• This week's #DearAndy mailbag explains why the predictable calls for change after the SEC got two teams into the playoff aren't likely to be answered. Plus, why do coaches and players have different rules for switching schools? And why can't you major in Football or Basketball?
By Andy Staples
December 13, 2017

At some point, a league was going to get two teams into the College Football Playoff. That happened this year, and it has produced some interesting questions…

From David: Will the football powers-that-be more likely (A) push for an eight-team playoff and have to share with the UCFs of the world or (B) redirect the committee to further weight conference championships?

I don’t think the powers that be will do either of these things.

A) Here’s why it’s unlikely you’ll see a push for an eight-team playoff. The aggrieved leagues to this point have been the Big 12 (twice), Big Ten (once) and Pac-12 (twice). The Big Ten and Pac-12, which will fight anything that lessens the value of the Rose Bowl, want no part of a larger playoff because it would—you guessed it—lessen the value of the Rose Bowl. An eight-team playoff would almost certainly require jettisoning the bowls from the process. Quarterfinals and semifinals would be played on campus, and while that would be awesome for the viewers and for the teams with home-field advantage, it would not be awesome for the Rose Bowl. Currently, ESPN pays about $80 million a year to broadcast that game. If it never was a playoff semifinal and featured (at best) the second-best teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12, it would lose value on its next deal. 

Also, any attempt to lengthen the season—even if it would affect only a few teams—will not happen in this climate without either taking away games on the front end or giving the players additional money. Since each quarterfinal playoff game would be worth about $30 million to the leagues and each Power 5 conference title game is currently worth about $30 million to each league, eliminating conference championship games would actually cost leagues money. Meanwhile, pruning the regular-season schedule back to 11 games would be met with even more resistance since most Power 5 schools use that 12th game as a seventh home game.

You also mentioned sharing with the UCFs of the world. That wouldn’t be an issue. The Group of Five leagues get money from the playoff now even though one of those teams would have to move heaven and earth—i.e. schedule great Power 5 teams in the non-conference and beat them while also winning every conference game—to actually make the playoff. This is why the idea of a separate Group of Five playoff is a non-starter. The Power 5 would just say “We guess you don’t need the money from our playoff.” And since that figure would still be more than what the Group of Five leagues would make from their own playoff, the Group of Five leagues aren’t about to do more work to make less money.

B) I don’t see them changing the weights for any of the playoff selection criteria because they already spent a year hashing them out when they created the playoff. Yes, the SEC got two teams into the playoff this year. But the Big 12 might have gotten two into the playoff in 2014 had Ohio State and Florida State lost their conference championship games, and the Big Ten might have gotten two into the playoff in 2016 had a few more committee members voted Big Ten champ Penn State ahead of Washington. Choosing the four best—rather than worrying about which team won out of a group of peer institutions that chose to get together in 1910 or 1933 or 1996—could potentially benefit each league as much as it could potentially harm each league. 

From Jay: Phillip Fulmer is recruiting for the Vols during the transition to Jeremy Pruitt as he’s preparing for a playoff game. Has a sitting AD ever hit the recruiting trail before, and how do you think this works out for UT?

I can’t recall another sitting athletic director hitting the road the way Fulmer has. Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez coached the Badgers in the Outback Bowl following the 2014 season after Gary Andersen left for Oregon State. But the Badgers very quickly hired Paul Chryst, who did not stay to coach Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Tennessee can use Fulmer’s help because of a fairly unique situation. Jeremy Pruitt is recruiting for the Volunteers, but he still has to coach Alabama’s defense in the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, Pruitt’s target for defensive coordinator, Georgia outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer, also has to coach in the playoff. Players can sign their letters of intent from Dec. 20-22, and most schools of Tennessee’s ilk plan to sign close to a full class in December. 

Fulmer was an excellent recruiter as an assistant and as a head coach, and he knows what he’s selling from a big-picture standpoint. He played for Tennessee and spent most of his coaching career there. Pruitt, who was a dominant recruiter at Alabama, Florida State and Georgia, likely is pointing Fulmer in the direction of particular players. It will be interesting to see how recruits respond to him, but it's likely most will be intrigued by the fact that a school’s athletic director came to recruit them. Whether that convinces them to sign with Tennessee or not is another question entirely.

