College football might be the only sport in the world whose fundamental flaws have always been a feature, not a bug.
No national championship game? Not until 1998. We’ll just have two champions some years.
Computers pick the only two teams that get a chance to play for the title? We can wait until 2014 to fix it.
The playoff is just four teams? Let’s stick with it for a decade.
Colleges make millions of dollars while the players can’t so much as sign endorsements? We’re gonna need the Supreme Court to step in there.
If you walked in knowing nothing, you would rightly consider the entire structure of the sport to be nonsensical. So, before the 2023 season begins next weekend, we’re going to offer up some fixes.
Now, a few stipulations. We’re not working from a blank slate, but from the template that reality has provided. So, apologies to the Pac-12. The goal here is to find a way to placate all the stakeholders involved — schools, athletes, fans, TV networks — in a way that keeps the fundamental appeal of the sport intact as much as possible.
We’re also working within precedent, which includes Title IX, NCAA v. Alston and the National Labor Relations Board’s refusal to recognize Northwestern football players as employees. Here’s our suggestions.
1. Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State go to the Mountain West, creating a 16-team league that does not have status as a power conference.
Oregon State and Washington State already seem to be down this path, but no one is calling it an ideal solution for Stanford and Cal. That said, it’s practical. The two Bay Area schools need to get over their superiority complex and realize that playing a party school or two in football won’t hurt their academic reputations.
It’s also better for their Olympic athletes, who — in the case of these two schools specifically — should be the priority. Unlike football, those sports regularly travel commercial and play on weeknights. Crisscrossing the country regularly in the ACC would be a terrible experience for those sports.
Stanford or Cal being relevant in football is historically rare, but they produce more Olympic athletes than any school and Stanford almost annually wins the Director’s Cup for department-wide success. Going to the ACC or staying independent doesn’t help them.
Football-wise, there’s an argument that this makes sense for all four teams, too. Being big fish in a little Mountain West pond gives them a path to the playoff once it expands to 12 teams. Even if the conference doesn’t end up being good enough to deserve a spot some years, they might get to play for a Mountain West title, which is more than they could say most years in the Pac-12.
On a related note …
2. Keep the playoff format as is, with the six highest-ranked conference titles as automatic qualifiers.
In a landscape that now has four power conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC), this is effectively a bone for the AAC and Mountain West. Most years, those conferences will provide the other two highest-ranked champions and get a team into the playoff. So the purpose here is twofold:
First, it disincentivizes teams from leaving those conferences (and, potentially, gives a soft landing spot to schools if the Big Ten or SEC decides to kick out some bottom-feeders a few years down the line). Second, it slightly disempowers the Big Ten, the SEC and Notre Dame, the likely sources of the extra spot in most years. It won’t stabilize realignment all by itself, but it does help.
Also, who doesn’t want to see an extra minnow get a shot each year? That can give fans a team to root for, and provides the potential for an extra upset or two.
3. Break off college football from the rest of college athletics.
This is the big one, and requires some explanation because it means different things to different people.
To us, it means football conferences should be separate from everything else.
Versions of this already exist — Notre Dame is independent for football, in the Big Ten for hockey and in the ACC for every other sport, for example — but realignment makes it necessary for a lot of other schools, namely those on the West Coast.
Because this is about TV money, what we’re really asking for is conferences to negotiate one TV deal for its football rights and one TV deal for its other rights. Crucially, though, all of a school’s teams must remain under the athletic department’s umbrella, meaning that money from its football deal still can pay for non-revenue sports and football scholarships still will count toward Title IX. And football athletes are still on scholarship, must maintain eligibility and are not considered employees.
Oh, yeah, and because football is separate, it gets its own commissioner. That is a necessity for a sport in which every individual school and conference is only out for itself and the NCAA has shrugged off any real governing duties.
The goal is to allow conferences to reap the benefits from football realignment without screwing over every non-football athlete. In a perfect world, we’d get rid of football realignment, too, but that’s not happening. This is the next-best solution.
4. Allow a three-week window for athletes to enter into the transfer portal during the offseason with immediate eligibility.
We would be fine with going back to athletes sitting out for a year, but the horse has probably left the barn on that one, and it opens the door to exceptions — which have been a huge mess for the NCAA in the past.
So instead, let’s treat the portal like free agency: a short window of time in the offseason — so that the portal isn’t a year-round issue for coaches — and immediate eligibility. No exceptions, and the portal period doubles as a dead period for high school recruits. If the recruiting calendar needs to be reworked to restore sanity, so be it.
We’re also instituting pro-style tampering rules and certification for agents/advisors so that there’s as little under-the-table communication as possible and athletes don’t get taken for a ride.
5. NIL collectives must be run directly through schools.
The argument for NIL was that athletes should be allowed to cash in on their likenesses in the form of endorsement deals. In practice, that has turned into boosters pooling money for what are functionally direct payments to players.
