Opinion: College Football, What are We Doing Here? It's Time for Structural Reform

Examining the challenge of a split-decision to play football among the Power 5 conferences and why it's time for change.
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I feel like I'm having my own version of a Taylor Twellman moment, similar to the nationally televised rant after the U.S. missed the 2018 World Cup. What are we doing here, college football?!

It's been over 48 hours since the Big Ten and Pac-12 shut down their football seasons, and in the two days since then, the ACC, SEC and Big 12 aren't following suit.

All summer, I was convinced we would have football this fall — and we still might — but I never considered that there could be a season without Ohio State. That seems like such a foreign concept to me. And for the record, I am still not convinced we can't safely play football this fall. But that's a topic for another time.

It's insane that some conferences have decided they can't play and others are trucking on. College football needs to make these decisions in unity — all in, or all out. I realize the NCAA doesn't have the legal authority to cancel the regular season or the College Football Playoff. That's the problem. The NCAA doesn't govern sports, it governs championships. I think most fans' expectations of the NCAA when it comes to college football are misguided.

I'll admit, perhaps I'm prisoner of the moment. There's a good chance some of this comes out of anger, frustration, jealousy and flat out disappointment that the Big Ten canceled the football season, meaning Ohio State won't play this fall despite possessing a roster that's good enough to win a national championship.

But let's try to step back from personal feelings for a second. The problem here is structural, organizational. How is it that two of the five biggest conferences in the country can cancel their seasons based on guidance from medical experts, while the other three have not? 

This isn't an issue about the location of the coronavirus outbreaks and the safety of playing in certain areas. Of course there are some places where the virus is hitting our society harder than others. I'm also well-aware of the financial ramifications of not playing this season — it could cost schools more than $4 billion if there is no football season. I get that. 

The decision to cancel the season, according to both Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, is about the lack of knowledge of the long-term health effects that COVID-19 could cause.

Three cardiologists (including one from the Cleveland Clinic, which is widely regarded as one of the top heart hospitals on the planet) prepared a document for the Big Ten detailing the alarmingly high number of COVID-19 patients that have heart issues after the fact. According to that document, 78 out of 100 patients showed heart damage because of the virus.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren

If the uncertainty around health effects is truly the basis for a canceled season, isn't that applicable across the board? Why are there five different medical advisory groups for each of the five Power 5 conferences ... when they're all advising on the same issue? Why hasn't the NCAA created one medical advisory board that represents each of the Power 5 leagues and gives the same advice to everyone?

I respect that reasonable people can look at the same thing and come to different conclusions, as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday. But having half of the NCAA play football with the other half sitting at home doesn't feel right.

My suggestion? The Power 5 schools need to elect someone who essentially serves as a commissioner of major college football. College football needs someone that can govern the leagues from a macro level, make adjustments to the College Football Playoff as needed (I've been in favor of an eight-team playoff from the get-go), etc. There should be one medical advisory group, with input from each of the leagues. Major college football is a multi-billion-dollar business. Every other league in America of that size has a commissioner or a central governing body. It's time for college football to have one, too.

There needs to be unity in the decision to play or not to play college football this year. And with all of the Name, Image and Likeness legislative issues surrounding college sports, this is one more good example of why it's time to reexamine how this entire landscape operates. Change is coming for the NCAA, there's no doubt about that. But college football is an entity so large and so important that it needs a commissioner of its own.

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