In 1978 the NCAA decided to cut the number of total scholarships allowed in Division I football from 105 to 95.
John McKay, the Hall of Fame Coach from USC, didn’t think that was a very good idea.
“Mark this day on your calendar,” he said. “This day is the ruin of college football. It will only go downhill from here.”
In 1992 the NCAA announced it was further cutting scholarships in football from 95 to 85. Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said: “They’re just going to water it down until it (college football) can’t compete with the pros for the attention and dollars. They’re just going to produce an inferior product.”
Let it be noted that with a scholarship limit of 85, Bowden won two national championships (1993, 1999) and produced the best stretch of success (14 straight seasons ranked in the final top five) in Florida State history.
There is a long, rich history of coaches proclaiming that the sky is falling when change is coming. And make no mistake. Big-time change is coming:
**--The NCAA announced last week that the Division I Council had approved a plan that would allow all scholarship athletes to transfer one time without having to sit out a season. The previous rule forced players to sit out a year or apply for a waiver of the rule that would make them eligible immediately. Now that would not be necessary. If you want to transfer you can do it once, no questions asked.
As you might imagine, coaches envision a world where their rosters get poached on an annual basis. They wonder about managing their rosters for the fall when players can wait as late as May 1 to announce that they are leaving.
You know what? They are right. Managing a roster will be difficult when guys are able to leave in May.
But the reality is that this has been coming for a long, long time. The great coaches, as they always do, will find a way to adjust.
Listen to Nick Saban, who has won seven national championships, more than any other coach.
"We're going to adapt to it and make it an advantage for us,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told the Associated Press last week when the new NCAA rule was announced. "I think what's going to happen as you see how often in a lot of leagues, you know the good players go to a good team and the bad players leave good teams because they're not playing. So is that going to make the rich get richer?"
Coaches in the non-power five schools have a concern that they’ll find and develop an unknown player into an elite player by his senior season. Then one of the big boys will come along that needs a veteran player at that position and they’ll snatch him up.
You know what? That’s going to happen. It’s happening now. Players want to perform in the setting that will give them the best opportunity to showcase what they can do for the NFL. If a player feel he needs to move to access that opportunity, he or she should have the freedom to do so.
Until now the rules were set up to allow the schools and the coaches the best opportunity to grow their programs and maintain control of the players.
Now that power has shifted to the players. And it’s not going back.
A couple of years before his death, former SEC Commissioner Mike Slive told me this was coming. His observation was that for most of its existence the guiding force behind the NCAA was trying make rules to maintain some kind of competitive balance.
“In the past it has been what is best for the members,” he told me. “In the future it’s going to be about what is best for the players.”
Now is this going to be difficult in the early going? Sure. So what?
Coaches are going to get caught short at some positions. They’ll have a staff member hitting the “refresh” button on the transfer portal like they were trying to buy Springsteen tickets.
Yes, we know that a bunch of players are going to get stuck in the transfer portal because there is simply no place for them to go. They’ll have to drop down another level in order to play. That comes under the heading of “the breaks of the game.” The hope that after a few years the players will learn the risks AND the rewards of the transfer portal.
**--The same goes for the wringing of hands about the Name, Image and Likeness legislation that is coming somewhere down the road. Is it going to be messy? Sure it is. Right now we have no idea how messy this is going to be. Nobody knows how it is going to work. Will there be some shenanigans once the system is in place?
What do you think?
But just because it’s going to be hard, doesn’t mean college football shouldn't do it. College athletes have earned the right to make money off their name, image or likeness and it’s up to the adults to figure out a way to make it work and the enterprise of college football moving forward.
So let’s tone down the Chicken Little talk. The sky is not falling. In fact the product—the actual game--that college football puts on the field today is the best it has ever been.
All that has to be done now to create a system that is fairer, both competitively and financially, for the students who play the games.
There are a lot of smart people who work in college athletics. They’ll figure it out because, quite frankly, they don’t have a choice.