

    If Meyer wouldn’t have led Utah to a 22-2 record from 2004 to 2005, it’s plausible that the Utes wouldn’t have landed in the Pac-12 in 2011.

    If Meyer had not come to Florida in 2005, it’s questionable whether the Gators would have won two national titles and Tim Tebow would have become a household name.

    And, finally, think of the influence Meyer is wielding by bringing his SEC mindset into the old-school Big Ten.

Mike Slive, SEC

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    The commissioner of the SEC since 2002, Mike Slive is the sport's most powerful conference leader.

    Since Slive took over as commissioner, the SEC has captured eight of a possible 11 BCS titles, and he’s also the guy who lured Texas A&M and Missouri away from the Big 12 in 2012.

    Slive has enough pull to be a major player—and possible leader—if the BCS conferences decide to split from the rest of the FBS and the NCAA.

Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN

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    Former Ohio State quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit has become one of the most trusted names in the game.

    Not only does he man the College GameDay desk each Saturday morning, he also handles the color commentary for ESPN’s top game each weekend.

    Beyond this, Herbstreit is a go-to guy when a major story is brewing. ESPN reaches out to him via satellite, and the nation tunes in to listen to his valued, honest opinion.

John Skipper, ESPN

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    John Skipper became the president of ESPN on January 1, 2012. He also holds the title of co-chairman of Disney Media Networks Group.

    Prior to his appointment as president, Skipper—a graduate of North Carolina—spent seven years as ESPN’s executive vice president of content for all of the network’s outlets (e.g. television, Internet, magazine, etc.).

    Skipper leads the network that—according to Forbes.com—owns seven of the 35 college bowl games and has television deals with the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and the former Big East conferences.

Donna Shalala, Miami (Fla.)

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    The president of the University of Miami, Donna Shalala may not have the pull of a conference commissioner, but her influence on the game has been lasting.

    Shalala spearheaded Miami’s move from the Big East to the ACC in 2004, a shift that directly resulted in the conference splitting into divisions.

    This is also the move that eventually spelled the demise of the Big East and made major conference realignment seem doable. 

    Shalala’s name is back in the media due to Miami’s prolonged case with the NCAA.

    The NCAA’s mishandling of the case of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro case put Shalala in the position to lead the charge to question the NCAA’s authority.

    Regardless of how it plays out, Shalala is likely to leave her mark on the proceedings and the future of the relationship between the NCAA and its member institutions.

Bill Hancock, BCS

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    After serving as a BCS administrator from 2005 to 2009, Bill Hancock was named the first executive director of the BCS in November 2009.

    With the BCS set to expire at the end of the 2013 season, Hancock maintained his influence on the sport by being named the first executive director of the new college football playoff.

    Previous to his run at the BCS, Hancock spent 13 years running the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship.

Bruce Feldman, CBS

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    Though not a media superstar on the level of ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, CBS’s Bruce Feldman is similarly trusted.

    He spent 17 years at ESPN before moving to CBS in 2011 and has also published three books about college football.

    Feldman’s steady commentary and unique approach provide a healthy alternative to the ESPN-saturated coverage of the game.

DeLoss Dodds, Texas

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    The athletic director at Texas since 1981, DeLoss Dodds may be more powerful than the commissioner of the Big 12.

    Dodds' and Texas’ influence in the conference is immeasurable, and it is likely that major decisions on expansion will begin and end with the Longhorns.

    To illustrate Dodds' and Texas’ pull, imagine what would happen if the Longhorns opted to go independent or join the Pac-12 or Big Ten.

    The Big 12 would likely fold and college football would be forever changed.

Larry Scott, Pac-12

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    Larry Scott took over as commissioner of the Pac-12 in 2009. Since then, he has quietly transformed the conference into a superpower.

    Scott played a key role in bringing Colorado and Utah into the league in 2011, a move that ultimately split the conference into two divisions and spawned the Pac-12 championship game.

    He ushered in the era of equal revenue sharing in the Pac-12, which along with renegotiating the league’s television deals has created stability in an otherwise volatile environment.

    Scott has positioned himself and his conference to be a power player for years to come.

Jim Delany, Big Ten

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    The leader of the oldest conference in college football, Jim Delany has been the commissioner of the Big Ten since 1989.

    Delany—like ESPN president John Skipper—graduated from North Carolina, only Delany played college basketball as a Tar Heel from 1967 to 1970.

    Delany got his start in athletics as an enforcement representative for the NCAA from 1975 to 1979, moving on to become the commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference in 1979.

    Delany’s position in college football is strong, illustrated recently by his spearheading the move to have the new college football playoff bracket filled by a selection committee rather than computer rankings.

    The committee approach should serve the Big Ten better than the BCS formula, especially since the conference hasn’t sent a team to the BCS title game since 2007-08 and hasn’t won the big enchilada since 2002-03.

Troy Calhoun, Air Force

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    Though Troy Calhoun has been the head coach at Air Force since 2007, that job is not what makes him nationally influential.

    No, Calhoun makes the list due to his role as the chairperson of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, serving a term lasting from Sept. 2012 to Sept. 2015.

    Calhoun leads a group of 12 that consists of six Division II and III representatives, three FCS representatives, coach Bret Bielema from Arkansas and Conference USA commissioner Alfred White.

    His is the committee that proposes rule changes every spring.

Mark Emmert, NCAA

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    Regardless of what ultimately becomes of the NCAA, its president, Mark Emmert, is for now one of the most influential people in college football.

    Emmert became NCAA president in October of 2010, after serving for six years as the president of the University of Washington.

