This is Part 2 of the FOG Roundtable on The Business of College Football. Here’s Part 1.
Steve Berkowitz, Sports Projects Reporter, USA TODAY
Ilan Ben-Hanan, Vice President, Programming and Acquisitions, ESPN
Daryl Dunn, CEO & General Manager, Rose Bowl Operating Company
Neal Pilson, former president, CBS Sports, and founder, Pilson Communications
What concerns do you have about the College Football Playoff system?
SB: A lot depends on whether, and by how many teams, it expands – and how that would be built into college football’s general setup. It’s already close to becoming a major incursion on the beginning of spring semester classes, depending on the academic calendars of the schools that reach the final. At what point does the season simply become too long for the players and never allow them a chance to recover physically and mentally before resuming their academics and the cycle of training for the next season? If the playoff is expanded, it seems unlikely that the regular season is going to be reduced. Does that it mean it would start even earlier for the players? Would offseason demands on the players be reduced? And from a purely business standpoint, is there a point at which the regular season starts to become less meaningful, with all of the attendant problems that could cause?
IBH: Fans have been clamoring for improved non-conference schedules for a long time now. If the Selection Committee rewards teams who challenge themselves in non-conference play, schools will quickly get the message, the quality of non-conference play will go up, and the sport will be better for it.
DD: A few years ago I was fortunate to be at a dinner with some of the most powerful people in college football and the consensus around the table was, “whatever the playoff system becomes, the regular season games need to count.” If the playoffs expand well beyond four teams, there is a significant risk that the regular season games won’t mean as much as they do today, which could have an adverse effect on attendance for the regular season, conference championship games and bowl games. This year we have not seen a decrease in the significance of the regular season, but if the playoff expands it could happen. Imagine three rounds of a playoff for a team, meaning three straight weeks of travel and expenses which could be a hardship for fans. In addition, the premier bowl games have become a fabric of the sport of college football and the integrity of the bowls should be retained.
NP: I don’t think it will affect regular season games, but eventually I think it should expand to eight teams playing over three weekends in order to get increased popular support.
How do you see the recent O’Bannon case ruling affecting college football in the upcoming years?
SB: It seems pretty clear that the case – no matter how it turns out — has been a factor in the “Power Five” schools interest in increasing the value of a scholarship so it covers the actual cost of attendance and their willingness to offer multi-year scholarships. And there’s no question this is going to start making football an increasingly difficult competitive and/or financial proposition for FBS schools outside the “Power Five.” If the plaintiffs ultimately prevail and deferred pay for use of the players’ names and likenesses becomes a piece of the puzzle, these difficulties seem likely to become even more acute. But given schools’ apparent commitment to doing what they think they have to do to remain competitive, the changes in college football may mostly revolve around changes designed to generate even more revenue from the sport.
IBH: The decision speaks to the relationship between the student-athletes and their schools and does not disrupt any of our broadcast rights.
DD: The O’Bannon case may ultimately alter the landscape of college sports but there are many legal hurdles ahead before any of us can fully recognize the impact of the ruling. Unlike the professional leagues, at the collegiate level, the coaches are often the stars and more marketable than the players. College football programs do not need to have the players be the face of their programs. Most fans have a better knowledge and awareness of the coaches of some of the programs (e.g. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer), rather than the individual athletes. Time will tell.
NP: The ruling was that a $5,000 cost of attendance stipend payable to the players from TV revenues would not be unreasonable or an anti-trust violation. That will mostly affect the Power-5 conferences, since the remaining Division I schools do not generate sufficient TV income in order to afford the stipend.