BY Art Thiel 07:03PM 04/23/2013

Talk grows of football breakaway from NCAA

College football Tuesday adopted a four-team playoff. Hooray. Now get busy on the inevitable — breaking away from the NCAA and ending the hypocrisy.

What part of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor looks like amateur athletics? Wiki Commons

At some point, the principals in big-time college sports will act on the same set of facts known even to microbial inhabitants of the average intestine: The NCAA is utterly ill-equipped to manage the enormous business machine of college football, and the sooner the relationship is dissolved and rebuilt, the faster sports fans can get into the shower and start to scrub off the slime.

That point is growing nearer.

The major football conference commissioners are meeting in Pasadena this week, primarily to replace the cranky contrivance called the Bowl Championship Series. The commissioners announced Tuesday that a four-team playoff called, cleverly enough, the College Football Playoff, will play two semifinal games and a championship starting in 2014.

The BCS hokum will be toe-tagged after 2013, which is all good. But the greater football issue, which will not be decided anytime soon, is starting to be discussed more openly — breaking away from the NCAA. The topic is not be on the agenda in Pasadena, but it is on the minds of everyone there. Which, notably, does not include the NCAA, which has had no role in the BCS and no role in the CFP.

The sport is so popular, so wealthy, so unmanageable and so disconnected from most universities’ missions that even its defenders have a hard time holding a straight face. Regarding college football, the NCAA is Mrs. Doubtfire, attempting to keep things tidy and close while hiding secrets.

The wealth from conference-owned sports networks has spawned the latest exponential growth in revenues and, like any good 18th century European royal court, all manner of scandal, dysfunction, intrigue and HBO-worthy freak shows.  Conferences are falling apart, reassembling and scrambling about the castle trying to align with the prince with the most shillings and weapons.

The NCAA still has value to the schools in Divisions II and III, and is very handy to all schools in making sure football fields are exactly 100 yards and the baskets are 10 feet. But beyond being a glorified Department of Weights and Measures, the organization fails at its core value, preserving amateur athletics, because no one in America believes in amateur athletics is a value — except those who are prospering from running a tax-exempt scam on the backs of unpaid labor of young adults.

Even Mark Emmert, the former University of Washington president who fled to become Mrs. Doubtfire’s valet as NCAA president, has picked up on things being slightly askew. After one of his tribes, the ACC, raided another tribe, the Big East, for Pittsburgh and Syracuse, Emmert, at an athletics directors meeting in September¬† 2011, was asked directly whether it was time for football to go its own way, according to a story in USA Today.

Three people in the room confirmed to the newspaper that Emmert indicated he was at least open to the discussion of the secession of football into its own Republic of Dubloons.

“I think he responded in a way that, it was a little political,” the source said. “It was more along the lines of, we’re going through a lot of changes now and he had heard about those kind of backroom-type conversations. He basically said it might be time to put everything out on the table and talk through all these issues that we see in the future. He didn’t back away from it.”

Of the 125 member schools that play what was once known as Division I football (now the Football Bowl Subdivision), the top half has mined its natural resources of youthful human energy to produce an entertainment so popular it has:

*Little in common with the competitive, business and academic connections to the NCAA’s rules and systems, and nothing in common with the smaller-school divisions;

*A television-revenue oligarchy within the NCAA;

*A postseason whose acme event, the BCS, is ungoverned by the NCAA;

*Only a tenuous relationship with the subdivision’s bottom half, populated by Mountain West, Western Athletic and other non-BCS conferences;

*A disruptive relationship with the non-football-playing schools who have big-time basketball programs (Big East, RIP).

The shape and form of this entity has long been speculated to be a 64-team super-division made up of four 16-team conferences of the haves. As to what happens to the have-nots, no one has figured that out yet. Maybe Canada would adopt them.

“I think we’re still in a position to try to make this model we have work as best it can,” Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione told USA Today. “For every minute one thinks something like that would make life easier, they have to stop and take a breath and step back and look at how many other moving parts there are to that type of a decision. I can’t begin to list all the issues that we would have to face in looking at something like that.

