College football is facing an identity crisis

16 Comments

If NCAA President Mark Emmert had to give a State of the Union address similar to United States President Barack Obama, I’m not sure Emmert would know what to say. There would probably a lot of awkward pauses, some throat-clearing and a few hesitant laughs as he gazed at the hundreds of blank stares comprised of university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors looking back at him.

Emmert would not be in an enviable position because, as it stands today, it’s hard to define exactly where the state of college football resides. The same goes for most revenue producing college athletics.

College football has an identity crisis. If it was an 18-year-old college freshman, its major would be “undeclared”. The truth is that the sport has no earthly clue what to call itself.

Is it still considered an amateur sport? Every single player across all university-sponsored sports is given the title “student-athlete”. The mantra of athletic scholarships has always stated that the sport is the means to receiving a college degree.

But today’s college game hardly lends itself to that commandment.

With each passing year, universities in BCS conferences get richer and more powerful. The Pac-12’s new, reported $2.7 billion television rights agreement will ensure that every member equally gets somewhere in the ballpark of $20 million in revenue annually over the next 12 years. Big Ten schools have been pulling in similar numbers from the revenue-rich Big Ten Network. The sport is a hefty business.

And the words “amateur” and “business” are rarely uttered in the same sentence.

College football knows what it wants to be. It wants to be the NFL, where there is an entertainment price tag placed on everything fan-related. From television coverage to high-scoring spread offenses and everything in between, the goal of collegiate football bigwigs is to keep the fans happy and keep them coming back. But, for whatever reason, college football won’t admit they want to be just like its big brother.

Even though they’ve already started acting like him.

Paying Players: Legitimate vs. Entitlement

This was a stark indicator that college football wanted to evolve and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, of all people, got the conversation rolling. Should conferences that have the means to pay their players beyond what their athletic scholarship dishes out do so? Delany admitted that the proposal was not about creating a level playing field, but rather looking out for the best interest of the student-athlete in his conference.

Ironically, Delany argued that paying players more — a very non-amateur move — would help cover the total cost of being a college student – a very amateur ideal.

There are issues, to be sure. If universities begin paying athletes in revenue-producing sports such as football and men’s basketball, they will have to pay every student-athlete who participates in a university-sponsored sport. After all, and by Delany’s own logic, the purpose is to help with the total cost of college and the girls who play women’s tennis are no less a college student than the star player of the football team.

In some instances, they may be more so.

But where does the line between legitimate needs and entitlement get drawn?

When a football player signs a National Letter of Intent, they agree to forfeit a normal college experience and dedicate an astronomical amount of time to playing the game and going to school (or, just playing the game). Getting a job on the side, while not impossible, is practically unheard of. Many would argue that playing football is the athlete’s job. It certainly brings millions of dollars directly for the betterment of the university.

If a player wants a portion of that revenue, does that really make him an entitled person? I believe that’s a different question than asking “are there entitled football players?” to which the answer is unequivocally “yes”.

College football has already made several moves to de-amateurize the sport. While paying players extra money presents larger concerns, refusing to do so embraces an outdated philosophy in a new-age industry ruled by bottom line agendas.

(Im)proper benefits

Just about everything seems to be identified an impermissible benefit, and frankly, it’s getting old. That’s not to say the events at places like USC are acceptable  — they’re not — but punishing a kid for selling memorabilia that’s rightfully his is downright asinine.

The incidents involving Ohio State players receiving impermissible benefits have taken more twists and turns over the past year than all of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies put together. For Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, it’s been especially turbulent. If rumors that Pryor banked upward of $40,000 for signing autographs turn out to be true, the NCAA rulebook might spontaneously combust. Pryor, as a result, appears to be getting the hell out of Dodge and moving on from Columbus.

And, no, we still haven’t forgotten about former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The NCAA’s investigation of Newton and his father, Cecil, was based around finding this unattainable “money trail” after Newton’s father reportedly admitted he solicited money from schools for his son’s talents. That solicitation alone would be a violation of NCAA Bylaws, but somehow, Cam’s eligibility remained intact because he was “unaware” that this whole deal was going on.

