Peavler: College football is on the wrong track with autonomy vote

By Lafe Peavler, Deseret News

Published: Fri, Aug. 8, 2014, 2:35 p.m. MDT

 Wright State University president David R. Hopkins, right, listens as Kansas State University president Kirk Schulz, left, discusses changes to the NCAA structure after a board of directors vote at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.  The NCAA Board of Directors overwhelmingly approved a package of historic reforms Thursday that will give the nation's five biggest conferences the ability to unilaterally change some of the basic rules governing college sports.

Wright State University president David R. Hopkins, right, listens as Kansas State University president Kirk Schulz, left, discusses changes to the NCAA structure after a board of directors vote at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. The NCAA Board of Directors overwhelmingly approved a package of historic reforms Thursday that will give the nation's five biggest conferences the ability to unilaterally change some of the basic rules governing college sports.

(Michael Conroy, Associated Press)

The day the Power 5 conferences have hoped for has finally come. The NCAA has voted to give the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC the autonomy that they’ve asked for. The gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” has suddenly become even more of a gaping chasm.

The very same day, ESPN polled coaches from the Power 5 conferences about whether they were in favor of playing exclusive schedules, meaning only teams from the Power 5. Thirty coaches said yes, 23 said no and 18 remain undecided, including University of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.

If the Power 5 decided on this exclusive scheduling, that would be the end of several smaller athletic programs across the country. Many schools depend on the revenue from playing big-time programs to run their athletic programs.

In short, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Now, this story isn’t about BYU. Much has and will be said about how the Cougars will adapt to this new reality in college football. That story will wait for another day.

This is about college football in general.

There’s arrogance at work here that is unique to college football. There is no other sport in the world where a team can win every game it plays and not win a national/divisional/world championship. Under the new College Football Playoff, any team outside of the Power 5 is practically eliminated from national championship consideration before the season even begins. This is nothing new as the same was true under the BCS.

Can you imagine what would happen if MLB decided that only the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals and Giants could play for a national title? Or, how would basketball fans react if only the Lakers, Spurs, Bulls, Celtics and Heat could win it all? How would Americans take it if only teams from either Europe or South America could play in the World Cup final while the best the USA can play for is the equivalent of a New Year's Day bowl?

Why do college football fans put up with this crooked system?

Worst of all, the lines between the “haves” and the “have-nots” are drawn in ways that have nothing to do with what happens on the gridiron. Does anyone really want to debate that teams such as Central Florida, Boise State and Northern Illinois are really lesser programs than Indiana, Boston College or Colorado?

This fact still remains: You could give a team such as the UAB the roster of the Seattle Seahawks and it would not be able to win the national championship. That is unfair, unsportsmanlike and un-American.

What is often lost in this entire debate is the fact that these schools are supposed to be, well, schools. These institutions of higher learning are supposed to be educating people, not running professional athletics programs.

Let’s face it: What really is the difference these days between the FBS and any professional sport other than the fact that only certain teams can win a championship, particularly if these schools start paying players?

And here’s something for those who don’t care about sports: In 2012, only 23 of the 228 Division I athletic programs made enough money to cover their expenses, and 16 of those 23 programs received subsidies in the form of student fees, school or state support, according to USA Today.

So, if you go to a university with a Division I athletics program or live in a state with a public university with a major athletics program (that's all of them), at least some of your tax dollars are helping subsidize this corrupt system. Now that the Power 5 conferences have autonomy, these schools will be spending even more money on athletes. Even the elite conferences are going to have to spend more just to try to keep up.

That’s more money coming out of your pocket.

If this keeps up, this matter will probably end up in court. Smaller schools have too much to lose to simply take this sitting down. There's plenty of schools that would have to give up athletics altogether, meaning that fewer people would be able to participate and enjoy college athletics. If the Power 5 conferences continue to try to put walls around their conferences and keep all the money, power and prestige to themselves, there will be a federal lawsuit.

It would be a real shame if it came to that, but that’s where all this is headed.

