The Great College Football Schism is Coming, and it will leave College Football divided between the Semi-Professionals, those blue bloods who have the money and recruiting ability to be apart of the two Super Conferences in the B1G and SEC, and the Traditionalists, which will be everyone else who cannot afford to put the same resources in place to compete at the highest level.
In many ways this has already occurred; the haves are the only teams that are actually competing year-in and year-out for conference championships and a shot at the College Football Playoff. The vast majority of NCAA Football programs can’t even dream of making the playoff; they just don’t have the talent or resources.
This gap is widening, and widening quickly. It won’t be long until the Semi-Professionals monopolize the vast majority of the media rights money, and in turn monopolize the playoff entirely. The College Football Playoff right now gives the illusion of inclusion and the possibility that any team can make it if they just have a season that is good enough, but in truth not every team is measured to the same standard. The established blue bloods will always have the advantage to make the playoff.
Furthermore, the product on the field is going to become increasingly one-sided and boring within these Super Conferences. The top teams with the best talent and the best coaches are going to win. This is already the case, but what happens when they are able to pour millions into NIL payments when over half of the rest of the conference can’t do the same? The gap gets wider and the game gets less competitive.
Sure, there will be a handful of teams that can be competitive within these Super Conferences, but all the other teams are cannon fodder whose only purpose is to show up for a game to get beat and fill a time slot for their media overlords ESPN and FOX.
The B1G added Rutgers because the conference got access to the New York and New Jersey media markets. Rutgers isn’t a terribly good football team year-to-year, but like your average college football program they have their good years and their bad. But how much value would Rutgers provide to the B1G if the vast majority of the weeks they tune in to watch Rutgers get demolished? Sure, the B1G media rights paycheck is great, but what happens if fans stop turning up for the game and tuning in from their couches because it isn’t fun to watch anymore?
We all already know the least-watched and attended games are the least competitive games. There is a reason tickets for games against FCS opponents are so cheap — we already know the result of those games. The lesser team is going to lose.
What happens when programs that are successful in the B1G such as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and potentially USC look at the lack of value being added by the lower tier of the conference? It is not outside the realm of possibility that they start demanding unequal media rights pay distributions. These programs, after all, add the most value to the conference.
Meanwhile in the Traditionalist Conferences
In the Traditionalist Conferences, there is something very different going on. These conferences look more like College Football. There is a reason why College Football is popular among fans who are not necessarily NFL fans — because the college game can be unpredictable. The NFL game is mostly figured out; there really are only slight variations on the offenses and defenses, they play with the best players and they have worked out what the best ways are to play the game with those players right now. Sure, there is change over time, but for the most part everyone in the NFL is doing a variation of the same thing.
In these more Traditionalist Conferences, the college game will look like it always has with teams doing whatever works best for them — and that might be teams like Army, who refuses to pass the ball, and coaches like Mike Leach, who refuses to run the ball. The Semi-Professionals will all start to look the same in how they play the game, and in many ways they already do.
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Watching these Traditionalist teams play will be fun. This will be the game that we all love to watch and therefore fans will continue to watch these teams. In contrast, bottom-feeders within the Super Conferences may lose viewers as their fans check out because the game isn’t fun anymore. It is also not unreasonable to imagine that these Traditionalist Conferences will decide to hold their own National Championship.
The Semi-Professionals might dispute it, but in reality, it doesn’t entirely matter. This would be more akin to how there is already a FBS National Championship and an FCS National Championship. Both are valid and there is little interaction between the two tiers of college football.
At some point the doormats of the B1G and the SEC are going to get fed up with their situation, especially if unequal media rights sharing comes into play. Their stadiums will become empty and their game day revenue will suffer. The media rights paycheck will keep the teams afloat, but it won’t attract any of the joy that it used to. Eventually these teams may look at leaving these Semi-Professional Conferences to join a Traditionalist Conference because it will make the sport worthwhile for their fans and players.
Over time, College Football may go through a rebirth as teams return to a more equal playing field as the Traditionalists don’t have the resources to play the same game as the Semi-Professionals. They will opt for a model of student-athlete where they receive a scholarship, and some additional monetary perks, as the times have changed — but nothing like the millions that will be thrown around with the Semi-Professionals.
We will not see all teams return to the Traditionalist model, however. It is likely that the blue bloods will opt to stay in the Semi-Professional model because it works best for them. They will have their fan bases who will love that model and the bragging rights that come with it. Those fan bases are also big enough to keep the conferences afloat, though if there are enough defections it is possible that the B1G and the SEC may merge into one conference in order to increase their monetary payouts.
In the end it will still be the death of College Football as we know it; however, it will come back in time. This will not happen quickly. It will probably take 10-15 years to all shake out and it will come with an incredible amount of frustration along the way. Some rivalries will die and never be resurrected as casualties of the great schism that will tear College Football apart, but in the end there will be two leagues where there was once one. Each will have its own fan base, and I am sure we will follow Our Beloved Ducks wherever they go in all of this impending chaos.
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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