College football fans are fiercely loyal. We follow our teams through ups and downs, season after season. As the world around us has changed in dramatic ways, college football has remained a constant. But coaching changes, conference realignments, probation and absurd rule changes threaten the sport we know and love. It’s time to take a stand against the NCAA. If the changes we’ve seen over the past decade continue, it’s going to eventually turn the sport we love into something we don’t recognize.
Last off-season, several big changes were voted on and are still being discussed. The most notable proposals were the reduction of total scholarships from 85 to 80, the addition of a four-team playoff, and the proposal of multi-year scholarships for all incoming football players. I could talk about the pros and cons of a playoff system all day, so let’s save that for another time. Let’s focus on what could potentially change the face of college football: Scholarship reductions and multi-year scholarships.
In 1994, the NCAA was hell-bent on expanding the game’s popularity. The goal was to appeal to a wider audience, and to help facilitate this, the NCAA attempted to level the playing field. They wanted the Akrons of the world to have the same number of players on scholarship as the Nebraskas of the world. Parity equals popularity. It was the NCAA’s hope that if each team fielded fewer players, talent would be spread more evenly across the board, and every team would have a better chance at a National Championship. So in 1994, the NCAA voted to limit scholarships from 105 to 85.
Fast-forward 19 years. The teams who were dominating the college football landscape in 1994 are the same teams who are winning championships now. Since 1994, Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida State, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Texas, Auburn and Alabama have all won national championships. Those were the same teams who were winning in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The playing field hasn’t been leveled. The only real noticeable change is fewer kids are getting scholarships.
At the root of this scholarship movement are the Big Ten zealots who claim the SEC is a football factory that doesn’t care about its players. Truth be told, if the oversigning crowd were truly looking out for each athletes best interest, the solution would be simple: We’d lift the limit of 85 scholarships that Division 1 Universities are able to hand out, and we’d go back the unlimited scholarships.
With the current scholarship limitations, four-year scholarships are a bad idea. With a limit of 85, there isn’t much leeway when a kid gets into trouble or isn’t putting in the effort to be a contributing member of the team. If the NCAA and college administrators truly cared about academics, the 85 limit wouldn’t exist, and every scholarship signed would be a four-year scholarship.
If you left it up to each college to give out as many scholarships as they wanted, as long as they were all four-year guarantees, wouldn’t that completely eliminate the problem? It’s the best of both worlds. The coaches get as many players as they want, and there are no depth issues. Yet every kid who signs on the dotted line gets a guaranteed education without the fear of under-performing on the field. Isn’t this what everyone wants? We’ve already seen the limitation of 85 scholarships doesn’t level the playing field. So why not afford more kids the opportunity of a higher education?
A reduction in scholarships does nothing but hurt the fringe athletes who are counting on their athletic prowess to give them the opportunity to go to college. But as an Alabama fan, I’ve seen first hand that it’s much easier for people to say that Nick Saban is taking away a young man’s opportunity than it is to admit that forced parity in college athletics does more harm than good.
This is part one of a two-part series on NCAA football. Stay tuned for part two later this week.