College Football’s Uncertain Future is Concerning

We've come to the sunrise of another college football season. Even with the Delta variant of COVID hovering over the planet, there's going to be more of a return to pre-pandemic frivolity, animosity, tradition, and pageantry. For the first time, though, another feeling has crept into my fandom psyche ... uncertainty.

I've been following this sport for, loosely, 30 years now. A lot has changed from the days of the early 1990s. The amount of TV exposure and money continues to balloon. Whether it's in-season playing schedule or off-season recruiting, the calendar is quite different compared to three decades ago. Over that period of time, I usually took things season-by-season. I never got a sense of some overarching, sweeping change that would have an affect on how I view the sport from that point forward. Thing is, that change isn't a switch that flipped on a dime. It's been a fader being slid up and down the light fixture.

A lot has happened since a champion was crowned back in January. We all knew about the transfer portal. It seemed like one or two big-named skill players (QB, RB, WR) were changing their school colors each year. But this entity went into hyperdrive over the spring. Several key players from high-profile programs decided to better their careers elsewhere. We talked about that on this site. But that's not the uncertainty I'm talking about.

At the end of June, the United States Supreme Court brought a decision that was expected for quite a while. The 9-0 unanimous decision in favor of former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston finally kicked the door open so athletes could take advantage of Name, Image, and Likeness legislation. Several athletes have already taken advantage, including Alabama's presumed starting QB. We also talked about that on this site. But that's not the uncertainty I'm talking about, either.

At the end of July, Oklahoma and Texas let the sport know that they intended to leave the Big XII in lieu of the SEC. This out-of-the-blue announcement has kicked off the latest round of conference realignment discussions. Now, the strongest league has been fortified, one top league is on the verge of collapse, and the other three power conferences outside of this "transaction" are scrambling to keep their constituents satisfied. We've touched on that on this site. And this is what raised my eyebrows.

In all honesty, I shouldn't have been concerned. Sure, my eyebrows were raised when the last realignment go-round happened in 2010 and 2011. The Sooners and Longhorns were in the works to be part of that, playing footsie with the Pac-12. At the time, I was more taken aback by some of the traditions and rivalries that were going to be lost. However, the panic that has been set forth by OU and UT in 2021 could create a seismic shift not seen since the early 1980s. That's the last time the top division of college football encountered a full fissure.

It has been nearly 45 years since the creation of the NCAA's two-tiered Division I. When the I-AA status was created in 1978, 137 schools remained with I-A designation (down from 145 for the 1977 season). The biggest impact of this split wasn't felt until 1982, when over 40 teams were dropped down that half-step on the tier ladder, leaving 105 I-A programs (and raising the number of I-AA programs to 82). Over time, schools have rejoined the top tier (now FBS), with 130 teams ready to play in 2021 (128 will suit up in the FCS tier).

If the Oklahoma and Texas moves are the first step in creating the vaunted "Super Leagues," more teams would inevitably take a hit than happened in 1978. The schools left behind may have a slightly cushier place to land with today's TV contracts, but the gap between the "Superhaves" and Have-Nots would be so much greater compared to the A-AA separation. Teams currently with seats at the Power table are not assured to keep their position. It would all depend on which rules are set.

* Would the number of seats decrease to 64? ... 48? ... 40?
* Who would get left behind after the number's established?
* After said "Super Leagues" got their payday, would there be any place for the leftovers to set up shop?
* Is the NCAA able to handle any of this, especially now that NIL is around?
* Would this affect all of the other sports these colleges/universities sponsor?

I know that I'm probably overreacting. I know this is all a ways off from being a truth in our lives. I also know that this has been a possibility for years. What I didn't know was that when talk started turning into reality, I wouldn't know how to take it all in. Until the final plan is in place, the only thing I'm certain about when it comes to college football is ... uncertainty.

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