There's still time for college football to get its act together. One irony here is that college football across the board would make more money if it acted more like college basketball. Can you imagine what kind of attention the College Football Playoff would receive if there was a Cinderella there? Wouldn't it be more fun to have a true national championship where teams from any part of the U.S. could participate?

More people would watch, and more colleges would be able to keep or even build their athletic programs. Here's hoping there's enough fans and programs still out there to make this happen.

Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.

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1. Invisible Hand
Provo, UT,
Aug. 8, 2014

It's time to drop the charade of "student athletics". Those schools that can afford it should just admit that they sponsor semi-professional farm teams for the NFL. Let them pay their players and stop expecting them to attend classes. We need to stop giving them state subsidies. The Alabama football team for instance should operate independent of the university and pay rent for the facilities. Any football team that couldn't afford to compete in such a league could form a lower division of club teams, but spending public money to subsidize this needs to stop.

2. Danite
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 8, 2014

So what's the solution? I heard a lot of complaining from this writer but no realistic alternatives. College football is very complex to navigate and easy answers are hard to come by.

Some throw out things like "a playoff is the only way and it has to include 16 teams". Well, if you do that you can't be finished before the 2nd semester of school starts and you disrupt the bowl system that so many love and desire.

From a competitive stand point I'm torn. Utah is a perfect example. Looking back at the 2004 undefeated season, I don't think last years (bowl ineligible) team would have lost to any teams on that schedule. The reality was, instead of winning 11 games (guessing admittedly) against MWC teams Utah was 5-7 last year. Competition matters! And the more the competiton is the same, the easier it is to measure against others. We'll never have a tournament in football so there will always be a subjective measurement of who gets into the playoff and the more scheduling is congruent, the easier it will be to choose who deserves to get in. That's reality.

3. RSL*
Why, AZ,
Aug. 8, 2014

The big question is how this is going to affect tuition rates and taxes. With Title 9 and other NCAA rules you just cant give football players the $2,000 to $5,000, you will have to give all student athletes the same amount. Some schools have up to or more than 500 student athletes. That can range from $1,000,000 to $2,500,00 a year in cost without counting health coverage which could easily double that cost. And that is not even counting the usual scholarship costs. The USU & UoU tuition rates have been increasing because of their football programs. Is it worth kids getting to much in debt because they and the tax payers are sustaining sport programs like football that are not running in the black.

Time to change to intramural system for all Utah Universities.

4. 10CC
Bountiful, UT,
Aug. 8, 2014

The simple reality is the NFL does not have a farm system, like major league baseball.

The highest tier of college football is loosely akin to Triple A baseball. Teams in the other, non-P5 conferences are like AA baseball.

What the author suggests is an open playoff, like on the movie Hoosiers, the high school basketball tournament in Indiana that includes all the different levels of high schools, from 1A up through 5A.

Why not have an "open" playoff in football, that includes high school, small college, G5, P5 and the NFL? This idea is completely absurd.

Why not include Div II and Div III college football in a great big tournament to decide the college football champs from all over the nation? This idea is almost as absurd. The mismatches involved would be completely un-American.

Utah fans and TCU fans have learned the hard way that our Cinderella seasons were not even close to the level of difficulty of playing in a P5 conference.

Start accepting reality.

5. Condescending Wonka
Salt Lake City, Utah,
Aug. 8, 2014

The solution to all of this is simple: if you don't like what's happening with college football, stop feeding into the multi-billion dollar industry and not watch it (or write articles. I'm looking at you, Peavler). I'm surprised college athletes haven't been paid sooner.

Often times, to the detriment of personal privacy, academics and their health, athletes at the collegiate level sacrifice more than it's rationally worth to continue honing their craft. They do it because it's what they love, being paid or not. But the idea that many of us want these athletes to continue to entertain the collective lot of us for free is just as un-American as keeping out the would be Cinderellas. If colleges aren't willing to shell out just a little extra to its players who get the university's brand out through competition (more free advertising), then maybe they shouldn't have athletic programs in the first place.