“It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t. It just means we’d have to be very mindful of what we’re going to be up against.”

Just a guess here, but the problems a Humongoid Football League solves would be more than the problems created in the current farcical setup. One of the biggest hurdles of such a reformation, the support for all non-revenue sports by football income, is relatively easy to solve — football simply pays rent from TV revenues for use of a school’s stadium, facilities and brand that sustains the Olympic sports at the current levels, with provisions for increases.

The HFL would get tax breaks for supporting other school-related projects such as providing scholarships for athletes who actually do want to take classes around their paying jobs at cornerback or right guard. High school recruits, free of NCAA recruiting rules, could shop their talents to the schools that provide the best salaries, coaching, facilities and degree programs built around the sports-job schedules. You know, just like the rest of American commerce.

And like the NFL, the HFL would have salary caps and other limits that aspire to create competitive balance.

There are lots of other issues to resolve, but you get the idea:

The end of ethical hypocrisy and athlete impoverishment, a redistribution of wealth that benefits labor and improves corporate profits, and an NCAA that devotes its management resources to schools and programs that need someone to make national tournament brackets and has cell numbers for all the guys who have keys to the gym.

Or the NCAA could keep going the way it is, with scandals serious and silly rendering its greatest programs — Penn State, Ohio State, USC, Miami — embarrassing casualties to a virtue, amateur athletics, that is antiquated as Corvairs, rotary phones and house calls by doctors.


  • bugzapper

    What makes you think the scandals are going to go away, regardless of who’s running the Big Money Machine?

    • art thiel

      Don’t think I wrote that scandals would go away, but if you run a pro sports league, all the money is above the table, not under it. Eliminating recruiting and eligibility rules would help a lot. It’s called decriminalizing college football by getting as much college out of the sport as possible.

      • Pat

        There are far more ethical ways to deal with the perceived “impoverishment” of college athletes than paying them more money and putting even less emphasis on education. Isn’t this like saying that because the government has flaws and extreme inefficiencies that we should do away with government all together? The NCAA needs to restructure, rather than be separated from. The revenue needs to be redistributed through the schools rather than given to 18 year old kids who will piss it away. Look at the majority of high school athletes who were drafted directly into the NBA and how they handled it. What’s the incentive to go to class? You can increase a players stipend, loosen the insane rules they have about meals, instead of turning it into an open market to the highest bidder.

        You want to remove college from college football? Then its just pro football. And we already have that

        • art thiel

          Do you know how long college football has been attempting to reform itself? More than a century. Hasn’t worked yet. The agenda, needs and desires of the sport have nothing to do with the universities’ missions.

          By default, It’s an entertainment division of an academic enterprise. It’s not that it’s flawed or inefficient, like government, it’s like two businesses that started from a single premise that no longer fit together.

          Pat, college football already IS pro football, only they don’t pay the players. It’s worse than inefficient, it’s a ripoff. The incremental changes you mention are just kicking the can down the road. Re-organize it, democratize it, make it a for-profit enterprise, and the hypocrisy goes away. And everyone makes money.

  • Not amateur???? really??? jsut becasue coached and athletic directors are getting millions this isnt amateur??? College football rakes in millions more every TV contract and ZERO goes to the players…it is the most amateur sport there is!!! Get a grip Art.

    College presidents fought this to the death until the money ran out and they cut the ADs loose to get all the $$$s they could. Fact is when big time college football goes to 64 then 48 programs or less interest will die out in most places. It already is. Attendance is dropping in most regions and the times and ticket prices make it worse and worse.

    • art thiel

      Assuming sarcasm, Bomber. But your serious point about greed eventually consuming the sport is a threat, like the real estate and busts, everyone wants to ignore.

  • Fan 873

    This is the worst idea I’ve ever heard for College football. Was this article facetious? Was this a late submission for April Fool’s? I cannot believe a reputable sports writer actually wrote this.

    • art thiel

      This idea has been around for several years, talked up by ADs, and is gaining momentum with all the huge jump in TV rights fees onference-shifting mayhem. Where have you been?