Changes are coming to college football in a big way. The future will be more of the same. It’s all about the money, power and the next great Manning.
College football is about to look a lot different than the sport you know today.
Change is good for the sport, for the players and the fans that love the game. It’s nothing to be afraid of and it’s not going to ruin the game to which you devoted countless Saturdays.
Some of the changes we’ve already seen like a four-team College Football Playoff, rounds of conference realignment and NIL legislation have begun to address some of the biggest issues and problems within the greatest sport in the world. This is just the beginning because college football is about to undergo a series of massive changes.
The future of college football is high school seniors enrolling early for NIL deals
College athletes began to receive financial compensation for their name, image and likeness in 2021. It was a change that was long overdue and finally allowed athletes to be paid for the work they provide and to get a little something back in return for the billions of dollars they generate in revenue.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and Ohio State quarterback Quinn Ewers were big beneficiaries of NIL legislation with both signing deals that saw them become millionaires before even starting a game. That’s going to be the norm in the near future. Five-star recruits, especially five-star quarterbacks are going to be flooded with million-dollar offers at local car dealerships, autograph companies, restaurants and more to be the face of their company. Deals are guaranteed and will last for the three or four years the player is on campus. It’s a great investment for these companies because there is no one who holds as much influence (outside the head coach) in some of these hot-bed college towns as the quarterback at Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, Clemson, etc.
Young and Ewers were trendsetters to get paid before proving they were great quarterbacks. This will now be the norm. Just as it is in the NFL where the quarterbacks are the highest-paid players on the team, college will be no different. And don’t worry about any locker room drama with the backup right guard being jealous of the quarterback making his money. It doesn’t happen in the NFL. They are smart enough to know how the system works, and they’ll make it work for them.
To that end, while the Heisman-caliber quarterbacks will always be the outlier, there will be more deals where the entire team is signed to a NIL deal. BYU had their walk-ons receive their education paid for by a Utah-based company, Built Bar. Michigan State’s entire team received $500 monthly checks with a mortgage lender. Entier offensive lines have been signed by pizza and barbecue places.
The payment will never be equal or standard across the board just as it isn’t at your job or my job or anywhere else in the workforce.
Ewers wasn’t just setting a trend through his NIL deals. The former No. 1 overall recruit is continuing a trend of high school seniors skipping their final prep season to begin their college careers one year early. Ewers wasn’t the first to leave high school early but his decision to do so because he couldn’t cash in on his name, image and likeness in his native Texas is going to guarantee he is not the last. Until every state allows high school students to profit off their name, image and likeness, there will be more recruits like Ewers leaving high school to enroll at their college of choice to get paid.
The future of college football is player empowerment
College football will get younger with more looking to start the clock on their earning power. This is the age of player empowerment when it comes to social justice causes that was sparked in 2020 with players from Justin Fields to Trevor Lawrence to Darien Rencher, among scores of dozens more across sports.
Fields was almost single-handily responsible for saving the Big Ten football season in 2020.
Lawrence and Rencher led student marches at Clemson at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Athletes and their coaches attacked registering to vote like they normally would an opposing team.
Their voices used to be silenced by domineering and intimidating coaches who wanted and needed to be feared and authoritarian.
That’s not the future of college football.
The future of college football is amplifying the voices of college football players. Every voice matters from starting quarterbacks to the bottom of the depth chart.
The future of college football is even more conference realignment
Texas and Texas A&M finally resuming their rivalry as SEC members. BYU playing Cincinnati as a Big 12 conference game. The end of the American Athletic Conference and their “Power Six” motto. The next wave of conference realignment will jumpstart college football in the back half of the decade.
Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC’s is the biggest change.
The moves made in 2021 won’t take effect until 2026 (unless there is some serious money thrown around to get out of the Grant of Rights) but the game of musical chairs is already underway. The Big 12 looked like they would be the one without a chair when the music stopped. After adding BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston they ensured they won’t dissolve while retaining their autonomous status as a Power Five conference. Their moves left the AAC without the three best programs and they’ll now poach the Sun Belt and Conference USA to stay afloat. Former Independent, BYU, was the big fish with a national TV audience that generates viewers.
So what about that other Independent? No, not Liberty. Notre Dame will be coveted by the Big Ten and ACC with the latter having dibs on the Fighting Irish through at least 2036. The future of college football as it relates to Notre Dame will be just like the present and the past. Notre Dame will be an Independent. They value their independence so much they are willing to take in less revenue than if they joined a conference as a full-time member. Money is a driver for so many decisions in college sports (and life) but it’s not the deciding factor for Notre Dame as it is for others.
Maybe in 2035, there will be one 64-team conference but Notre Dame will still be Independent.
The future of college football is an expanded College Football Playoff
From the moment a four-team College Football Playoff was established, it felt like the calls to expand came in the same breath. The only reason the expanded playoff hasn’t happened yet is, you guessed it, money. The TV contract will expire after 2025. That means playoff expansion will take effect in 2026. A 12-team format has been the most popular size, but don’t be surprised if it’s even bigger, with as many as 16 teams giving the sport two more teams than the recently-expanded NFL playoffs and the same number that the NBA and NHL have in their postseasons.
Operating with a 12-team format will allow for each Power 5 conference champion to make the postseason. Guaranteed berths for conference champions have been a touchy subject for some, especially considering the reduced strength of the Big 12 and even the Pac-12 compared to the SEC, for example.
But the expanded field will see the SEC be the biggest beneficiary. The four-team field was to their benefit because they were the only league to see two teams to have two teams in on a single year. A 12-team format could legitimately see five or six SEC teams make the playoff. With Oklahoma and Texas joining Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, that’s six teams that have won national championships this century. Throw in Texas A&M who is recruiting at a national championship-caliber level and has Jimbo Fisher, a former national champion at Florida State, it’s easily the most loaded conference in the history of college athletics.
The 12-team format will bring in more money through TV revenue and while there will be purists crying foul that it goes against the purity of the game and diminishes the regular season, at the end of the day, it’s more football. Who can be mad about more football?
The future of college football is Arch Manning
Arch Manning will be the face of college football when he represents the latest quarterback from the family tree at his college of choice. LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Texas are the front-runners for the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2023. The son of Cooper Manning, the eldest brother of Peyton and Eli and the grandson of Archie, the latest Manning prodigy looks to do what his brothers and grandfather didn’t do: win a Heisman and/or national championship.
He’ll also look to join his uncles as No. 1 picks in the NFL Draft. Manning will be a freshman in 2023 and could be playing his final college season in 2025. By then, Manning will have made more than $1 million in NIL deals, may have already secured a Heisman and national title, but he’ll be looking to secure his legacy as the greatest Manning on the college level.
Archie is revered at Ole Miss and the greater northern Mississippi and New Orleans area, Peyton could run for governor in Tennessee and win in a landslide and Eli carved out his own legacy despite following in his dad’s footsteps with the Rebels. Look for Arch to carve his own path and go to a program where he will have the opportunity to build his own legacy rather than continuing one of his famous uncles.
LSU may be the favorite in 2021 for the Louisiana native but that program is about to go through some changes with the future of Ed Orgeron in question. That’s why the best place is to go to Alabama where he can help Nick Saban bring another title to the Tuscaloosa trophy case.