6 Candidates for a Hypothetical Commissioner of College Football

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2022

6 Candidates for a Hypothetical Commissioner of College Football

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    College football needs some guidance.

    Although the NCAA oversees the sport, the entity primarily takes a hands-off approach to the Football Bowl Subdivision. And that's not always a great thing. Conferences tend to govern themselves with, unsurprisingly, minimal regard for one another.

    The lack of leadership and uniformity has become readily apparent in several areas, most notably in the transfer portal and with NIL (name, image and likeness).

    It's well past time for a commissioner to oversee the FBS, even as this conversation remains a hypothetical at best.

    The list of candidates is ordered alphabetically.  

Trace Armstrong

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    In mid-2021, the NFL's Chicago Bears approached a season in which administrative changes would likely be made if the team struggled. However, that included the speculative idea of the Bearswho are ultimately a family businessactually hiring a football person to run their football operations.

    One of the names floated was Trace Armstrong, though he denied a report of conversations with the Bears.

    No surprise. He's waiting to become FBS commissioner, after all.

    In seriousness, Armstrong is a former Pro Bowl defensive lineman who played 15 NFL seasons. During that time, he was the NFL Players Association president for eight years. He's since become an agent, currently representing USC's Lincoln Riley and LSU's Brian Kelly, and he has several well-known clients in his past too.

    Armstrong knows football, knows business and is well-connected on both sides of the discussion.  

Bill Connelly

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    Despite the position not existing in 2017, then-SB Nation writer Bill Connelly announced his candidacy for commissioner.

    Five years later, the job is still imaginary. And five years later, the now-ESPN writer is still an excellent choice.

    With a self-proclaimed "sports socialist" attitude, Connelly is both an advocate for underdogs and purveyor of parity. He's led the charge for scrapping divisions within conferencessomething that would mean, for example, SEC adversaries Georgia and Texas A&M play more than once in a 12-year period.

    Connelly is also a strong supporter of players' rights (seen in NIL) and an expanded College Football Playoff. But he recognizes the absence of central leadership as a long-term problem too.

    Trying to improve both competitive balance and players' rights is effectively impossible, given the reality of finances. If anyone can straddle the line, though, I certainly trust Connelly to surround himself with the right people a whole lot more than most.

Oliver Luck

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    Oliver Luck has a mountain of experience.

    Over the last three-plus decades, he's served in a wide variety of executive positions. He was a general manager for two NFL Europe teams before becoming the league's president. He was the CEO for the Houston Sports Authority, along with the president and GM for the Houston Dynamo of MLS.

    After leading the West Virginia athletic department for five years, Luck spent five more as an NCAA executive. He was then named the XFL commissioner, joined the Big 12 as a consultant and is in the mix to become the conference's commish.

    For good measure, Luckthe father of former star quarterback Andrew Luckalso has a law degree.

    Few candidates would be better prepared to handle both the volume and intricacies of issues that college football presents.

Nick Saban

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    Love him or hate him, Nick Saban understands it all.

    Saban is liable to gripe when something is happening that he doesn't prefer. Most recently, he said the current state of college football isn't "sustainable" because of how much money is flowing to recruits. That may initially sound like a frustrated old coach who was caught wishing for the way it used to be.

    Saban also noted, per Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press, that his Alabama players "probably made as much or more than anybody in the country." It's not like he's not utilizing NIL rules, either.

    There are any number of examplesremember satellite camps?in which Saban complains about a topic but capitalizes on it fully. In recent years, he expressed distaste for run-pass option rules and quickly rode RPOs to a pair of national titles.

    Saban's ability to adapt and excel regarding both on- and off-field changes is unparalleled within the sport.

David Shaw

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    The head coach at Stanford since 2011, David Shaw is basically as uncontroversial as it gets. His most pointed moments in 12 years include a comment about Stanford not holding satellite camps and a frustration with early kickoff times.

    Real menace at the microphone, this man.

    Shaw previously supported the idea of a commissioner, pointing out a need for standardization in scheduling, recruiting rules and staff sizes, per ESPN's Adam Rittenberg. Though Shaw seemingly backed off in mid-2020, that might've been a specific response to the coronavirus pandemic more than a long-term belief.

    Deliberate and careful in his comments, Shaw—who also serves as the chairman of the NCAA Football Rules Committeewould provide a grounded voice to a difficult job.

Greg Sankey

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    The natural opposition to Greg Sankey is his SEC background. He joined the conference as the associate commissioner in 2002 and replaced Mike Slive in the top job after his retirement in 2015.

    While that's nothing close to a disqualifying factor, "SEC bias" is heard constantly around the college football world. The recent additions of Big 12 stalwarts Oklahoma and Texaswhile shrewd businessand his thoughts on how the SEC doesn't need College Football Playoff expansion hasn't exactly made Sankey a beloved figure.

    Not his problem, though.

    Sankey has unofficially become the sport's most powerful figureeven as he'd prefer influential or effective as the termso it's only natural he'd hold the title.

    "College sports doesn't need me to save it," Sankey said in December 2021. But he's more than qualified to do that anyway.