What will college football look like 10 years from now, in terms of rules, player compensation and conference/television structure? Andy Staples answers that and more in this week's #DearAndy.
I always tell my bosses that the Internet has no rules, so we can change whatever we want. So a few weeks after we altered the format for the video portion of #DearAndy, we’re altering the mailbag again. Starting next week, #DearAndy will be a video-only feature. But for one final time, I’ll be answering your questions in written form this week.
Here are the questions answered in the video…
• What percentage of fanbases think their teams should be in the top 25?
• Did Bob Stoops make the correct changes at Oklahoma?
• Does Florida’s Jim McElwain have a “magic number” in Year One?
Read on for more questions and answers…
From Paul (@RunThruTheT): If you were trying to get some indication about a team from watching spring practice, what would you be watching?
Teams can hide a lot during spring practice, especially when they limit public exposure to the spring game. Subpar offensive skill players can be masked by limiting the defense schematically in the spring game. A poor defense can be masked by running a vanilla offense when people are watching. But there is one place teams can’t hide deficiencies: the line of scrimmage. On the line, a defender is either blocked or he isn’t. An offensive lineman completes his task or fails. Going half-speed gets people hurt, so players give maximum effort. So if you know a few pieces of information, you can learn something substantive.
What do you need to know? First, you need to know the relative capability of either the offensive line or the defensive line. Second, you need to know if the best players are participating or if they’re out with injuries. If you can accurately evaluate the quality of the line play, you’ll have a good general idea about how successful a team can be.
Here’s an example. Last year, I watched Michigan’s spring game and then watched a practice at Ohio State. Both teams were trying to answer questions about their offensive lines, and those answers were fairly evident. The Wolverines were returning a decent but not spectacular defensive line, and that line dominated the Michigan offensive line, which was mostly healthy, in the spring game. It was pretty easy to see the quarterbacks would be running for their lives.
Down in Columbus, Ohio State was returning an excellent defensive line but needed to replace three offensive linemen who wound up starting in the NFL in 2014. The Buckeyes’ offensive linemen didn’t win every time, but they held their own against a great defensive line. So while a look at that practice couldn’t predict the dominance of tailback Ezekiel Elliott or the possibility that J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones could fill in so ably at quarterback, it was possible to predict that Ohio State would be able to block in 2014. Combine that fact with the quality of the defensive line, and it was safe to assume the Buckeyes would be a contender in the Big Ten. If anyone tells you now that they knew last spring Ohio State would win the national title, they’re probably lying. But it was possible to predict the Buckeyes and their revamped offensive line would be pretty good.
Touchdowns will be scored at JerryWorld, but they may be on the ground. The Badgers seem fairly certain of the identity of their starter for Year One under Paul Chryst. It’s fifth-year senior Joel Stave, who is 21-7 as a starter and who overcame a curious case of the yips to retake the job.
The problem for Stave is he’ll be dealing with a positively nasty Alabama front seven. This group, which features versatile 320-pound nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson and way-too-fast-for-his-size linebacker Reggie Ragland, could wind up being the best of the Nick Saban era. Opposing quarterbacks will be stressed, beginning with Stave.
Alabama, meanwhile, must pick a new starting quarterback for the second consecutive season as well as find new targets following the departures of Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones. We assumed Jacob Coker would win the quarterback job after transferring from Florida State last year, but he was beaten out by Blake Sims. Now Coker is the only quarterback on the roster who has thrown a pass in a game. Still, the Crimson Tide have four other scholarship quarterbacks (Alec Morris, David Cornwell, Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett) who have designs on the job. Because of his experience in the system, Coker should have the advantage. But after getting the prediction completely wrong last year, I’d prefer to let the competition play itself out. The next opportunity to see the quarterbacks in Alabama’s competition will be the spring game on April 18.
From Randall (@r_yelverton): How different will CFB look in a decade? Less contact? Paychecks? Fewer conferences?
To imagine the possibilities for the answer to this question, let’s start by looking back 10 years. In 2005, the people in charge of college football swore there would never be a playoff. There were no conference cable networks, though the Big Ten Network was in the planning stages. Teams played 11 regular-season games. The changes in the clock rules that gave rise to the hurry-up offenses of today were three years away. Few non-doctors knew what CTE stood for. Nick Saban had one national title and had just taken the Miami Dolphins job. Urban Meyer had zero national titles and had just taken the Florida job.
In other words, a lot can change in 10 years.
The rules likely will keep changing to reduce the risk of brain injuries, as well as other injuries. One possibility is the introduction of a “strike zone” that looks a lot like a batter’s strike zone in baseball. Tacklers may only be allowed to hit from the chest to the thighs, and they may be required to wrap up instead of launching themselves into ballcarriers.
The rules around the line of scrimmage may change to reduce subconcussive hits. At some point, there may be a movement to change helmets, which currently give players a feeling of invincibility. Put a player back in a leather helmet with no facemask and he might not be so willing to lead with his head.
Will players get paid? More than they do now, but probably not with a varying salary structure like professional leagues. At some point, schools will collectively bargain with players to stop all the lawsuits. Athletes in the Power Five conferences will get a bigger share of the revenues, but that money will also be spread to players in sports that don’t bring in the revenue. The schools won’t want to risk Title IX lawsuits, so they’ll distribute the wealth evenly. The football and men’s basketball players who wouldn’t make a ton of money on the open market—most of them—will agree to the schools’ terms because money is money.
The cable bubble already looks ready to pop now that Dish Network has begun offering Sling TV, a streaming-only service that costs $20 a month and includes popular networks such as ESPN, CNN and HGTV. But that doesn’t necessarily mean television rights fees for live sports will drop. As technology advances, conferences will be able to exert more control over their broadcasts. By 2025, all of our TVs may be connected to fiber Internet, eliminating the need for cable or satellite service. The Big 12 might be able to charge viewers $150 a year for its entire sports package from its website (Remember, the picture on fiber Internet would be as good or better than HD) and keep the revenue flowing in with no middleman. Or perhaps new bidders (Google/YouTube, Netflix, Amazon) would pay an even greater premium for games that could bolster subscription-based streaming services. Or perhaps the entire Power Five would maximize revenue by selling rights as a bloc, just like the days of the College Football Association. Such a move would lessen the per-eyeball gap in rights fees between the NFL and college football. The single seller always makes more money. The most extreme potential result of this is one giant conference, but the brands of the individual conferences are pretty valuable. It would take a lot of money to make that happen.
From Aaron (@Palmerism): No question, but I'd like you to start using the term “Fat Capped” when describing college football goodness. Carry on.
This is doable. The term “fat cap” refers to the pad of subcutaneous fat in a pig or cow that renders down into the meat during the slow-cooking process. Obviously, we’d need to find a way to use it in a football context. I think I have one.
When a team is beating another team so badly that the winning team’s coaches start throwing touchdown passes to players weighing more than 300 pounds, the game has been Fat Capped. As Michigan State and Baylor will attest after last year’s Cotton Bowl, this does not necessarily mean the game is over. But it does mean it’s time to watch a fat guy dance.