It is getting harder to love college football.
That has been my sport of choice for years… watching and listening to games, covering it, and riding the highs of lows of being a fan of WVU, my alma mater.
I am admittedly a member of an older generation of fan, one that valued rivalries and appreciated the dedication of amateurs who were both athletes and students.
What a quaint concept, and one that was destroyed by greed.
The shift occurred when college football began generating huge amounts of money. These were previously incomprehensible sums that blinded the leaders of college sports. Rather than sharing the revenue with the labor—the players—colleges poured the excess into coaches’ salaries and facilities.
Players wised up, hired good attorneys and won their economic independence. True, name, image and likeness has opened bidding wars for players, but if athletic departments, coaches and TV networks are going to make out like bandits, why shouldn’t the athletes get a share?
The departure of Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC pulled back the curtain to fully reveal what had already become obvious—the modern game is about economics. The SEC’s media partner, ESPN, could now schedule more dream matchups that would attract viewers and sponsors, generating the most revenue.
The Big 10 responded by poaching USC and UCLA from the PAC 12. Fox, that league’s media rights holder, can now match USC vs. Ohio State against ESPN’s Alabama and Oklahoma. That’s entertainment, folks. Networks want programming, especially live events that can at the least rival—or better yet exceed—the competition.
College athletic directors and presidents color their comments about the landscape changes with alleged concerns about “the best interests of their student athletes.” They should quit that. They don’t believe it, nor does anyone else anymore.
Meanwhile, I fear for my school. WVU has a respectable national brand, but no major market significance. No one really knows where this realignment is headed, but it has the imprint of the “haves” and the “have nots,” and the “have nots” list just got longer with the schools left behind in the PAC 12, except for Oregon and Washington.
WVU President E. Gordon Gee and Athletic Director Shane Lyons continue to work both the short and long game. The short-term hustle is to keep the Big 12 together, while the long-term strategy is to make WVU as marketable as possible, so it does not miss the cut if/when that happens.
All these changes create distance between the words “college” and “football.” I’m not against change. It is inevitable and often leads to improvement. Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy on not fighting the old, but on building the new.”
If that is true, then the “new” of college football will be better. But now it feels like a sport that used to have elements of history, tradition, amateurism and purity is being torn asunder.