Yes, there are rules and they must be abided by. And that’s the problem. In no way am I condoning the allegations against Pryor or Newton, but the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude of college football is nauseating. The sport continues to make business decisions on a day-to-day basis, yet refuses to accept the idea that their players could do the same.

Memorabilia sales, alcohol sales and rising ticket prices — they’re all used to put a little more dough in the back pocket of athletic departments and schools like Texas, Penn State and Alabama do it better than anybody.

There are lots of financial benefits to college football. Who gets a portion of that pie is a selective process. I’m not sure paying players would stop players from receiving impermissible benefits, but removing the amateur title from them would.

This is the End

As a famous episode of “Seinfeld” once accused, “You just double-dipped your chip!”

College football double dips in amateurism and professionalism. More than it should. It acts like the NFL, but refuses to admit it. Like an adult, it does its best to get the most lucrative business deal available. Yet, like a child, it clamps on to the leg of amateurism, hoping that if they close their eyes and pretend real hard, the truth that sport is changing will go away.

Strangely enough, it’s the players who are affected the most from that immaturity.

There is no more “going to”. College football has changed, for better or for worse. If nothing else, the sport can’t go in reverse — it can’t get “more” amateur-ish. And when things change, those affected must evolve. For the sport, that may include paying players, or allowing them to make their own source of income.

But college football is dragging its feet. Why? I don’t know; the change has already come, and with every NCAA investigation or notice of allegations, the sport further self-inflicts wounds that prevent it from being what it really wants to be.

And you don’t have to know what you are to know what you want to be.

Ohio State knocks Clemson to No. 4 in latest AP Poll, SMU highest ranked Group of Five team

Getty Images
2 Comments

Dabo Swinney remarked earlier this season that Clemson was back on the ROY (rest of you) bus… and perhaps there’s something to that for the defending champions.

Despite blowing out Louisville on Saturday, the Tigers actually dropped a spot to No. 4 in the latest AP Poll, getting pipped by new No. 3 Ohio State after the Buckeyes own blowout of a bad Northwestern team on Friday night.

That wasn’t the only notable change in the top 10 as Wisconsin predictably fell from No. 6 to No. 13 after their loss at lowly Illinois on Saturday afternoon, bumping nearly everybody else up in the pecking order and allowing Penn State to take their old spot just behind No. 5 Oklahoma.

Elsewhere in the poll, there’s a new highest ranked Group of Five team as No. 16 SMU supplants Boise State after the Broncos lost at BYU. BSU actually is behind No. 18 Cincinnati and No. 21 Appalachian State as well.

No. 23 Iowa State and No. 25 Wake Forest both returned to the top 25 this week after wins to supplant Washington and Missouri.

The full AP Poll heading into Week 9:

  1. Alabama
  2. LSU
  3. Ohio State
  4. Clemson
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Penn State
  7. Florida
  8. Notre Dame
  9. Auburn
  10. Georgia
  11. Oregon
  12. Utah
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Baylor
  15. Texas
  16. SMU
  17. Minnesota
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Michigan
  20. Iowa
  21. Appalachian State
  22. Boise State
  23. Iowa State
  24. Arizona State
  25. Wake Forest

Wisconsin, Boise State drop like a rock in latest Coaches Poll, Penn State moves into top six

Getty Images
2 Comments

A weekend in college football that was filled with upsets of ranked teams predictably caused a bit of chaos in the latest edition of the polls on Sunday.

The biggest shuffling was left to the victim of the biggest upset of the still young 2019 season as Wisconsin fell like a rock seven spots to No. 13 in the latest Coaches Poll after the Badgers inexplicable loss to Illinois. Their vacation from the top 10 allowed pretty much everybody in front of them to move up a spot in the order, with Penn State the new No. 6 team in the country after beating new No. 20 Michigan.

