If College Football Ever Added a Commissioner, Who Would Be Good Candidates?

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystMay 11, 2016

Alabama HC Nick Saban
Alabama HC Nick SabanMatt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

In this election year for the United States, several of college football's top names are speaking out in favor of new leadership.

But they're not talking about any particular presidential candidate. No, they're pushing for a new head figure in charge of their sport—a commissioner for college football.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban voiced his desire for a commissioner multiple times in the past few weeks, including an interview with Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com and a recent appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show.

"I think we need somebody...who can be unbiased in how decisions are getting made on what can and can't be done and have the best interests of college football," Saban told Finebaum, per Chris Vannini of Coaching Search. "Whether it's the rules we play by or the way we recruit or whether you can have satellite camps or not, there should be an unbiased way somebody’s in charge of all that."

In his piece, Rittenberg also quoted Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Stanford's David Shaw and TCU's Gary Patterson among those wanting a commissioner. On Tuesday, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher added his name to the growing and vocal list, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN:

Brett McMurphy @Brett_McMurphy

Like Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher favors having a college football commissioner. Fisher: “I’ve been saying that for 5 years”

The concept of a college football commissioner, which has spread rapidly in the wake of the fractured and messy satellite camp vote and repeal, has its pros and cons. That debate is for another column. But no matter what one thinks of the idea, there's no denying it's gaining momentum right now.

So if these key coaches get their wish and college football adds a commissioner, who would be the best candidate for the job?

First, let's set up some guidelines.

The one issue that immediately jumps to fans and critics' minds in this debate is the notion of bias. The sport will want a commissioner who won't just look out for a certain conference or region. The commissioner's goal would be to bring unity, not bring more division.

"We speak in factions," Dantonio said, per Rittenberg. "That's the problem."

The College Football Playoff trophy
The College Football Playoff trophyJoe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

However, it's virtually impossible to appoint someone who won't ever be accused of favoritism. Most candidates will have experience in leading certain college football programs and conferences, or they'll at least have an alma mater they claim.

Some media members have suggested avoiding this problem by bringing someone in from another sport to be the commissioner, a strong decision-maker who can still tackle the issues that come up in leadership of a particular league.

A complete outsider to the world of college football would make some happy if he or she were brought into the fold. But would he or she know what the sport truly needs? The coaches in favor of a commissioner have made it clear they want someone who knows college football.

Instead, college football would need a commissioner who is already well-versed in the sport's landscape and has experience with multiple leagues or areas. The wider the range of experience, the better in both practice and appearance.

With that in mind, here are a few candidates college football would target if it ever went in the direction of a commissioner.

NCAA Executive VP of Regulatory Affairs Oliver Luck
NCAA Executive VP of Regulatory Affairs Oliver LuckCliff Owen/Associated Press

Oliver Luck

When it comes to leadership in the game of football, Oliver Luck has a resume of which few can compete. The former West Virginia and NFL quarterback has spent time in key positions at various levels, with a strong amount of experience with the college game.

Luck was a former league president of the World League of American Football, which was later rebranded as NFL Europe during his tenure. He was later the president of Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo—another kind of perspective—before becoming athletic director of his alma mater in 2008.

The father of Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck was named to the first edition of the College Football Playoff committee, and he now works as a vice president for the NCAA. 

In 2011, while Luck was leading West Virginia's transition from the Big East to the Big 12, John Canzano of the Oregonian wrote a column explaining why Luck would be the perfect college football commissioner. Luck even seemed open to the idea.

"First thing I'd do is look at the structure of the game and see what could be done to put a group of three in charge," Luck told Canzano. "Right now, in college football, you don't have anything resembling a commissioner. The NCAA president is effectively neutered."

With plenty of administrative experience both at the school and associational level, Luck is a highly respected name in college athletics who knows football inside and out. He could work with the skyrocketing game of college football and the complicated NCAA system in order to make the tough decisions.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long
Arkansas athletic director Jeff LongKevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Long

Before he was the face of the College Football Playoff committee during those cringe-inducing rankings shows in 2014, Jeff Long was more known as a well-traveled college athletics leader.