From Josh: It seems more and more Power 5 schools are hiring one of their alums (UGA, Miami, Nebraska, Oregon State) to run their programs. Do you see this trend continuing in the future, or is this a temporary anomaly?

This isn’t a new thing. Before Jimbo Fisher left Florida State for Texas A&M, the last coach to leave the school where he won a national title for another college program was Johnny Majors, who left Pittsburgh for Tennessee after winning the 1976 title with the Panthers. Why? Because Majors was going back to his alma mater. Majors replaced Bill Battle, who seven years earlier had replaced Doug Dickey. Why did Dickey leave Tennessee? Because he was going back to his alma mater (Florida). Perhaps the most famous example of this came between the 1957 and 1958 seasons when Alabama hired former Crimson Tide end Bear Bryant away from Texas A&M. “I left Texas A&M because my school called me,” Bryant famously said. “Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”

Schools have been hiring their alums since they started handing out diplomas. Familiarity is one big reason. So is the likelihood that the coach will love the program as much as the fans do. But it doesn’t always work. For every Steve Spurrier (Florida), there is a Ray Goff (Georgia). For every David Shaw (Stanford), there is a Charlie Weis (Notre Dame). When I wrote about the coaching consulting portion of the business at SportSource Analytics in 2015, co-founder Stephen Prather pointed out that the raw data show that hiring an alum has a negligible impact on long-term success. So while it helps win the press conference, that alum still needs to be able to coach.

From @HawaiiVol31: Why hasn't a university somewhere started offering degrees in basketball or football? They’re massive industries w/ jobs ranging from playing, coaching, to training. Could include classes in marketing, personal finance, strategy, anatomy, coaching techniques, etc.

This idea has been bandied about quite a bit, but no school has pulled the trigger. The reason? It would appear that football and basketball players were only there to prepare for careers in football and basketball. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t most people go to college to get themselves prepared for the field in which they aspire to work? Yes, but when the schools—through the NCAA—are trying to convince the federal court system that revenue sport athletes are students who just so happen to play sports (that make millions for their athletic departments), a pure professional development curriculum would be frowned upon. It would be more intellectually honest, though. And in the wake of the North Carolina case, there seems to be no reason why a school couldn’t do this. That case showed that the NCAA has no real rules to govern any individual school’s curriculum, and it probably isn’t going to have any such rules any time soon. The schools, which make the NCAA’s rules, don’t want other schools or a governing body (that isn’t an accrediting agency) judging their class offerings.

What @HawaiiVol31 described in the question above does sound a little like a sports management major, though. Those are currently available at most large state universities.

From Andrew: Will the NCAA ever change the rules that allow coaches to leave before a bowl game but force players to sit out a whole year when they want to switch schools?

The NCAA isn’t going to change any rules regarding coach movement because it can’t. The schools (which make the rules) are competitors in the market for coaching labor. If they get together and make rules that keep coaches from working or limit their pay, that would be collusion. The schools, the NCAA or all of the above would get slapped with an antitrust suit that they would almost certainly lose. The powers that be haven’t forgotten when the NCAA got its clock cleaned over restricted earnings coaches. The farthest the schools can go is something like the Individual Associated With a Prospect rule, which bans college programs for two years from signing a player from a high school that produced a coach the college program hired to a support staff position. In that case, the rule doesn’t actually prevent employment. If the college football or basketball program wants the high school coach badly enough, it can hire him or her as a full-time assistant coach, or it can choose to not recruit that high school for two years. But forcing coaches to sit after they take a new job would be too restrictive and would get crushed in court.

So why do the rules restricting player movement (and compensation) still stand? Because players have limited time to play in college, and for most, it isn’t worth waiting to challenge those rules in court. Fortunately for the players, the compensation rules are about to be challenged in federal court on antitrust grounds. Jenkins vs. NCAA continues to wind its way through the system. Jeffrey Kessler, the antitrust attorney who helped bring free agency to the NFL, is leading the charge. The court system may feel the same way about the players as it felt about restricted earnings coaches, but we won’t know for a few more years.

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