What Would College Football Look Like If It Broke Away From The NCAA?

Dec 27, 2019, 12:22 AM | Updated: 12:22 am
NCAA - Georgia Dome...
A detail of giant NCAA logo is seen outside of the stadium on the practice day prior to the NCAA Men's Final Four at the Georgia Dome on April 5, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – College football is a multi-billion dollar business and the gap is widening between the Power 5 and Group of Five schools and there is talk about the top football-playing programs to break away from NCAA oversight and play by its own rules.

The Knight Commission has been an independent watchdog of college sports since its inception in 1989 and suggests that restructuring is needed at the highest level of college football. This group sent a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert with reasoning why a new division might be appropriate.

“Just let them play by a different set of rules — and be upfront about it and be honest,” said Commission Co-Chair Arne Duncan, a former U.S. Secretary of Education. He also added that the NCAA is “overwhelmed” and is “irrelevant.”

One reason the Knight Commission wants the NCAA out of FBS is that the organization does very little within the sport as it is within the highest level. The NCAA does not sponsor the postseason for football like it does for FCS and all other divisions of NCAA football. All the NCAA really does is regulate practices, eligibility, officials, and recruiting rules.

The last split was in the 1970s which saw Division I and Division I-AA — now FBS and FCS. A new split has been quickly talked about with the best of the best from FBS, or realistically the best of the Power 5.

The idea is that a breakoff from the NCAA would allow for the schools to do a lot of different things with their own rules and at the top of the list likely would be to help support the athletes such as making money off of their name, image, and likeness for playing college football and without NCAA interference.

A split like this also would create a better competitive balance and better games with no cupcakes which would benefit fans. Plus, with a possible NFL-like structure with scheduling and revenue sharing would bring in a lot more money for schools and in a sport no longer under the draconian NCAA rules there would be money for players.

Is This A Move To Closer Pro Sports?

College football is a money-making machine and a break off from the NCAA would basically make this division of college football a professional sports league without NCAA oversight which is what KSL’s UnRivaled speculates would happen.

The Knight Commission recommends a cut-off stemming from the amount of revenue each school but where would that be?

“Big revenue athletic programs, that I don’t know what that means or where the cut off is?” KSL Sports’ Alex Kirry wondered. “I would assume that if you are in a P5 program — even not all P5 programs would qualify for that. Would Utah qualify for a “big revenue program?”

There is no revenue cutoff recommendation from the Knight Commission so all that can be done is to speculate what teams might make the cut. The catch about this is that there are teams that do not pull their own weight in its own league like Rutgers in the Big Ten which gets paid an equal amount of revenue from media rights.

Put them on their own and the value and revenue that Rutgers would generate would be very little in comparison to other programs.

“What about the teams in the College Football Playoff right now? Oklahoma, Ohio State, Clemson and LSU, those would be absolutely be considered “big revenue programs” and you are talking to them about not participating in the NCAA with the college football playoff,” Kirry said. “It is not an NCAA-sanctioned national championship.”

This type of split from the NCAA is already happening but in name only, so going official with this would not cause any confusion but would allow for a loosening of the rules for the athletes to be able to make money off of playing college football through sponsorships and other outside sources.

College Football Needs A University Tie In To Succeed

If we are being honest, the majority of minor league sports from hockey, the G-League, soccer, and baseball are really niche products. The reason people pay attention and spend money on college football is because of the tie to the university itself especially with those people who have ties to a particular school.

KSL Sports’ Scott Mitchell had a good point that if there is ever a split from the NCAA and college football which includes some separation from the college, that would then basically create minor league football. The question would have to be asked if that type of change would decrease popularity as it is a local minor league team no longer tied to that emotional bond of a university with students and alumni.

“They talk about these college sand universities and studies have been done which say, ‘a university without a football team does not have a heart.’ It has so much impact on how the university feels about itself and a rallying point,” Mitchell said. “This is basically minor league football for the NFL. This is a high-level AAA-affiliate program for the NFL.

“Where it is different when compared to the Salt Lake Bees… they go, ‘no, we are going to tie it into a university and kind of abuse this traditional college football experience for your benefit.’ If [college football] went totally independent… will the interest still be there?”

School pride is a big thing and gets non-sports fans involved at a university, even on a casual level, take that feeling of ownership and belonging to a common school away, then the popularity will dip. Just look at the previous attempts at minor league football that even tries to incorporate former local college athletes to an area to drum up interest.

Those have yet to work out all that well, so if college football were to not only break away from the NCAA but also drop the school affiliation then all you have is a minor league college football program.

As cheesy as it sounds, the pageantry and comradery of college football is a thing from tailgates to watch parties to traveling to road games. So, if another division is formed sans the NCAA, the school aspect is vastly important not only for the players not going pro to get an education but to keep the popularity where it is at by on the most basic level in being a community sport that bonds people together.

Both can be true, with the NCAA no longer overlooking the sport which allows players to profit off of themselves and also be within the university setting to provide an education and a career path for those who are not going to be in the NFL.

Tune into KSL’s Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast. 

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