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Shatel: Kick NCAA out of football? Super league could work here where European model failed
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Shatel: Kick NCAA out of football? Super league could work here where European model failed

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Marvin Scott III

More schools have become disillusioned with the NCAA, which has lacked focus and never looked weaker. Tom Shatel takes a look at how a super college football conference could help schools break away. Above, Nebraska's Marvin Scott III runs a drill during a spring open practice.

college-sports, machian Nebraska

It seems realignment is an American sport.

The Super League of 15 elite European soccer clubs has fallen apart. Before it even started. Was Rob Manfred in charge?

Protests ranging from the British prime minister and Prince William to the working man at the corner pub doused the plans of separating the most rich and powerful teams from everyone else.

On this side of the pond, we call that the SEC and Big Ten.

Actually, the super league idea got several national college writers thinking here in spring’s silly season about what a super league in college football would look like.

They all came up with 15 names, selecting them according to revenue potential, brand name and what-have-you-won-for-me-lately.

Nebraska made a couple of those lists but was left off of several others. The past two decades apparently count.

No worries. Nebraska ranked as the 10th-richest athletic department in 2019. When the Huskers learn how to win again, they’ll make the fantasy mock super league cut.

Anyway, 15 is the wrong number. Imagine the elite 15 just playing each other. That’s a lot of high-paid coaches going 8-4 or 7-5. Nick Saban would never approve.

At least they’d all make the 15-team playoff.

There’s a better idea, and number, for a super college football conference.

And I believe it has a chance to happen in the next round of realignment.

That number is 64. The sum total of four 16-team conferences.

First, the beauty of this number is that, unlike 15, it is less exclusionary and less apt to upset the balance and the fans, rich and poor, of the sport.

There are 64 schools in the five Power Five conferences, which play a different game with different size chips on the table than everyone else in Division I football. Add Notre Dame, because the Irish will want access to the playoff, and that’s 65.

Somebody will have to go. We’ll deal with that in a minute.

The appeal of this is to group all of the “like” schools in one big pool.

They would have their own rules. Their own TV contract. Their own championship.

This is hardly original. This is the College Football Association, taken out of a time capsule.

The CFA was formed in 1977. Back then, the NCAA had a stranglehold on college football, including TV. There were one or two games televised each Saturday. Schools were limited to how many appearances they could make each season.

Greed, of course, took over.

The CFA, founded by former Big Eight Commissioner Chuck Neinas, was formed to help the top 63 Division I schools fight the NCAA for TV rights and revenue.

The organization had an annual convention in Dallas, and football coaches and athletic directors would attend and discuss how to do things better than the NCAA.

In 1984, two CFA schools — Oklahoma and Georgia — took the NCAA to the Supreme Court over control of TV, and won.

The floodgates of TV revenue and games opened. The CFA had its own TV contract with ABC, until Notre Dame broke away and went to NBC. And the SEC and Big East went to CBS.

That was the beginning of the end of the CFA. But the atmosphere is right again for a return to something similar.

The Power Five already run the playoff. More and more schools have become disillusioned with the NCAA, which has lacked focus and never looked weaker.

Issues like the transfer portal and name, image and likeness set the stage for the most powerful football schools to control their fate.

For instance, many of the bigger football schools may want to offer athletes a stipend or other benefits with NIL that smaller schools couldn’t afford. The little guy would fight that.

When the next TV contracts get renegotiated in a few years, the time might be right to split college football into the ultimate Haves and Have Nots.

The Super 64. But how would it work?

Divide the 64 into four conferences or divisions. Most would be based on geography.

I envision four commissioners or directors choosing their 16 teams, like captains on a playground. Would Texas go with Alabama and Clemson? Would some schools, like Vanderbilt, get left out? Would a Boise State or San Diego State be in?

A quick disclaimer: This Super 64 is football only.

Basketball and the other sports could break into any conference alignment they chose. The smart move would be to base it on geography and bus rides, so Nebraska baseball isn’t flying to Penn State.

For those sports, you could have leagues like the Big Eight and Southwest Conference again.

Also, the NCAA would have control over those sports and run those championships.

But the NCAA would not be part of big-time football. It barely is a part of it now.

The Super 64 would have to create an organization, rules, an enforcement arm (good luck), etc.

Splitting the revenue pie wouldn’t be easy for SEC or Big Ten schools. But the expanded playoff will help.

Having control of their football fate away from the NCAA — what the football schools have wanted for years — will seal the deal.

Crazy? Not at all.

In college football, the rich usually get what they want.


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