Part of the BCS’s appeal was that one could look at rankings and forecast a team’s final destination under an assumed scenario. Not anymore. With no solid framework for a selection process, the playoff committee has the potential to make completely arbitrary decisions. If there’s one thing college football needs less of, it is old men having secret meetings to make decisions of great importance that mostly benefit those who stand gain a profit from it.
That is not necessarily going to be the case, but there has not been any single bigger enemy to the college football postseason outside of the major bowl committees and there have been no postseason formats that didn’t feature them prominently. To a large extent, there is no way to avoid their presence (the major bowls and their influence).
So where does this send college football over the next decade or so? How well will the sport hold up with so many people depending on it?
Major television networks loom large in the future, and none are bigger than ESPN at the moment. They have an unquestionable stranglehold on the post-season. Give them credit; they know how to throw their weight around, but the sooner another network can rise to challenge them the better off college football will be. In announcing the deal that would give ESPN exclusive broadcast rights to the future playoff (through the 2025 season) BCS executive director Bill Hancock had this to say,
“Folks are going to love this playoff and the attention ESPN gives to it.”
ESPN’s “attention” is part good and part bad. In one way it is great to have a dedicated sports network that has all of the capabilities as ESPN does, but they have also slowly transitioned into a pseudo-propaganda machine at times. Their commitment to journalistic integrity has been moderate at best (to be fair so has a lot of the sports journalism industry) and they have steadily increased their focus on making college football coverage into theatre rather than allowing the intrigue of the game to flow naturally.
They certainly aren’t the only ones guilty of this, but I can’t help but think that other networks could simply be following suit in order to keep up. This is a trend that must subside in order for the overall health of the sport to remain intact. Juicy stories generate a lot of buzz in the way of viewers and web traffic, but at what cost? No one sitting in a production meeting will ever be able to top what the sport is going to provide on its own. There’s a reason it got so popular in the first place.
Another interesting perspective of the future of college football is that of the NCAA’s. With so much more money being funneled into the sport by different avenues year after year they have seen their duties of enforcement rise immensely (and they’ve responded as most would have suspected). The NCAA is arguably in the worst position. They stand to lose the most, but at the same time don’t stand to gain much at all. To many, they are a joke. Their methods are not always clearly defined or even followed by employees. Quite simply, they have been too comfortable for too long. They risk losing control of the sport if they choose to continue to doing business the way they have to this point.
When a school is being investigated, the NCAA needs to work in conjunction with that institution and media outlets to paint a very clear picture of what is fact and fiction. This isn’t so schools like Auburn University or Penn State can be spared a harsh reaction from the public; it is to protect the student-athletes themselves (their actions, alleged actions, etc.) that become the focus of media frenzies. Shouldn’t that be a high priority for the NCAA?
They must become more publically active, competent, and transparent in order to serve college athletics at a high level. If they cannot achieve those things they will, in my opinion, eventually be held accountable. There will always be an authoritative body in place to manage college athletics. It will probably always be the NCAA itself, but in its current state it has a lot of catching up to do in order to survive the standards that big-time college football by itself will demand going forward.
No matter what the future holds, college football will always be what it has been at its core. The pageantry and passion will always shine above and beyond any Hollywood production piece. It is important that as fans we are able to stay focused on those things so that no matter what changes come, the integrity of the game will never be lost.