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Woelk: It's Time For Centralized Leadership In College Football

Aug 13, 2020

BOULDER — When it comes to college football, if there is anything we have learned over the last week — actually, over the course of the summer — the lesson is this:

The sport needs a singular voice. One room, one entity, — heck, one person — from which/whom directives and rules will emanate.

Not guidelines. Not suggestions. Not recommendations or advice — and definitely not, "Well, we're going to leave it up to the conferences to decide how they want to proceed."

But rules and regulations that are enforced. "Here is what the conferences are going to do. Period."

NCAA basketball has such a person. Dan Gavitt, the NCAA Senior VP for basketball, sets down the law. Of course Gavittt receives suggestions, discusses issues and listens to stakeholders. He is a leader.

But when the rubber hits the road, he's the man behind the wheel — and every NCAA basketball member follows that same road.

But college football has no such person or leadership group — and while it has stumbled along reasonably well over the years, we have seen this summer what happens in a time of crisis.

Everyone for themselves and chaos as the end result.

In case you haven't noticed, the state of major college football looks like this:

Of the Autonomous Five conferences (widely known as the Power Five), two have opted not to play football this fall. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have both decided to wait until the spring because of circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Several Group of Five conferences, including the Mountain West, have done the same.

Meanwhile, the remaining three Power Five conferences — the SEC, ACC and Big 12 — have opted to continue planning for a fall season. 

As of today, 54 of the 130 FBS programs so far have announced  they won't be playing this fall.

Sound crazy? No doubt. Can you imagine March Madness without more than 40 percent of the eligible teams? Of course not, because it couldn't happen. Basketball has centralized leadership.

Football, though, is a different animal. While the NCAA can offer guidelines and suggestions, there is no centralized decision-making group that governs the conferences.

Thus, when the leaders of the respective Power Five conferences reach a decision, there is no guarantee that all — or any — of the others will follow suit. When those decisions are made in a time of crisis, when the only good solution would be for every league to move in lockstep, it instead results in a massive, jumbled mess.

And that's exactly where we are today. Conference-only schedules. Conference plus-one schedules. Covid testing every three days; covid testing every other day. MRIs for some; suggested in others. Some teams already in their fall camps; some waiting to begin — and some contemplating the rather dreary prospect of having spring ball in the fall.

Then, while there may indeed be a "national champion" crowned this year, it will be without a long list of traditional powerhouses having even set foot on the field. It will be similar to an NCAA Basketball Tournament without Duke, Kentucky, Arizona or Kansas even dribbling.

That is why it is time — long past time, actually — to have centralized leadership for college football. 

Colorado Athletic Director Rick George touched on the topic Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. 

"Somehow, we've got to get football together nationally where we're speaking from one voice and we have one direction," George said. "We don't have that. I'm not being critical of anybody, I'm just telling you we need to do that. I've said it before and I'm very confident in saying that again today."

George made it clear that he wasn't speaking for anyone else. He didn't suggest that any of his peers were of the same mind. But his thoughts on the topic were clear.

"I certainly think this would be a time for us to figure out one vioice for college football and what that looks like," he said. "Dan Gavitt with men's basketball does an amazing job with the NCAA … It's something that's necessary. Everybody's thinking different things but that doesn't work when you're faced with really difficult decisions and challenges. Just my humble opinion."

There would be plenty of other benefits of such centralized leadership that would manifest themselves even without a crisis to face. It could be the beginning of a path toward collective bargaining with all conferences working toward the same financial goal. As the movement for paying athletes grows, such bargaining would be invaluable — and not just for football. Entire athletic departments at every level could reap benefits.

Centralized leadership might also slow or at least regulate realignment. The benefit here would be the preservation of historic rivalries, those games that are a foundational building block of the game.

And, dare we say it, such leadership would be a wonderful stepping stone to the inevitable — the expansion of the FBS playoff system.

While George made it clear he was speaking only for himself, guaranteed he isn't a lone voice in the wilderness. Guaranteed, there are ADs across the nation who believe the same thing — as well as folks in the College Football Playoff offices.

(Speaking of the CFP folks, that might be a good place to start looking for centralized leadership. CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock once sat in Gavitt's chair with the NCAA and did a wonderful job. Find someone with Hancock's acumen to run the show and it would be a smooth operation from the start. Or, look for someone like a Steve Hatchell, currently head of the National Football Foundation and longtime college football exec. The people are there ...)

But this isn't a lobbying effort for any particular man or even a particular group.

It's simply a call for common sense.

College football needs — desperately — centralized leadership.

That's a lesson that has been painfully imparted this summer.