The Covid-19 epidemic should have been an opportunity for the NCAA to lead, especially as we get closer and closer to the start of college football season. Instead, with every passing day, it is becoming more and more apparent that they are rapidly losing their grip on the sport, especially when it comes to power five conferences.
Sure, the NCAA’s arbitrary rules and vague, sparse communication may fly under the radar for other sports they reign over. But the fact of the matter is, the big money maker that is the FBS of college football has outgrown the NCAA. And they only have themselves to blame.
What all has the NCAA gotten wrong? How did they wind up in this position? We could be here all day, recapping all the things that lead to this point. But the big reasons are.
Player Unions, Or Lack Thereof
Most of the NCAA’s problems could be solved with uniformity. And with no uniform way to interact with the player base in college football, the NCAA has lost touch with them, entirely.
Consider this. The NFL limits its final roster size to 53 players for 32 teams for a grand total of 1,696 players. Throw in the hundreds of players still looking to make those rosters, and you get over 2,000 active members in the NFLPA.
Since 1956, the NFL and the NFLPA have worked tangentially on all major decisions. Sure, there have been all manner of lockouts, holdouts, and standoffs. But in the end, the NFLPA and the NFL find a way to agree on standards and rules that benefit both the league and the players themselves.
The power five conferences of the NCAA have a combined 65 teams with a final roster size of…85 scholarship players, max. That doesn’t even include walk-ons, grayshirts, practice squad members, etc. It varies by conference how many you can roster and dress during the season, but more on that, later.
So how does the NCAA communicate with and work with at least 5,500 high profile college football players without hearing what they have to say? The short answer is “not very well.” The archaic model of “The NCAA will communicate with the conferences, who will communicate with the AD’s, who will communicate with the coaches, who will communicate with the players,” just flat out doesn’t work anymore.
Over the weekend, a movement of sorts started around the college football landscape with a simple hashtag and image. It’s already been tweaked and echoed by players, coaches, and AD’s all over the country.
— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 10, 2020
— Coach Sam Pittman (@CoachSamPittman) August 10, 2020
— Hunter Yurachek (@HunterYurachek) August 10, 2020
The #WeWantToPlay movement is for the continuation of college football in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the screenshot tweeted out by Trevor Lawrence has been recycled and reused by dozens, if not hundreds of other high levels, high profile college football players. There have been talks for years of college football player unionization. This screenshot may be the image that officially starts it all.
As usual, though, the NCAA is behind the curve. The big compromise is that they would have to acknowledge that this massive group of players no longer maintain the facade of amateur status. It’s a big change that could greatly benefit the players and financially hinder the NCAA. There’s a lot that would come with that change, but the one nearest on the horizon is the adoption of new NIL rules.
This could just as easily be expanded to “find a way to pay the players, NCAA.” And that’s justified. But the more immediate issue for the NCAA is their problems handling the name, image, and likeness (NIL) of their athletes.
As it stands, no athlete in any sport under NCAA rules and regulations can profit off of their NIL. This extends beyond college football to all other college sports. But college football is the biggest of college sports. And this article is about college football.
Imagine if all those players who built a profitable YouTube channel from scratch could, you know, profit from it. Or if they got a percentage of that sold jersey that had their name on the back. All possibilities.
Changes to NIL rules are also a small step towards getting the NCAA Football games back. But I digress.
Of course, since it is a move away from how the NCAA has run things for decades, they are doing whatever they can to drag their feet and make the change as slowly as possible. They aren’t expected to have any concrete rules until January 2021. A date that they will probably push back three or four times for yet to be determined reasons.
The NCAA is going to do everything they can to keep their hands on power five college football. And seeing as how they weren’t trying to adopt NIL rules until enough people complained about it, this all seems like a reactive decision instead of a proactive decision. The latest in a long line of similar decisions. Historically, continued reactive actions from leadership organizations are a bad sign.
But reactive decision making is better than no decision making at all.
Too Much Conference Autonomy
Remember when we talked about how uniformity could help strengthen the NCAA? And how this pandemic should have been a good opportunity to lead? The way they’ve handled return to play for this coming football season is neither.
— NCAA (@NCAA) August 5, 2020
The NCAA has given their divisions and conferences a shallow, basic set of guidelines that every other organization in the country is already following, and thought it was good enough. They didn’t go above and beyond to provide leadership and ideas, and they sure didn’t make a uniform decision on how or if the season should play out.
College football receives yet another last-minute stay of execution: NCAA Division I Board of Directors did not decide today whether to cancel fall sports championships but will decide no later than Aug. 21
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) August 5, 2020
Why the NCAA was too scared to make a decision is anyone’s guess. I guess that, by forwarding along the responsibility of deciding a position of leadership, you also forward along any potential blame.
Regardless, though, the NCAA’s decision to let the conferences decide has to lead to this weird dance of death among power five conferences to see who will handle this whole situation the best. Situations like the ACC trying to beat the SEC to the punch of a conference only schedule, or the Big-10 maybe, possibly taking a vote on whether to play the season or not could have all been avoided if the NCAA had been more decisive.
At the time of writing, it now looks like there is a standoff between all of the power five conferences.
DP was told an hour ago that the Big 10 and Pac 12 will cancel their football seasons tomorrow… The ACC and the Big 12 are on the fence.. And the SEC is trying to get teams to join them for a season.
— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) August 10, 2020
Imagine if the NCAA didn’t just leave this decision for everyone else to figure out.
Inaction, Indecisiveness, and Refusal To Modernize
All have led to the NCAA being in the position they’re in. All could have been easily avoided with some semblance of organizational aptitude.
The bottom line is; there are fewer and fewer reasons for the power five conferences to stay under the NCAA umbrella. The troubles and issues created by the NCAA are rapidly outnumbering any propositions of value from them. The bad outweighs the good by a lot.
In short, power five college football has outgrown the NCAA.