Guerin Emig: Superconferences, not NIL, will professionalize faculty soccer … with a worth | OU Sports activities Further

We are fast-tracking to a point where the SEC is the AFC, the Big Ten is the NFC and they can conceivably stage their own postseason culminating in a college football Super Bowl.

Once we arrive, we will realize that it wasn’t name, image and likeness opportunities or the transfer portal that professionalized the sport. It was the mad realignment dash toward the consolidation of wealth and power.

We can send USC football players 2,571 miles to Penn State for a non-conference game and rationalize it as a unique college experience.

But to tack on games 2,772 miles away at Rutgers and 2,643 miles away at Maryland in the same Big Ten season? There is nothing collegiate about that.

Never mind boosters shelling out a few grand to players via NIL collectives. For the true definition of pay-for-play, try networks shelling out a few billion to conferences for the right to maneuver the pieces around the chess board.

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The path toward NIL was born of athletes’ fundamental rights to the same revenue-generating freedom that their fellow students enjoyed.

The path toward superconferences was born of a statement Mike Holder patented when he was Oklahoma State athletic director: “College sports has an insatiable appetite for capital.”

According to one industry projection, the SEC and Big Ten will generate $100 million for each member institution by the end of this decade. That kind of capital should make what we have long sensed official, that these aren’t programs but organizations, those aren’t coaches but CEOs and the so-called student-athletes playing the games are actually employees.

The full-on professionalization of college football will come with some relief — it will be sweet to hear unclutched pearls bounce across the marbled halls at NCAA headquarters, forever home to amateurism’s hardest lines — but with a price.

The players will be more isolated from their campuses and their classrooms than they already are. That will trigger more disconnect between the student body and their teams than what already existswhich will trigger more disconnect between alumni and their alma mater’s teams.

We are fans of NFL teams unnaturally. None of us graduated from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If some college football fans fall off, can superconference organizations hook new ones through the NFL model? That might prove difficult without built-in loyalty, and that might get tense since superconferences are driven by media network contracts whose value can’t rise if viewership falls.

The fight to assert these players as employees will intensify as media revenue explodes. Which seems encouraging in terms of unionization and collective bargaining powerbut will also be a whale of an adjustment.

Players who sign contracts instead of scholarship offers and enter bare-boned free agency instead of a transfer portal are bound to discover that today’s complications related to their roster positions and portal prospects are mere annoyances.

The new structure will rock coaches even more than their players. Many of these men are uncomfortable enough with the portal and NIL, the two phenomena having evened the power balance long lopsided for the coaches.

The power tilts one way in the NFL. Players get coaches fired, not the other way around. Imagine how this will feel in the era of professionalized Power 2 football.

Imagine a Big Ten coach surviving a 3-9 season in a few years, as Scott Frost just did at Nebraska. Imagine an SEC coach carrying into a seventh straight losing season, as now-OSU defensive coordinator Derek Mason was permitted to do at Vanderbilt.

Imagine the athletic director working in these conditions.

Imagine when today’s football operations director becomes tomorrow’s general manager, there are as many coaches as players on the sidelines, there are daily coach-versus-player puzzles to solve the size of the chalkboard in “Good Will Hunting,” and someone has to budget for all of this. Meaning, the AD has to.

Is this what Joe Castiglione or Chad Weiberg signed up for?

What about Brent Venables or Mike Gundy? Or even Dillon Gabriel or Spencer Sanders?

Gabriel and Sanders, at least, will get out of the college game while it’s mostly recognizable. Their successors, or the successors to their successors, are the quarterbacks who must adjust to life after the Power 2.

It won’t be doomsday. The consumption of/loyalty to professionalized college football will be impacted, but folks will watch, cheer and invest to some degree. To a large one, likely, in bastions like Columbus, Tuscaloosa, Ann Arbor and Baton Rouge.

The game isn’t going to vanish like some NFL knockoff start-up when it professionalizes. It could even reach the point it fosters a minor league relationship with the NFL, even if that risks the potential of becoming an even closer reflection of the NFL’s relentless, careless visage.

No, college football will keep its share of followers as it consolidates wealth and power. The practical among us will chalk that up to the market adjusting.

We’ll see a message related to social justice or breast cancer awareness stenciled beyond the Owen Field end zones, think “Meh”, and go about watching the Sooners just as we do the Chiefs.

“The market adjusting” has been tossed around over the past year in consideration of NIL’s impact on college football. Like a running back monetizing his social media channel was what would ultimately turn college football professional.


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