College football has never been in more dire need of real leadership

A view empty stands inside of Clemson Memorial Stadium (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
A view empty stands inside of Clemson Memorial Stadium (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

For everything good about the sport, one thing college football is lacking is leadership at the top.

College football is the biggest money-maker of all college sports, and it’s not even close. So why is it that an enterprise with so much riding on it for the players, the coaches, and the schools collectively, is so sorely lacking in true leadership?

Don’t misunderstand. Many of the coaches out there are incredible leaders … for their team. Most of the conference commissioners are imminently qualified for their jobs and do what’s best … for their conference.

The NCAA is supposed to be the governing body of college sports. Yet, since the cancellation of March Madness due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard little to nothing from the offices in Indianapolis.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has disappeared and allowed his organization to send out what amounted to “follow if you want to” guidelines for dealing with the pandemic as it pertains to the return of sports — most notably football — in the fall.

Even Paul Finebaum has grown tired of Emmert’s cowering, calling for him to be fired on ESPN’s morning show, Get Up!

“He is a complete, abject failure at leadership. He’s been derelict in his duty, and quite frankly, I think he should be fired.” Finebaum said during the interview segment.

The NCAA is letting the conferences handle their own business and make their own rules. The resulting maelstrom is powerful enough to permanently sink a lot of programs and athletic departments, all due to the lack of a singular voice.

Per Zacks Research, the NCAA topped over $1 billion in revenue in 2019, and college football accounts for $31.9 million on average for a Division 1 school. Men’s basketball is the second-highest-grossing college sport and comes in trailing with a mere $8.1 million.

So taking that average, college football accounts for approximately $415 million worth of the total revenue brought in by NCAA sports.

If a division of my company was responsible for over 30 percent of my revenue, and that revenue was counted in hundreds of millions, you’d best know there would be a competent leader overseeing the day-to-day operations of that division.

Someone like … oh, I don’t know … a commissioner, maybe?

Just throwing a wild notion out there, right?

The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB all have commissioners who are the watchdogs for their respective leagues. Their job isn’t necessarily to run the sport or the league, but rather to act as a broker or a sort of pragmatist when dealing with the operations of the sport.

They huddle up with the owners to get them all on the same page for league business. They are the point man and (supposedly) voice of reason when ownership and labor unions begin to dispute.

And when all behind-closed-doors business is settled on any major affair dealing with the league, they are the voice of the league. The public hears it from them, and the buck stops there.

College football has no such voice. No such pragmatist. No such leader at all.

Lack of real leadership is the worst thing that can happen to college football

The Power-5 conferences declared autonomy in 2015 in part because it was nearly impossible to discuss and resolve business matters. They saw no real leadership so the best available option was to form what would amount to a powerful organization that, in a sense, left each other alone.

The NCAA was so focused on their sideshow witch hunts (because heaven forbid a player generating millions of revenue dollars should make a few hundred selling his or her autographs) and trying to maintain their illusion of protecting the student-athletes to really do what was right — and what they were charged with when the organization was formed.

Members of the media, such as FOX Sports Tim Brando, have been saying for some time that a college football commissioner was badly needed to keep the sport going in the right direction. Speaking to TIDE 100.9 in Alabama, Brando said in 2016:

"“We need one voice. We need stability and we need uniformity in governance so that when penalties are being doled out, either because of problems on the field or off the field, they need to be consistently dealt with. And that means we need a commissioner in college football.”"

And how right he was.

Because now we have a problem, a big problem, both on and off the field, and the Power-5 conferences are making up the rules as they go, with no consistency or thought to how the rest of the sport will be affected.

With conferences like the Pac-12 and Big Ten canceling all non-conference games, the ripple effect has been tremendous. Schools are scrambling to find new opponents or to alter their own schedules. FCS schools are trying to reshuffle budgets faced with huge income losses due to those games. Smaller conferences are just throwing in the towel and canceling all fall sports including football.

And where is the leadership? Where is the calming voice? Where is the point-person bringing all these powerful leaders together to come up with a plan that is best for everyone, especially the players.

It’s non-existent. Don’t look towards Mark Emmert’s office, because you’d be in for a long wait.

Now, more than ever, college football needs that guiding hand. The sport needs a competent, analytical, and compassionate leader to bring the sport out of its current chaotic state. It’s the wild west out there, and college football needs a Wyatt Earp-like figure to ride in and stop the madness.

A $30+ million industry, with no one at the top. It seems incomprehensible. And now the sport is paying the price for not having the foresight to have such a person in charge.

We could have had a college football season this year, even with the ongoing pandemic. Had their been real leadership over the sport who began to map out a plan of action from the very beginning, taking into account all the possible outcomes of the virus, the season could have been saved.

Shortened season? Maybe, but still a season.

Right now, even that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. College football fans suffer. Businesses and employees who depend on college football for revenue suffer. But most importantly, the players suffer.

Yet the big-name coaches and commissioners who seem more than willing to let things twist in the wind keep cashing those checks.

Bravo, gentlemen.

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