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College Football Playoff – It’s About the Benjamins

You know the old phrase, “Money is the root of all evil?” I, for one, do not believe that, but, to suggest money isn’t a major factor in the cataclysmic change in collegiate football and athletics is burying your head in the sand.

I recently saw where the College Football Playoff Association had agreed in principle on an extension of their television contract with ESPN for nearly 8 billion dollars. That’s with a “B.” The proposed deal will make ESPN the home of all CFP games  through the 2031-32 season. Next year, in 2024, the CFP will be in its’ first year of expanding from four teams to 12 teams. More games means more advertising availability. More availability means more ads sold. More ads sold mean more money made.

The other thing I found very interesting in reading through this article, which was reprinted in a Florida newspaper from USA today, was that throughout the entire article, the NCAA was not even mentioned. The name of the organization that for years has been the governing body of collegiate sport wasn’t even a footnote. That should tell you volumes about how far the NCAA has sunk in the eyes of the real movers and shakers in collegiate sport. An 8 billion dollar media deal gets struck that will effect hundreds of college football programs across the country, and the NCAA didn’t even get a courtesy call. The deal was made through the CFP and ESPN/Disney –period. I mean, aren’t the schools that compete in the College Football Playoff NCAA members?

That didn’t seem possible to me, so I investigated even further to verify that the article omitting the NCAA was accurate. I went to another publication, the Athletic, that was credited with the original report. The NCAA doesn’t get a mention in their article either when discussing the football playoff. The only attention the NCAA received was a single line in the story that the NCAA had agreed with the network to an extension in January for a deal to televise 40 other championships in collegiate athletics including women’s basketball for 920 million, that’s with an “M,” not a “B.” Compared to the football deal, that’s a drop in the bucket.

Now, add to the mix of all this money being thrown around is that the landscape is still changing as we speak. Remember the power 5 conferences in the CFP hierarchy? Those conferences always had a place at the table. Well, there aren’t 5 power conferences anymore. The demise of the Pac 12 has left a void, so the CFP has only 4 power conferences now. But, the real truth is that only 2 of the Power 4 that are left have the clout to make everyone stop and take notice. The SEC and the Big Ten are the two heavyweights at the table. The ACC and Big 12 are at the table, but like at a big Thanksgiving family dinner, they are at the kids table. The SEC and Big Ten are the at the grown-ups table.

There are so many moving parts, we have no idea where it may go. I can guarantee there will be changes. I already saw a suggestion that the 12 team football playoff could be expanded to 14 very soon, when will it be 16? Who gets all that money? Are the players in the mix for a pay out beyond NIL? How will the NCAA try to survive? I don’t think they can without football, and they clearly don’t have any handle on football. CBS TV owns the mens basketball tournament. The only thing the NCAA has of March Madness is the logo. There are anti trust violations being alleged in the courts. Players are being granted legal status as employees of universities. The judicial dockets are full of collegiate athletics cases. It’s a mess. A hot mess. It isn’t going to get any better.

I wish I could be more positive about the future. The reality is that the future is going to be a lot different. What we all knew collegiate athletics was about will be no more. Going to school and getting your degree and playing the game you love as a bonus, I’m afraid, is no longer the end goal for student athletes as we move forward. And, using the term “student athlete” may be a bit disingenuous. The picture of that person is getting blurry.

The idea of “pay for play” in college athletics has been the term everyone in university administrations have avoided like a plague in the past. What’s going on now sure looks like “pay for play.” I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I actually think the athlete should participate in the economics of it all. But, let’s not be hypocritical. It’s no longer amateur sport, it’s professional. We are entering an age when the entire landscape of amateurism at the collegiate level is being redefined. Universities, players, students, TV networks, administrators, the courts, lawyers, and countless others are going to be reshaping the entire environment of collegiate sport. Is it for better or worse? I’m not sure how we answer that question…and for me, that’s sad.

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