Though UW tanked in the poll, they weren’t the biggest free fallers as that was reserved for Boise State, which fell eight spots to No. 21 after losing on the road to unranked BYU. The Broncos did start their backup QB in the game but voters likely only paid attention to the final score, which allowed new No. 17 SMU to become the highest ranked Group of Five team.

Washington and Temple both dropped out of the top 25 following losses, replaced by No. 23 Wake Forest and No. 25 Memphis.

The full Coaches Poll heading into Week 9:

  1. Alabama (44 first-place votes)
  2. Clemson (10)
  3. LSU (3)
  4. Ohio State (8)
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Penn State
  7. Notre Dame
  8. Florida
  9. Georgia
  10. Auburn
  11. Oregon
  12. Utah
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Baylor
  15. Texas
  16. Minnesota
  17. SMU
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Iowa
  20. Michigan
  21. Boise State
  22. Appalachian State
  23. Wake Forest
  24. Arizona State
  25. Memphis

Tennessee QB Brian Maurer suffers concussion against Alabama, his second in two games

Getty Images
3 Comments

Jarrett Guarantano might be Tennessee’s quarterback a little longer than fans would like following the team’s loss at Alabama on Saturday.

According to head coach Jeremy Pruitt in his postgame press conference, Vols starting quarterback Brian Maurer was confirmed to have suffered a concussion against the Crimson Tide and that he is being placed under the standard evaluation protocol.

Complicating matters for UT and their freshman signal-caller is that this is not just a one-off injury but his second concussion in as many games. He was taken out of the first half in the team’s win against Mississippi State and then missed the final three quarters against Alabama after taking a hard hit that wasn’t flagged, much to the chagrin of the coaching staff.

Maurer was 5-of-7 passing for 62 yards (one interception) prior to exiting with the injury.

The Vols host South Carolina next weekend and then have UAB come to Neyland Stadium the week after, both contests that seem unlikely to feature Maurer as he recovers from such a concerning trend the past two games.

Tua Tagovailoa tells Alabama teammates ‘I’ll be back for LSU’

Getty Images
2 Comments

It’s not exactly great injury news but, in the grand scheme of things, it could’ve been a lot worse.

Late in the first half of Alabama’s win over rival Tennessee, starting quarterback and Heisman front-runner Tua Tagovailoa went down with an apparent ankle injury. After spending time in the sideline medical tent, Tagovailoa went into the locker room for further observation.

Not long after that, Tagovailoa was seen exiting the stadium and getting into the back of an ambulance; he would ultimately return to the sidelines but not the game as Mac Jones finished out the win.

Immediately following the game, Nick Saban stated that Tagovailoa suffered a high-ankle sprain, a similar injury he worked through a season ago, and will “probably be out a week or two.” In the postgame press conference, the head coach all but ruled the junior out for next weekend’s home game against Arkansas.

Following next Saturday’s game, top-ranked Alabama will be on a bye in Week 10 before its huge showdown with No. 2 LSU in Tuscaloosa Nov. 9.  According to the current timeline provided by Saban, Tagovailoa should be healthy and available for the Tigers.

Additional testing, including an MRI, will be performed Sunday morning, so the timeline for a return is certainly fluid and will be the main topic of watercooler conversation in the coming days.  At the moment, though, the player and his teammates are optimistic for a return sooner rather than later.

“He said, ‘I’ll be back for LSU,’” linebacker Terrell Lewis said in the postgame aftermath. “I know how Tua is. It’s something he’s been through before, so I don’t doubt the fact that he’s a competitor. He’s going to get right back, and he’ll be fine.”

In Saturday night’s game, and prior to the injury, Tagovailoa failed to throw a touchdown pass for the only time as the Crimson Tide’s starter and for the first time overall since Oct. 14 of 2017.  He also threw his second interception on the season.

In replacing Tagovailoa, the redshirt sophomore Jones completed six of his 11 passes for 72 yards and had neither a touchdown nor an interception.