What is the future of college football? More than 200 coaches, players and managers responded

What is the future of college football?  More than 200 coaches, players and managers responded

The world of college football has weathered a wave of change over the past two years, but this may just be the beginning, according to an ESPN survey of more than 200 coaches, players and administrators.

Responding to a wide-ranging questionnaire broadcast this season, respondents told ESPN that big issues like alignment, name, image and likeness and transfer portals are only precursors to more seismic changes to the sport’s landscape.

Among the significant changes expected in the coming years are a reduced role for the NCAA, the expansion of college football, continuous improvement and eventually a pay-for-play model that treats players as employees.

Nearly 80% of respondents believe schools will continue to pay athletes in the next decade. About 75% think the sport will eventually adopt some sort of professional model, perhaps forming a conference based on schools’ willingness to pay players. And nearly everyone (98%) thinks more corrections are in store — sooner rather than later.

“It is important for all of us in business to recognize that we are in a time of change,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “I think there are two types of people in the world, those who see change as a problem or those who see change as an opportunity. I’m one of those individuals. When change happens, I enjoy it, actually. It gives us the opportunity to do more things than people think, but maybe.” [were] who cares little to do.”

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But the Big Ten is on course to reap the biggest rewards from all the change. Other leagues, such as the ACC, appear to be more cautious, with commissioner Jim Phillips using time at the league’s inaugural event in July to warn of the dangers of moving too quickly and limiting participation opportunities and access for fans and athletes.

But despite the massive changes in the sport’s landscape, nearly 60% of respondents believe college football is as good or better than it was a decade ago.

“There’s a lot of negativity around. [college football] Right now, and for me, it’s still the most amazing career on the face of the planet and it’s the biggest game on the planet,” said Charlotte coach Will Healy. “I’m tired of people doing things like that. not at all. There are some things that need to be cleared up. There is a direction that needs to happen. I’m sure it will happen in time.”

The ESPN survey, conducted from February through June — just before UCLA and USC moved into the Big Ten — asked players, coaches, athletic directors, bowl partners and other stakeholders from all levels of college football for their anonymous opinions. The biggest issues facing the sport and the trends expected to shape its future.

Among the major topics are NCAA and governance, NIL, transfer portal, recruiting, college football game, athlete motivation and compensation and adjustment. While few questions have commented together, the results show a clear belief that the sport is moving towards a more professional, more autonomous future.

Jump to: The NCAA | NIL and Transfer PortalOn-Field Rules | hire | Bowl Games and CFPA Athlete Incentive | Realignment conclusions

NCAA and management

“It is important for all of us in business to recognize that we are in a time of change,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. Robert Goddin-USA Today Sports

Nearly 60% of respondents agreed that college football should break away from the NCAA and establish its own governing and regulatory system. It’s not so clear where to draw the lines, with some voices suggesting the separation of FBS football (14%) – allowing the NCAA to manage other sports and host championship events – and others arguing that the breakup should be all-inclusive. FBS schools or from Power 5 conferences (16%). Then there were those who thought the NCAA was good for championship events but did not regulate any sports (18%). About 12% of respondents said the NCAA was never needed.

According to American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco, “Football is a separate and distinct entity within the NCAA and could benefit from its own governing structure. “With the connection between the regular season and the college football game, it may make sense to streamline the process through FBS autonomy. It will be an ongoing debate in which our congregation will openly participate.”

Much of the frustration stems from the NCAA’s failure to adequately respond to key issues facing the sport, and pressure from all sides to act.

“We’re concerned that we’re a year into what was supposed to be a major overhaul of the NCAA, and it hasn’t changed that much,” said Amy Perko, CEO of the Knight Commission, which focuses on college. Sports updates. “It’s important to us to have a broad consensus that more than 80% of leaders say there should be a seat at the table for an independent expert on athletic physical and mental health and well-being – and that hasn’t happened. It just happened.”

As for what the future of college football’s highest level should look like, there is once again a sharp division in opinion. 29% of respondents said there should be a break between the Power 5 and other FBS programs, all of which stand apart from FCS teams. Others continue to play in top-tier conferences with Group 5 and FCS teams (21%). More than a quarter of respondents said that there should be a complete system where schools are divided according to resources and income.

More than 60% of respondents said college football should name a czar or commissioner who oversees all aspects of the sport and protects various interests in a direction that is good for the sport as a whole.

“Somebody has to control the football,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Who’s in charge? The field game has never been better. And once you get off the field, it’s never been more chaotic.”

Who will lead the sport going forward But Alabama coach Nick Saban says he feels confident that college football will weather the tide of change and have a strong foundation for the long term.

“We always have significant changes that people have to adjust to, and we’re always looking for a way to get back to center,” Saban told ESPN. But I think something will happen in the next two or three years to bring that to the center? I think this will happen.”