Without any rules governing these collectives, the NCAA is lobbying Congress to introduce some. Congressional oversight of college athletics sounds like a general disaster — and with no one lobbying for athletes on Capitol Hill, we know it won’t help them much.
So, instead, the NCAA should simply force collectives to operate as part of athletic departments and force all NIL payments and endorsements to be filed publicly.
By our reading (and a large disclaimer here — we are not lawyers), that would subject collectives to Title IX because benefits handed out by athletic departments (aka scholarships) are covered by the law. That would, hopefully, accomplish two things:
First, it would stop schools from offering huge payouts as inducements because there would be no choice but to limit the amount of money athletes receive from collectives in order to ensure Title IX compliance. Second, it would still let athletes capitalize on their likenesses. Deals that don’t go through collectives wouldn’t be subject to Title IX, so if Olivia Dunne wants to endorse a local eatery in Baton Rouge or an international clothing brand, she can do that.
If you’re worried that would give way to the same kind of under-the-table payments that college athletics have dealt with forever, well, that’s what steps like public filing and certified agents are there to stop. It probably won’t be perfect, but it should be better.
Today’s back page
🏈 How Dalvin Cook’s NFL past with Aaron Rodgers factored into Jets signing
🏈 Daniel Jones working on improvisation as expectations grow: ‘He’s got to problem solve’
⚾ Kodai Senga happy to recruit fellow Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto to Mets
🏀 Rick Pitino massively upgrades the St. John’s non-conference schedule
📱 Join the Inside St. John’s text-message conversation to keep up with all the behind-the-scenes buzz around Rick Pitino’s Red Storm and to get your Johnnies questions answered by reporter Zach Braziller.
What the NBA’s new tournament is missing
One of the best things about the Cup-style soccer competition the NBA is trying to emulate with its in-season tournament is that it pits together teams that don’t usually play each other.
The selling point of the Champions League is that it takes the best teams from each domestic league in Europe and puts them against each other. The FA Cup lets teams from lower divisions play the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United. Even the MLS’s attempt at a tournament, the Leagues Cup, has Mexican teams coming across the border to play for a trophy — Saturday night’s final features Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami against Nashville.
The NBA’s tournament, through little fault of its own, does not have that. By nature of how the sport works worldwide, it cannot have that. There’s no other league whose teams can really compare to the NBA’s. No one is itching to see the Dallas Mavericks play Real Madrid’s basketball team, and even if they were, the logistics of an intercontinental tournament would be too much.
Instead, the NBA is relegated to having its tournament just be regular-season games that have a little added oomph. It’s hard to imagine that will be enough to stop tanking, load management or any of the other issues that have plagued regular-season basketball in recent years.
🏀 Knicks schedule takeaways: National TV spike after last season’s playoff run
🏀 Nets schedule takeaways: The returns of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving
The USWNT starts its coaching search
It was no surprise that Vlatko Andonovski resigned as the head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team on Thursday following a pair of drastic underperformances in the 2021 Olympics and 2023 World Cup.
International jobs rarely last more than one World Cup cycle, particularly when the team plays poorly and the coach holds a significant share of the blame, as Andonovski did at the World Cup.
The U.S. Soccer Federation reportedly wants to have a permanent replacement named by the end of the year, and has tapped Twila Kilgore, an assistant coach under Andonovski, with the interim role.
Sporting director Matt Crocker will need to wait a week or so before calling the person who should be his unequivocal first choice, and he will likely have an uphill battle to convince her to take the job. That is because England coach Sarina Wiegman will be coaching the Three Lionesses in the final against Spain on Sunday (6 a.m., Fox), and there is no reason to expect her to leave the job.
Mark Bullingham, the head of England’s Football Association, has also said that any attempts to approach Wiegman — who is under contract through 2025 — will be rejected.
That said, there was also no reason to expect her to leave her post as the coach of the Netherlands when she did. After Wiegman took the national team to the 2019 final, the Dutch Football Association commissioned a statue of the Dutch-born coach at its headquarters. Still, she now finds herself with a different squad in the final, one that has given her an honorific: Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Maybe Crocker can convince her that a Presidential Medal of Freedom should be next.
Are you buying it from Boone?
Aaron Boone trying to put a smile on after a Yankees loss is nothing new. But lately it’s felt more like he’s trying to put a smile on a funeral.
It’s one thing to be upbeat when the team is ultimately still fine in the bigger picture. It’s another to act like everything is OK when the team is below .500 in mid-August, with its playoff chances all but shot.
After the Yankees’ disastrous sweep at the hands of the Braves, Boone talked about Luis Severino’s five-run outing as “a much better Sevy than we’ve seen” and mentioned the litany of historical “examples of teams going on unlikely runs.”
The problem here isn’t the optimism itself — it’s Boone’s job to be optimistic. It’s that it feels as though Boone is asking for things to fix themselves when in reality, the Yankees look directionless both on a game-to-game basis and in the bigger picture.
What’s becoming the bigger problem for Boone is that it will be hard for the Yankees to change that perception while retaining him if things don’t change fast.