No future Alabama football game, not even a National Championship Game, will surpass the struggle college football will engage in the next year or so. What is destined to happen will be a battle over the future of college football and it will be fought as intensely as any game.
Writing last week, Ross Dellenger penned, ” An earthquake hit major college athletics last week.” Dellenger was not wrong in describing the collapse of the Pac-12. Earthquakes can be devastating and they can create tsunamis. Right now, college athletics should be on tsunami alert.
The CFB Playoff Management Committee will meet in August for a previously scheduled work session. The committee includes the ten conference commissioners, plus Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick. Before the meeting, the now Pac-4 could move toward a merger with the Mountain West. A couple of days ago the Pac-4 came close to being the Pac-2, but a move by Stanford and Cal did not receive enough votes to be approved by the ACC.
Sooner than later, the old Pac-12 will either merge or die. If the four remaining teams agree to merge with the Mountain West, there is no guarantee the NCAA will bestow Power Five status, or more accurately ‘Autonomous Five’ status, as designated by the NCAA.
Dennis Dodd recently explained, that by default, the CFB Playoff Management Committee is saddled with a “clean-up” job. A clean-up not just for the CFB Playoff, but for “college athletics as a whole.”
There is not even a glimmer of hope the NCAA can execute a clean-up. Recent optimism the U.S. Congress would step up to repair NIL has also faded. The job falls on the 11 school presidents representing the current 10 football conferences, plus Notre Dame.
Leadership will be needed and the one individual best equipped to provide the leadership is the SEC’s Greg Sankey. As reported by Dodd, Sankey is already on record about the NCAA Board of Governors. Prior to the Pac-12 demise, Sankey said of the nine-member Board of Governors,
"You’re assigning all the legal and financial responsibility to a nine-member group that has a minority representation from the [power] groups that are generating the financial and legal realities. It really is backwards."
Much drama will ensue about how the CFB Playoff format must be changed, with at most a Power Four. Sankey will be key in that debate.
Bigger than Alabama Football
The strong current that will propel all discussions is money. The Power Fives now get a base of $80M each in Playoff money. It is estimated the Playoff, beginning in 2026 will have media deals 2.5 times greater than the current ones. Expect the SEC and Big Ten to have no interest in sharing equally.
In the shorter term, there is no guarantee the 2024 Playoff format and how teams qualify will not change in the next six to nine months. Any changes will require a unanimous vote unless there is some obscure exception in the group’s bylaws.
Mississippi State President Mark Keenum will cast the SEC’s vote. Perhaps a leader will arise among the school presidents who has the potential clout and fortitude of Greg Sankey. Keenum and Sankey working together would be a powerful duo.
Football is around the corner and Alabama football fans are focused on the 2023 season. Still, by 2026 at the latest, the structure and governance of college football will likely be fundamentally changed. That should interest all fans.