I feel like I have already seen the future of college athletics and I am not sure it resembles anything we have known previously. Here is what I see.
I know not all of this will happen. Think of this as a catalyst to provoke more discussion.
First, some college athletes are going to be contracted employees paid by the university. They will be required to remain eligible as a student in that contract. After their NLI is signed, an employment contract will be signed. It will be a four-year contract with a two year opt out. This contract will limit the Wild West free agency that occurs now but also have provisions where an athlete will be allowed to leave after two years and contract with another school. Theoretically, a player could have eligibility at three schools or stay at one school their entire college career.
Freshman/ Sophomore NLI commitment
A mid eligibility option to sign a new "NLI"
If a player redshirted for a season, they can choose a third institution IF they have graduated.
Graduate year football participation
A union structure may be established also to facilitate player rights and governance. This would affect the contractor status, however. If unionized, CBA structures would be needed to facilitate the legality of this system. I could see a conference having a CBA with the athletes in that conference. Different conferences might be unionized (B1G) and others contractor (SEC).
Many of the legal issues the NCAA has deals with the fact that they just refuse to make the players employees.
Here is another revolutionary thought on the subject of employment. What if Universities decided to make which athletes these contract employees? They get no scholarships and no school or collective facilitated NIL; they get PAID. An athletics program might define this for football players, men's and women's basketball players, and maybe baseball. Some might do lacrosse, volleyball, and gymnastics. A university athletics program decides who are contract employees and who are scholarship athletes. Maybe teams have both scholarship players, and a few are actually employed.
I wonder if a structure like this with football players having contract employee status impacts Title IX enforcement. I honestly do not know. I do think it will be litigated when we get to that point.
Employee athletes are just like any American. If you can get endorsements for who you are- think Arch Manning- do it- on your own.
Everything I am about to describe will be in the NLI and contract employment contract that must be signed to be paid. Players have the right to not sign an employment contract but will not be paid by the university.
The early high school NSD will move to July with protection for students that allows them to change in February. If a program fires its head coach or if it fires both the coordinator and position coach, high school seniors that signed in the previous June are released from their NLI and contract if THEY WANT TO and can sign in late NSD in February. Schools cannot force students who have signed NLI and Contracts to change. Intuitions that fire their head coach face the consequence of losing the early NSD signees.
Fixing the calendar- FBS Level Programs
I described how I would fix the calendar here. Click on the pic here.
The College Athletics Structure - Football and Non-Football
I believe we stand at beginning of a massive realignment of college programs and how they view sports. The signs are all around us. The president of the NCAA gave you a glimpse, but I think he incorrectly placed the NCAA at the heart of governance. Florida State is warning us that this timing is sooner than most think. The PAC 12 breakup is just the first major conference to implode. It won't be the last.
College Sports needs separate models for Football than the other sports. Eliminate the need in your mind for the current conference model where the university are grouped together and play against those same universities in all sports. Universities will have one conference for Football and a very different conference structure for non-revenue sports.
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Another Class for College Football
Charlie Baker, the President of the NCAA, on 12/19/23 proposed a new subdivision within Division 1 football. I think this puts us in the right paradigm for this discussion.
Football, WILL have a new structure. There are 25-50 programs that will operate as essentially semi-pro entities in two SUPER CLASS Conferences. We may be years away from having clarity where the line gets drawn for that top class of college football. Most of the SEC, at least half of the B1G, the top schools in the ACC, and a few others I think will make up that Super Class. This could be triggered when a few less rabid member institutions in the B1G and SEC express they are not willing to follow the employee athlete mode.
This class will operate differently from what we are used to. Depending on the number that are brought into this Super Class, the rest of college football will align differently as well. Conferences will be different for college football and other sports.
Media rights for the Super Class will be extremely high. The B1G Media rights deal expires in after the 2029-2030 season. The SEC Media rights deal expires after the 2033-2034 season. I expect since most of the SEC will go to Super Class that the SEC Deal will be amended, and it will take effect for the 2030-2031 seasons.
A Regional Model for all other Sports
The current conference alignment is going to expose that the model we have today will not work. It is vastly different for the football team at Washington to travel to Rutgers for a game and have a week before they have to compete again than it is for many of the other sports that we play multiple contests per week. The coast-to-coast conferences are not going to last long for the other sports. The media rights losses conference institutions incur as the mega conferences unwind for the other sports will be offset by lower travel costs and regional linear and streaming media rights deals.
For the non-football sports, universities will set up regional groups that may blend institutions we think of as autonomous schools, group of five schools, and even FCS schools. Imagine Texas playing almost all of their non-football contests in the state of Texas and Oklahoma.
Basketball (both men's and women's) and baseball may have more of a hybrid conference affiliation between what we will know in 2024 and these hyper regional models for the lower visibility sports.
I think we are headed to a world where the overall tone of college sports for the different sports will be different.
Football will function in almost semipro model in a Super Class
Many Olympic sports will operate more in line with how FCS sports operate now. Lower cost and visibility will be the norm in these sports.
Basketball may operate in a hybrid model. I think Basketball and Baseball will more closely resemble what we have today except perhaps in pre-2023 conference alignments.
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