NIL and transfer portal

SEC Commissioner Greg Sanke told ESPN: “You’ve heard this constant noise and concern about transfers, and now the transition committee is being asked to make a different change. It’s really confusing.” Dale Zanin-USA TODAY Sports

Although Congress has so far been reluctant to address the issue, half of respondents said it is up to the federal government to create a nationally consistent policy for name, appearance and likeness. A third of respondents said the NCAA should take the lead in setting national policy, but nearly 70% of respondents said they believed the organization was afraid of a lawsuit following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Alston ruling. To open the door to antitrust litigation by college athletes.

While the NCAA has a rule against using the NIL as a recruiting incentive, most don’t believe it’s necessary. Nearly 80% of respondents said NIL represented a black market pay-to-play system used to secure recruits and transfers. Meanwhile, nearly 60% of respondents believe the transfer portal has created free agency in college football, and ultimately hurt the sport and fans.

Among the players, however, it offered a huge amount of portal opportunities. 70 percent of coaches and managers said they thought the transfer portal was bad for the game, while 31 percent of players said the same.

“We were getting a lot of good guys,” Washington defenseman Alex Cook said. “I’m really grateful for the portal. A lot of guys are getting opportunities in other places, but they didn’t get the opportunity where they were.”

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who co-chaired the NCAA’s reform committee, said finding solutions to transfer issues is a remarkable development in college football history.

“If anything the NCAA has managed to change over the last five years, it’s a matter of how we manage transfers,” Sanke told ESPN. “You’ve heard this constant clamor and threat of a transfer, and now the transition committee is being asked to change what’s already been done in a different way. It’s really confusing.”

One thing everyone agrees on: vandalism is a problem. More than three-quarters of respondents said vandalism should be addressed.

NIL is a hot topic among athletes. Almost half of the players who responded said that their schools did not provide them with enough infrastructure to maximize their NIL chances. Nearly 70% of Niel’s prospects are a recurring theme in their locker rooms, though not the divisive issue that many ADs and coaches predicted.

“Seeing CJ [Stroud] Make that deal or you don’t have to be on my team for me to be happy just seeing guys do something, as far as NIL,” Ohio State safety Ronnie Hickman said. It’s been a long time and now it’s great that we can legally benefit from our name and image. So when I see someone succeeding or doing something good for themselves and their family, I’m happy about it, and I’m encouraged.

In addition to NIL, 57% of players regularly discuss transfer opportunities and 58% of players regularly discuss not getting their fair share of income from the school. Players say opting out in the middle of the transfer and offseason can be a problem, but they’re divided on how much disruption there is in the locker room. About 40% of players said transfers and mid-picks were distracting, while over 40% said they weren’t.

Players and coaches seem to agree that the transfer portal needs some form of protection. Almost 70% of respondents said the ideal transfer policy would allow players to move once without penalty during a limited “transfer window”. Less than 15% of respondents said players should be able to transfer whenever they want without penalty.

Rules in the field

ESPN asked coaches, players and managers which on-field rules they would change, and while more than a dozen suggestions were made, few ideas gained widespread support.

Two-thirds of respondents support the replay officials’ decision whether a player should be sent off for a goal. Two-thirds also support helmet speakers allowing easier communication between coaches and quarterbacks, as well as a designated defensive player.

Nearly half of the respondents said that if an injury stops the clock, the player wants to be instructed to sit the rest of the series to prevent fake injuries.

Nearly 40% of respondents would like to see a reduction in replay reviews, which would limit them to a touchdown, turnover and two coaching challenges per game.

29% of respondents said they would return a running watch following the first likes. Currently, college football officials stop the clock when placing down markers, but as the sport looks for ways to limit the wear and tear on players, several administrators have offered this as a solution.

Other ideas with less support include eliminating kickoffs (19%), a running clock that follows plays that are out of bounds (15%) or incomplete (12%), and extending the game clock to 45 seconds (8%).


Getting coaches to agree on a good hiring policy is no easy task. When asked about an ideal calendar for signing days, respondents offered nearly a dozen different opinions. A majority (28%) believes the current structure — with a December and February signing day — would work better, but significant percentages also favor a return to a single February signing day (23%) and only a December signing day (17%). ) or changing the December signing date to one in the summer (18%). Additionally, nearly 12% of respondents suggested eliminating signing day altogether and allowing high school students to sign at any time.

Coaches largely agreed on canceling early signings, with 58% saying schools should be able to sign as many new players as they want, as long as the total scholarship number does not exceed 85.

The biggest risk in recruiting revolves around the “unintended consequences” of the many other changes in the sport, Saban said.

“A name, an image and an example, for example, no one thought would have an unintended consequence,” Saban said. “That’s the issue. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m saying that’s the issue. It affects recruiting. And it’s creating a balance. Every rule we have in college football. [has unintended consequences] — Same as scholarship, same Alston money, same cost of attendance.

Parity, bowl games and college football games

College Football Playoff Executive Bill Hancock. AP Photo/Ralph Russo

If the SEC is winning the most national titles, most respondents don’t think that’s a problem. About 6% of those surveyed said the sport had become too regional, while 45% of those surveyed said the lack of elite football played in the Northeast and West Coast was not a barrier to the health of the game.

Still, Phillips said the conference’s commissioners will continue to work on the game’s expansion, which is long overdue for more national unification and players in the Pac-12.