    Emmert has been accused of exasperating the inherent challenges the NCAA faces in governing college sports.

Rogers Redding, College Football Officiating

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    Rogers Redding is the national coordinator/secretary and rules editor for an organization called College Football Officiating, LLC.

    It was formed by the NCAA in 2008 to provide a national governing body for officiating.

    Redding’s job duties include overseeing officiating at the national level, assigning officials for the postseason and “writing, editing and updating the NCAA Football rules.”

    Redding served as a Division I football official from 1998 to 2003. He then coordinated officiating for the SEC from 2006 to 2011.

Bob Bowlsby, Big 12

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    The former athletic director at Stanford, Bob Bowlsby took over as commissioner of the Big 12 in May of 2012.

    Bowlsby heads up the only remaining power conference with too few members (10) to meet the NCAA requirement that it have at least 12 members to stage a championship game.

    This means that Bowlsby will likely have some influence over future expansion, which could have an enormous impact on the game.

Mike Farrell, Rivals.com

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    Mike Farrell heads up the recruiting analyst team at Rivals.com and also is responsible for the recruiting rankings.

    Farrell started at Rivals in 2008 and his name here is representative of the huge influence recruiting evaluation has on college football.

    Star ratings, recruiting rankings and individual prospect reports are among the most powerful non-game data in the sport.

Phil Steele

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    Phil Steele has published a college football preview magazine since 1995 and claims to have put out “the most accurate preseason magazine in the last 15 years.”

    Steele’s approach is statistical and extremely thorough, stuffing his magazine and website with more information than seems humanly possible.

    Steele’s name continues to appear more frequently in major media outlets such as ESPN—where he now serves as an “insider”— as his capabilities as a master prognosticator become more widely respected.

    Steele’s work and commitment to presenting the public with an overwhelming number of variations on simple statistics make him not only valuable, but also influential.

John Swofford, ACC

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    John Swofford took over as commissioner of the ACC in 1997 when the conference consisted of nine members in a single division.

    Under Swofford’s leadership the league added Miami (Fla.) and Virginia Tech in 2004 and then Boston College in 2005.

    These additions led to the ACC’s two-division format and championship game, both of which kicked off in 2005.

    Joining the ACC in 2013 are Syracuse and Pitt, followed by Notre Dame (in every sport but football) and Louisville in 2014.

    Though Swofford and the ACC have lots of pull in college basketball, its place in football is weaker due to the league’s struggle for national relevance.

    The last member school to win a national championship while an ACC member was Florida State in 1999, which also marks the conference’s only title in the BCS era.

T. Boone Pickens

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    Oklahoma State super-booster T. Boone Pickens makes the list as a representative of the big money backers who have established firm control at their individual institutions.

    Pickens graduated from Oklahoma State in 1951 and went on to make his fortune as an oil and natural gas magnate.

    According to Forbes, he’s donated $265 million to his alma mater, some of which has transformed the athletic department and facilities.

Mel Kiper, ESPN

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    ESPN’s Mel Kiper is the most visible and perhaps most powerful NFL draft analyst.

    Kiper has covered the draft for ESPN since 1984, and his predictions have a huge impact on which college football players decide to declare for the draft.

    This, in turn, affects the ever-spinning wheel of personnel turnover in college football, changing the power structure on a yearly basis.

    Though Kiper is thought of as an “NFL guy,” his prognostications have a great deal of influence on the college game.

Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, ESPN

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    Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic are the stars of ESPN’s Mike and Mike show, which originally aired as a radio program in 1998.

    Somehow, the program morphed into a television show in 2004, and the result is perhaps the most popular and powerful sports-talk program in history.

    Through interviews, guests and commentary, the Mike and Mike show has a serious impact on the American sports scene, including college football.

Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame

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    Jack Swarbrick took over as the athletic director at Notre Dame in July 2008 after a 28-year career as a lawyer/general counsel in sports and an adviser to the NCAA.

    Swarbrick, an Indiana native and Notre Dame graduate, participated in establishing Indianapolis as the new site for the NCAA’s headquarters in 2000.

    Swarbrick’s role as the leader of the single most powerful individual program in college football—illustrated by its enduring independence and unique relationship with the BCS—puts him in an unequalled power position.

Phil Knight

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    Another powerful booster, Phil Knight is to Oregon what T. Boone Pickens is to Oklahoma State

    Only in the case of Knight, there’s an added bonus, one that he shares not just with his Ducks, but the entire national viewing audience.

    Yes, as the chairman of Nike, Knight not only puts his money where his mouth is, he is also on the cutting edge of football fashion.

    Beyond doling out an estimated $300 million (as per the Daily Emerald) to the University of Oregon, Phil Knight is college football’s reigning trendsetter.

Burke Magnus, ESPN

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    Burke Magnus has served as ESPN’s Senior Vice President of College Sports Programming since 2008.

    As per ESPN, Magnus is “responsible for the strategic direction of college football, basketball and NCAA Championships on the various ESPN platforms.”

    Magnus also heads up ESPN’s “relationships with college rights-holders, such as the NCAA and conferences.”

    Basically, Magnus is the guy with the power to decide which games get broadcast on which channel: ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN Classic, etc.

Ben Sutton, IMG College

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    Ben Sutton is the president of IMG College, self-labeled as the “largest collegiate sports marketing company in the nation.”

    IMG College handles the media rights for a huge number of individual schools and conferences and also manages licensing for clients such as the BCS, the Rose Bowl, the Heisman and the NCAA.

    Sutton merged his own sports marketing company, ISP, with IMG in 2010. Before that, he was the marketing guru at Wake Forest.