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Program Twilight and the Ultimate Fix: Let the Big Programs Go Pro

Most of us writing about collegiate sports continually run into the same problems regarding program doldrums. The money, prestige, and NFL prospects chase always draws the talent to a few high profile programs that earn big money and draw big attention. Maybe the answer is as plain as reprogramming the simulation. Let the big programs go professional. Take the poll, comment. This one might stir up some mud. GO HOKIES!!!

Warming Up and Down Up and Down before ODU
John Schneider - SB Nation

We All Know That It’s a Problem

How do you solve something that doesn’t seem to have a solution, but you are expected to solve it? The “KobYashi Maru” challenge from “Star Trek” is a fictional device, but it is a functional reality of life and organizations. So, perhaps instead of playing the game, we play James T. Kirk and reprogram the simulation! Solving the Program Twilight puzzle might be as simple as doing away with the entire game and restating the rules according to a realistic scenario.

What and Who

Let’s look at a possible list of league institutional and personnel rules on how “going pro” would work. Then, let’s look at some of the things that basic honesty with the organization would solve almost immediately, and then in the future if this is done:

  1. There is still a need and desire for the traditional type of collegiate athletic program, and that includes institutions hosting semi-pro/minor league teams.
  2. The construction and regulation of both leagues should be regularized and completely transparent.
  3. A profit-sharing arrangement needs to be standardized between the Athletic Departments and the Colleges and Universities. The current situation is a hodge-podge of practices that mostly consist of the AD being independent of the school, and the only money flowing in the direction of the institution is the scholarship money paid to the student athlete.
  4. Non-semi pro Athletic Departments must be merged with the administration of the university/college so that both organizations are governed by and liable to the rules regarding the management of intercollegiate student sports.
  5. All true collegiate sports must stay non-profit, and therefore salaries, expenditures on facilities, and student-athlete participation rules must be written and implemented for the benefit of the student-athlete, not the program. Professional Draft involvement must be limited to post-eligibility.
  6. The semi-pro/minor league programs must provide access to educational facilities and opportunities for the players at a normal compensation rate for the hosting university/college. Contracts, remunerations, and other financial considerations must be done in the open under the terms of standardized easily recognized contracts. Semi-pro/minor leagues should be affiliated and partially funded by the professional sports leagues. Professional Draft involvement is dealt with in much the same way as Professional Baseball.
  7. Eligibility requirements are in effect for the Traditional Programs, only. A player may step up from the Traditional Collegiate leagues to the semi-pro/minor league teams, but not the reverse. There are no eligibility limits on the Semi-Pro/minor leagues except those negotiated within the terms of any players’ association operating with the Semi-pro league.

Dealing With the Really Hard Stuff - Contracts, Money, and People

Once the organization and cash flow matters get adjusted, the big issue becomes operating the league(s) under some set of rational rules that provide for a functional semi-pro/minor league system.

  1. The University/College is there to provide a geographical center of gravity and consistent fanbase needed to support a sports program. Since the league is “professional’ and operating from a collegiate base, there needs to be a profit-sharing arrangement between the two, separate, organizations. This also pertains to school connected ephemera (kitsch), gate receipts at the venues, and concessions.
  2. Rules, season length, and Conference alignments must be worked out. Some of Division 1 (is there any other division?) FBS conferences are prime examples of a well-developed league organization. Some are incomplete, and some lack the real parity necessary to make those leagues competitive. That sort of leveling process will take time and a rational draft system, along with various operational caps, luxury taxes, and the like.
  3. Traditional Programs do not compete with Semi-pro/minor league programs unless there is an exhibition agreement (like a special bowl game) and the monetary profits for that exhibition are shared.
  4. There are questions on how professional football would help to underwrite the league. Does a team sponsor a college program, or does the league gather a general fund for distribution to each semi-pro team? How does the profit from the league get distributed up to the various teams after the hosting college has been paid its share?

There are many other things to cover, but the reality is the move will eventually be necessary. As players gain the rights to their Name, Image, and Likeness the issue of how the compensation gets split, who gets the rights to what and when. Who has to pay what and to whom to publish pictures, sell jerseys, and even use the players’ names in reporting? Are credentials going to come at some cost? All of those rights issues are up in the air as far as the NCAA is concerned. Ephemera is program oriented and licensing fees are exchanged at a premium for the product. Now, the gear is not only linked to a program, but a specific person. So are the pictures. What this means is that the entire NCAA football organization will be driven into professional operations, especially at the top money drawing programs, even without calling itself a professional league.

Taking the Poll


Should the top 75ish teams in the FBS be turned into a Semi-Pro Football Program?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Yes. Sunshine and transparency is the best policy they are really in professional looking programs anyway.
    (8 votes)
  • 14%
    Yes. But. No… but.. ugh.. I think so, but It’s like starting the NFL from scratch. That took 100 years to get to where it is.
    (9 votes)
  • 20%
    No way. Not even commenting. I like things just the way that they are.
    (13 votes)
  • 51%
    No, it just violates everything about the Spirit Amateurism standard that the NCAA stands for.
    (32 votes)
62 votes total Vote Now

Knowing that Nothing is Ever Really Easy or Straight Forward

Remember, all of this is just a suggestion, and these lists of issues have been bandied about by lots of folks in one form or another. The reality is though, that this can be done, made transparent, and will help to stop the ‘cat and mouse’ game that surrounds the talent scouting, player retention, and now compensation. All of these issues that are a growing problem for college football and basketball (baseball is constantly trying to keep talent from going to the minor leagues) as well. The problem will then become how to deal with non-revenue sports. Baseball would benefit greatly from being a minor league. We can talk about those things later. There still needs to be a non-professional outlet for college players. It might not even operate at a talent level much different from the current situation, either.

Allow for the Traditional league structures and a tighter more regulated league in the Football Championship Series. Make the FBS a semi professional league by reducing its size and content to the teams that can support the monetary flow. Involve the professional leagues in the process to help eliminate the pressure on coaches and staffs of programs operating in the permanent twilight. Open the curtains and windows. Freshen the air and allow the sunshine to sanitize the situation.

If it does happen, programs will have to take some serious decisions about their athletic programs. There will still be lots of questions, and some of you might ask some, below.