Over at Georgia Sports Blog, Tyler looks at the mess the NFL is grappling with over Deflategate and wonders if there’s a lesson to be learned by college football.
He starts by noting that there’s a structural difference between the two that benefits the people in charge of college football.
The biggest thing protecting college athletics, particularly the cash cow that is college football, is the autonomy of the conferences. Will that become the reason the NCAA, with their ongoing publicity and discipline investigation failures, ceases to exists?
If you don’t think it’ll happen because of the money involved, remember, the NFL is the most profitable sports league in the world.
Eh, maybe. True, the colleges don’t speak with one voice on every issue, as does the NFL, but let’s not take that too far. The NCAA is an organization made up of schools and, as we’ve seen over the past few years, it has become increasingly sensitive to the wishes of its P5 membership, wishes that are mainly driven by – you guessed it – the almighty dollar.
It’s also reasonable to expect that college football would speak more with one voice if it possessed a key attribute the NFL enjoys, an antitrust exemption. But that’s a story for another day.
Where I do think Tyler’s on to something is with his second point.
As Will Leitch put it: “People love football. But they hate the NFL.” I don’t buy that all people hate the NFL, but there is a substantial minority of football fans that are starting to treat pro football they way they treated MLB after the strike in 1994. They just stop caring.
That’s me, brother. I was a huge baseball fan back in the day – season tickets, annual trips to Spring Training, trips to games in other cities, Rotisserie Baseball play – but I flipped a switch the day the news came out that the World Series was cancelled. (I’m probably the only person in Atlanta who didn’t watch the ’95 World Series.) And I’ve never looked back since.
Shutting down your premier event over a money squabble is a dramatic and effective way of proving to your fans that you really don’t give a shit about them. And from my selfish standpoint, it was a message that I could no longer trust the owners (and the players, honestly) with my passion as a fan. Once you cross that barrier, it’s hard to care again. And I never have, even though I still appreciate the game of baseball from a historical perspective.
All of which gets me around to pondering the subject of what college football’s existential crisis might look like. I know some of you see full-blown player compensation as being the trigger for that event, but it’s a little more complicated than that for me. And that’s mainly because college football has made incremental changes to its nature for years now. I’ve watched the shameless race over conference expansion/realignment and the expansion of conferences into the broadcast business and the havoc that’s wrecked on scheduling and traditional rivalries. I’ve seen the way the people running the conferences are fumbling the issue of trying to balance the need to attract television audiences while keeping asses in the seats. None of that individually is as bad as cancelling a season, but absorbed as a whole, it’s certainly enough to take a toll on my support.
Add to that the combination of arrogance and stupidity that marks both the NCAA and its member schools in allowing certain issues to fester in the courts instead of dealing with them in a proactive manner and you’ve got the perfect storm. All of which is my way of saying that while I don’t know exactly what will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, I have no doubt that there’s one coming. There’s simply too much derp, greed and money to expect otherwise.