The Reason for the Begged Question
This series of articles is not specifically about the Virginia Tech Hokies team. It is intended to be a deep dive examination of where college football looks to be headed as an organized entertainment. You didn’t read that incorrectly, either that is indeed the word “entertainment”. All sports are entertainment products, and we fans pay money to observe young athletes play a game. In the world of collegiate athletics, that money then provides a certain level of funding to both support the program and primarily to fund the student-athletes’ educations. As with anything that money touches there are “good things” and “bad things” that need to be balanced in order to make that primary mission of funding education. When that capital increases exponentially over a relatively short period of time, changes occur that are both unintended and often detrimental to that stated mission.
College football spent most of the 20th Century in the modest to struggling category, where programs depended almost entirely on contribution and ticket gate. The advent and spread of broad distribution cable television and sports specific networks with the capability of broadcasting many games introduced a radical shift that accelerated to ‘ludicrous speed’ at the turn of the 21st century. For many programs in the Football Bowl Series (FBS) Division, Gate and Basic contributions were quickly consumed by lucrative television contracts driven by advertising revenue.
The Big Business that wasn’t Supposed to Be Gets Bigger
The results of that massive deluge of cash money have also been challenged by another incremental legal wrinkle; Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) contracts for players. This was the result of a court decision that opened the door for a hodge-podge of state regulations (from nothing to everything) governing the rights of players to market their NIL. This quasi-professionalization has already begun the process of warping the trajectory of the natural changes that are in the works. It is doing so because NIL, in reality, is not totally personal. NIL money currently depends on more than just the talent and exposure of the player. It also relies on the location and prestige of the program with which the player is signed. A program existing in a state with generous NIL regulations is going to be more attractive to a player.
If you add the television contract money, the NIL factor (that depends both on state law and team prestige) combined with the generous court induced Transfer Portal conditions, has placed college football on an unregulated trajectory that is resembling an adventure game with no rules and no actual end point.
Getting this Party Started
All of that brings us to the reason why we are here. It’s a really good time to take a look at where college football is likely to go in the next decade. The process is unlikely to be even, it’s also unlikely to be organized well, especially in the early stages of the evolution. Last year, we took a trip through the phenomenon that we named the Twilight Programs. Some of that analysis will be relevant here, but this is intended to tread new ground.
Laying out the Path, Because it’s Loaded with Stuff
The first article will concentrate on the structure of the actual leagues that form FBS football, and how those leagues are changing very rapidly. The second article (or articles since we have 10 formal conferences and a pile of independents) will look at what is evolving, and being proposed; expanded playoffs, conference realignment, and the prickly semi-pro versus totally amateur status of the FBS. We’ll be revisiting the Knight Commission for additional topics from their expanded recommendations in that one. The final article will be pure conjecture, and a rational peek at the potential look of college football circa 2030.
We Want You to Make Your Voices Heard, Too
We are going to want your input and feedback, just like we got from the last series on the future of the Hokies. There will be polls at the end of the articles, and there will be a wrap up article that reviews the results to see if we can come to some sort of consensus understanding of just what is happening.
This should be fun. So, here’s the first question (we will revisit it with a repeat of the poll at the end).
Given what you know, now, what answer to you think will happen by 2030?
This poll is closed
College football won’t change much. Maybe some shuffling around of teams. The playoffs will expand. (8 teams?) There is just too much money to motivating decisions.
College football will go through changes as TV contracts are redone, players get NIL bucks, and professionalism rushes in. The FBS can’t decide between amateur or pro, and Congress gets involved.
I just don’t know enough to really judge. There are changes in the works, but it looks like more of the same old thing going on.
There is a part of me that wants to care, but I am just interested in is my favorite program and having a good time while they’re doing it. Pro or not, it really won’t affect me.
So, we’ll leave you with that poll, and some think time over the first topic will be about the current structure of the FBS and the changes that are immediately occurring.