Recently, college football has undergone several drastic changes, including, the start of the player compensation era, the loosening of transfer restrictions, the seemingly endless realignment of institutions, and much more. With each of these changes, decision makers are looking around wondering what to make of this new age college football and asking themselves who exactly can govern all of this?
Well, on Thursday, November 17, athletic department officials within the FBS released a seven-page proposal from the LEAD 1 Association. (LEAD1 is an advocacy group and does not possess any authority to implement its proposal.)
Moreover, according to The Athletic, which has reported that it received the seven-page proposal, officials are pushing for a governance model that includes a chief operating office and an FBS governing board. Id. In addition to the altered governance structure, it is reported that the proposal included feedback from athletic directors who compose the LEAD 1 Association. The proposal is being circulated for comment amongst other athletic directors and then will be sent out to the Division I Board of Directors and the D-I Transformation Committee. Id.
- The NCAA would establish an FBS Football Governing Board, primarily comprised of football-knowledgeable FBS conference appointments, one representative from the American Football Coach Association (AFCA), and four independent appointments, with at least two being former FBS football student-athletes who have graduated in the previous three years. Id.
- The Board would serve as a parallel entity to the NCAA Division I Council. The Board would decide all matters related to FBS football, except for academic, student-athlete financial aid/benefit rules, and decisions deemed to materially impact the NCAA — which would be subject to NCAA Division I Board of Directors oversight. Areas that the Board would cover include: playing rules, health and safety issues, the recruiting calendar and the roster size.
- There would also be a new position created for FBS football — a Chief Operating Officer (COO) with staff, to run the day-to-day operation of the sport and report to the Board. This COO should also be on the NCAA President’s Leadership Team/Cabinet. The role would be similar to that of Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s Senior Vice President of Basketball.
- FBS leadership would remain under the NCAA umbrella due to liability concerns.
As mentioned, college football has undergone numerous fundamental changes in recent months and is in dire need of restructuring. Much of the need for new governance is also driven by the 12-team college football playoff expansion set to start in 2026. Specifically, in September, the College Football Playoff Board of Managers unanimously voted to expand the current 4-team playoff structure to a 12-team format by 2026. The new format will include the six highest-ranked conference champions, along with six at-large teams. Id. Moreover, the four highest tanked conferences champions will be seeded one through four, and each will receive a first-round bye. Id.
In lieu of an eventful offseason, one that included seeing the likes of USC and UCLA separating from the PAC-12 to the BIG TEN, the College Football Playoff Board of Managers determined that there needed to be a better visualization of where college football “needs to be headed.” Now, the College Football Management Committee, which is made up of 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, will be responsible for implementing the Board’s decisions. Specifically, the Management Committee must determine dates for games, broadcast entities, revenue allocations, sites of the 11 playoff games, terms of the agreement and whether or not implementation of the 12-team playoff can be done by the 2024-2025 season. Id.
Moreover, despite the agreement incorporating a 12-team expansion by 2026, there will be financial pressures to expand even earlier. For example, it is estimated that if the playoffs were to expand for the 2024 season, its television rights could increase from $470 million a year to $695 million a year during its last two years under the current contract with ESPN. Moreover, the College Football Playoff will likely be incentivized to preview their product early to maximize the next television deal. According to some executives and consultants, it is anticipated that the next broadcast deal for the College Football Playoff could yield nearly $2 billion in annual television revenue. Id.
If those estimates prove to be true, the College Football Playoff would surpass the NCAA’s March Madness tournament as the largest annual television rights deal in college sports. Id. Currently, the March Madness tournament is expected to average $1.1 billion in television revenue per year beginning later on this decade. Id.
Therefore, the time is now for new governance in college football before it grows out of control.
President of the Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Before law school, I coached college football at the University of Rochester for five seasons. I am excited to take these experiences, along with a legal education to make an impact on the ever-evolving landscape of college athletics. Thanks for reading our posts!