“I feel like it’s something we want and need,” Oregon linebacker DJ Johnson said. “It just pisses you off not having a team in the playoffs on the West Coast, because we definitely have talent.”

Is there a way to bring back players who opt out of ball games? More than 80% of the players who responded said that paying NIL to bowlers would help.

About half of the players said there would be fewer opt-outs if bowl games were closer to the end of the regular season, but the idea of ​​adjusting the bowl schedule — perhaps moving bowl games earlier in the season — was less popular among respondents.

Players, coaches and managers agree that the expansion of the game will help the bowling system. A large number of respondents (38%) said that the best way to save the bowl system is to expand the game. Almost 80% of respondents also said that expanding the game competition is the best way to solve similar problems in the sport.

What should expansion look like? About a third of that is in last year’s format, which featured 12 teams in six-car bids for conference championships. Another one-third of respondents said they preferred the eight-team model. Other responses included a 16-team playoff, a 12-team model without an auto bid, a 32-team tournament, and a few votes to return to the BCS’s two-team model.

Athlete incentives and compensation

“A lot of people, they’re there for a year, ‘I didn’t start, I got out.’ Icon Sportswire

Using the NIL and transfer portal to create a free agency system for players, the majority of respondents think the player cap is overdue – 46% of respondents said players are the “right size” today. Another 21% said they still don’t have enough.

Many respondents seem to believe that the trend in compensation for athletes is irreversible. More than half of respondents (54%) believe schools will pay athletes directly within the next five years, while another 28% say it will happen within 10 years. Only 12% believed that direct player compensation was unlikely to happen in the end.

“I think we’re going to get really close,” Rutgers safety Avery Young said. “It’s a reasonable need for athletes. We bring in more people, we bring in fans, we bring in revenue. The people before this generation of college football players were set in stone, but now we’re building that, and we’re going to do it kind of. Get the benefits. But it’s well-deserved.”

Still, even some athletes worry about developing players too quickly without creating a system for those players to develop.

“I feel like we can still make strides in that direction, but I feel like we can’t let the end of a player be toxic,” Missouri defensive end Martez Manuel said. “And I feel like that’s the reality that we’re living in right now. … I feel like we can’t let the lumbering, water-carrying aspect of the game go away. Like a lot of people, they’ve been there for a year, ‘I didn’t start, I quit.’ And then it’s like okay, but now you’re not starting anywhere else. You’ve got to sit behind people who are older than you and learn from them. It’s not really empowering them because they didn’t learn as a freshman. You’ll be better when it’s your turn.

Realignment and Super Conference

Lincoln Riley and USC will move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten before the 2024 season. Jane Kamin-Onsea/Getty Images

Money is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and nearly half of respondents said greed — from schools, conferences and the NCAA — has put the sport at risk. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said revenue disparities between schools and leagues would eventually force restructuring the sport, and 64% said revenue disparities represent one of the biggest threats to college football’s long-term health.

“I wish we could put the genie back in the bottle,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who pushed federal legislation requiring fair compensation for athletes, told ESPN. “I wish we could go back to the days when this was true amateur athletics. But I don’t think that’s happening. The colleges made us a place to do something different, and the colleges made a decision. They were going to turn Power 5 football into a professional sport because they’re addicted to the money.

While most of the survey was conducted before UCLA and USC announced plans to join the Big Ten, the move likely surprised respondents, who believe more change is on the horizon.

Indeed, when asked what college football should look like in 20 years, a majority (58%) said the sport would continue to be tied to academics, pay its athletes, and split between smaller superconferences. Leagues without.

“Players don’t get paid for their name or their image or their looks because they’re good at math,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “They get paid because they’re good at football. So we’re in the world of professional athletics now. So how do you manage professional athletics now? Well, the Premier League in our sport.” What did he have to do to manage it? They should have collective bargaining and they should have a salary cap. If you’re going to hold it around, I believe you’re going to hold it that way. If not, it’s going to be more. What’s going on right now is out of control.


Change in college football isn’t necessarily a problem — in some cases, it’s long overdue — but the season’s growing pains are causing a lot of anger among players, coaches, administrators and fans.

“I think the final game should be here,” Murphy said. “I think one thing that frustrates fans is they don’t know what conference their team is in, who your natural rivals are. We have to come to some conclusion here. And there’s no conclusion without the players getting paid.”

So how does college football reach its final game? A recurring concern among all stakeholders of the sport is that there is no captain to steer the ship. The NCAA’s transition committee, the Knight Commission, individual conferences, federal and state legislatures, the courts — all had input on various measures, but the sport needed to be properly evaluated, implemented, and a more consistent governing structure. Respond to changes, and currently, there is no such method.

“When the smoke clears, we should have a commissioner or a football czar, anybody in the game,” Schiano said. “You can have conference commissioners because there’s more to it than just football. But there’s one person that oversees everything, and there’s consistency. I don’t care if you want the SEC, the Big Ten. Be a part of it. [playoff]You have to play by these rules.

Kyle Bonagura, Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg, Alex Scarborough and Dave Wilson contributed to this story.


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