Is this really what college football needs?

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell delivers remarks during an event at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade/Released)

By MIKE HERNDON

Some prominent figures in college football think the sport needs a commissioner. One voice and all that, you know. It’s easy to understand the appeal after how silly they all appeared in flip-flopping on satellite camps, where conferences didn’t know which way their own representatives were voting and which, despite all the attendant rhetoric, was really just an issue of one conference wanting to keep poachers from setting up camp in its backyard.

But before we jerk a knee and jump head-first into those shallow waters, let’s take a quick look at the credentials of the football commissioner we already have in this country:

  • Handed down a slap-on-the-wrist two-game suspension to former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for punching his fiancé, only to backtrack and lengthen the punishment to a full year when a video surfaced that showed Ray Rice punching his fiancé.
  • Has continued pursuing the farcical Deflategate charade despite questions about the science behind the Wells report, the relatively minor role a few psi of air pressure might have played in any of the Patriots’ wins that season and the fact that many other former quarterbacks have admitted doing the same thing.
  • Sidestepped and tap-danced around the accumulating evidence of a link between repeated blows to the head like those often found in a football game and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), to the point where one prominent CTE researcher told the Sporting News that the commissioner is “lying so frequently that I almost don’t think it matters anymore.”

This, of course, is Roger Goodell, who is only slightly more popular than a meniscus tear around the NFL these days.

Is this what college football needs?

Several coaches, including Nick Saban, Mark Dantonio, Gary Patterson and David Shaw, have spoken up in favor of hiring their own Goodell. Some, like Patterson, advocate a commissioner to serve over just the Power 5 conferences.

To which the internet has responded with a bunch of lists of “likely” candidates, including Saban (as though he might actually want the job), Steve Spurrier (as though he might leave the golf course long enough to do the job) or even Verne Lundquist (as though he could pronounce the job).

But guess what? The commissioner of a professional league serves and acts at the pleasure of his league’s owners. A college football commissioner would presumably serve and act at the pleasure of the university presidents and the conference commissioners – which is pretty much what Mark Emmert and the NCAA already do.

The fact that we’re even talking about this is as good a bit of evidence as anything that Emmert’s leadership has been lacking.

Proponents point to the need for college football to have a unified voice, a supposedly unbiased arbiter who could do “not what’s best for the SEC or the Big Ten or the Pac-12, but what’s best for the game,” as Saban told ESPN. But does anyone really believe that hiring a commissioner would stop the conferences from pursuing their own best interests?

A college football commissioner would not have absolute authority. He would not, for instance, be able to negotiate TV deals or force conferences to share revenue evenly. Any reforms would still presumably have to come through a vote of the membership — the schools themselves.

If he were effective – say, in a best-case-scenario, it was someone like Mike Slive (who isn’t likely coming back, by the way) – he might be able to marshal support around one objective or another, creating consensus or at least plurality.

But so could a strong NCAA president.

Commissioners in professional sports have one job, essentially – protect and promote the brand. College football’s brand, while not without its threats, couldn’t be much more marketable than it already is. Hiring a commissioner would look like another step toward the one thing that could bring it down – professionalization.

And if we’re talking about a commissioner to serve over just the Power 5, it could be one more step toward the Power 5 separating from the rest of the FBS.

At the most, a commissioner might draw some fire away from Emmert, who’s been in a foxhole trying defend the façade of amateurship in an enterprise where the top programs bring in revenue in excess of $120 million and pay their head coaches more than $5 million a year.

Meanwhile, the athletes who really make the sport what it is – without whom there could be no sport – can’t so much as sell their own game-worn property or their own signature without facing suspension.

Would another figurehead do anything to change the look of any of that? Or just create another handy lightning rod to draw the heat away from everyone else?



Categories: College football

2 replies

  1. Herndon..interesting piece….The NCAA President “should” be this person. The problem is that Major College Football has already jumped the shark or the genie is out of the bottle…Amateurism in college football is a vestige from another day..just follow the money..it is surely what NCAA football and basketball have done. Any other NCAA major sport that can drive to that level will surely follow suit, a prime example is “The Frozen 4” Hosted by Wisconsin in Tampa Bay. The CWS and WCWS are well on their way as well.

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  2. Well said. I don’t think any other college sport will rise to the level of football and men’s basketball, though. They may have a money-making event like the CWS and WCWS, but the rest of the year is a money-losing proposition for most of them.

    Funny you mention the Frozen Four. I was in Tampa with the girls that weekend and saw tons of people in North Dakota gear. I’m wondering why until I looked it up on my phone and realized the Frozen Four was there that weekend.

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