Long, the current athletic director at Arkansas and the former chairman of the sport's playoff committee, has previous administrative stops at Michigan, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Eastern Kentucky. Before that, he was an assistant coach at Rice, Duke and North Carolina State.

For those keeping score at home, Long's experience list features four of the Power Five conferences in college football, the Group of Five leagues and even the FCS level. And even though his work as an athletic director in a variety of sports has garnered him several awards, there's no denying Long is a football mind.

"Football has been the genesis of my collegiate and professional life and remains as important to me today as it was when I fell in love with the sport in the third grade," Long told Jon Finkel of FootballMatters.org last November. "Football has been the motivating, driving force and love of my life."

Long has been in charge of college football's most important body and could dot an impressive map of experience at schools across the country. He's got the experience and scope people would love to see in a potential commissioner.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza RiceBen Margot/Associated Press

Condoleezza Rice

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice definitely knows what it takes to hold a high position of power and authority. And her connections with the college football world are strong.

Rice grew up in Alabama a fan of Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide football teams, and she was the daughter of a high school football coach. As Heather Dinich of ESPN.com wrote last year, Rice is close friends with David Shaw and former head coach Tyrone Willingham. She currently serves with Willingham as a member of the CFP committee.

"One of the requisite categories of committee members—along with former coaches and players—is university administrators, and Rice fit into that group as former provost of Stanford," Dinich wrote. "Each of the 10 FBS conferences had a chance to nominate 10 people, and Rice's name appeared on several lists, according to CFP executive director Bill Hancock."

People inside the college game aren't the only ones who thought Rice would make a good commissioner. In 2014, there was a huge amount of public support for Rice to become the commissioner of the NFL, a job she told the New York Times she wanted back during her time with the George W. Bush administration.

Rice is a self-professed "student of the game," and she has utilized her leadership qualities at the college administrative level and in the sport of college football as a member of the playoff committee.

Former NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt
Former NCAA executive vice president Tom JernstedtNati Harnik/Associated Press

Tom Jernstedt

Another member of the College Football Playoff committee with a wide range of leadership experience, Tom Jernstedt could provide a unique perspective as a hypothetical commissioner.

Jernstedt is a former executive vice president of the NCAA who is a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame for his work in transforming college basketball over several decades. TV revenue exploded from $1.2 million in 1970 to $10.8 billion in 2010 during his tenure with the NCAA.

While "The Father of the Final Four" is known for his great success on the hardwood, Jernstedt has a good amount of experience with college football. He was a quarterback at Oregon, and he supervised all three divisions of NCAA football during his time with the association.

Jernstedt has been all over the map during his time as an athletics administrator, working at Oregon and later serving as a consultant for both the Big 12 and the Mountain West conferences. He has plenty of experience with the grand scope of college football at all levels—not just the Power Five leagues.

His success with college basketball and continued time in college football would make Jernstedt an interesting candidate to launch the commissioner role. From broadcasting to officiating to rules oversight, Jernstedt has done it all during his career with college athletics.

Alabama HC Nick Saban
Alabama HC Nick SabanMarvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban

Rival fans might not want to see his name on here, but consider the best coach in the game as a possible candidate for the job he wants to see created somewhere down the road.

Saban has been coaching football since the early 1970s, with stops at Kent State, West Virginia, Syracuse, Ohio State, Navy, Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and now Alabama. He's well-respected among coaches around the country, and he's proven to be an outstanding leader with the way he's built a dynasty with the Crimson Tide.

And before anyone argues Commissioner Saban would be too biased toward the SEC, Rittenberg made the excellent point that the veteran head coach hasn't always seen eye to eye with the conference during his time in the league—most notably with the eight- versus nine-game conference schedule debate.

It's not a stretch to say the 64-year-old Saban could be stepping away from coaching within the next few years, and he could transition into life as the top decision-maker in college football. He would have a coach's mindset in the role and lead with plenty of stern conviction and toughness. 

Saban wouldn't be the typical appointment to a key position of power like this. Then again, the hypothetical job description of a commissioner in a sport like college football would be far from typical.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.


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