Cal Football: Much is Unsettled, But Justin Wilcox Acknowledges Change is Coming

Bears' coach says he supports a future where players receive compensation.
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Cal coach Justin Wilcox doesn’t have a crystal ball, and he admits he doesn’t devote a lot of time and energy to thinking about changes coming to college football.

But he is sure about thing: “It’s a complex issue. There’s a lot to be considered and things are certainly going to change. And to what degree, we will see.”

Those changes could come on a variety of fronts, ranging from near-certain expansion of the College Football Playoffs to the continuing move toward compensating players to the possibility that the Power 5 schools separate themselves from the NCAA.

All of these are topics that have been chewed on for years, if not longer. But there is a growing momentum right now that suggests we will see dramatic changes, and sooner than later.

Wilcox is directing his attention these days to campus visits by recruits who haven’t been able to check out Berkeley until this month because of COVID-19 restrictions. So, yes, his focus is appropriate.

Asked during a Zoom call on Thursday with reporters about big-picture topics, Wilcox explains his position of detachment . . . then gets sucked into a fascinating issue with myriad subplots.

“There’s just a lot to it. I have those discussions once in a while but there’s just so much to be considered that it can kind of take away what you’re doing today,” he said. “I’ll be prepared to adjust, keep my knees bent for our program moving forward. It’s going to be really interesting . . . to see how things change.”

Asked specifically about the movement toward compensating athletes — whether through NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) avenues or otherwise — Wilcox said he is wholeheartedly on board. But he also understands the devil is in the details.

“I think it’s good for the student-athletes. We support that. Things are going to change. To what degree, we don’t quite know yet,” he said. “I am certainly in favor of the student-athletes being taken care of in an appropriate way.

“There’s got to be some guidelines . . . the variables are significant. It’s a complex issue and I think if you try to boil it down to one bullet point, whether you agree or disagree, i think you’re really kind of missing it.”

Wilcox talks in the video below about the recent Supreme Court case in which the court said the NCAA cannot strictly limit certain benefits for student-athletes in order to protect their amateur status.

As Wilcox alluded to, this ruling has some still-unknown ramifications and there will be more court decisions which further adjust the landscape of college athletes.

In a broader way, I asked Wilcox what he expects college football to look like in five to 10 years. 

Here’s what he said:

“Things are going to change. To what degree, I’m not quite sure. I’m really not. You could sit here and kind of go down each road and think about the implications of certain decisions that will be made and how that’s going to impact college football and college athletes.

"And how many teams and to what degree can these teams move forward, how it impacts other sports, how it impacts the NCAA, how it impacts small college athletics. There’s just a lot to it. I have those discussions once in a while but there’s just so much to be considered that it can kind of take away what you’re doing today. I’ll be prepared to adjust, keep my knees bent for our program moving forward. It’s going to be really interesting . . . to see how things change.”

I followed up by asking if he could envision the possibility of the big schools perhaps breaking off from the NCAA entirely, and whether almost everything is on the table as we move forward.

His response:

“I do . . . both topics you just brought up, I wouldn’t be surprised. I think we’re waiting for guidance from the NCAA. And it’s June 24th and things are happening quickly. We’ll see where that goes.

"But again, it’s such a complex issue and these are significant decisions that are going to be made. What I can guarantee you is it’s not going to be the same. Something’s going to change and I think everything is on the table right now, from where I sit. We’ll see.”

Cover photo of Justin Wilcox by Jason Snook, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo