The year 2032. The Gophers football team plays a Big Twenty Conference match in Washington in mid-October on a broadcast channel that has yet to be invented.
The players on the field are salaried employees of a billion dollar organization. Quarterback Tanner Morgan, a top scammer in his 16th season, promotes to a local auto dealer during commercial breaks. Astronauts settle on Mars to watch the match.
Just a little bit.
Morgan wouldn’t still be a quarterback. the rest? Don’t rule out any scenario in the fast-changing world of college sports.
To look into the future and visualize how college football could look and function a decade from now, it is constructive to look back in time 10 years ago.
In 2012, Big Ten called its divisions “Legends” and “Leaders” After increasing its membership to 12 a year ago with the arrival of Nebraska.
Maryland resided at ACC, Rutgers Great East. The BCS was the sport’s flawed mechanism in determining a national champion.
Name, picture and similarity? Not even close. The NCAA prohibited schools from providing athletes with bread topped with cream cheese at the time.
Transfer gate? no. Coaches had the ability to restrict where a transfer player could score next. Athletes who moved were required to go out for the competition season.
This image seems unrecognizable today, given the transformation that has taken place in recent years. Now try to visualize 10 years in the future, realizing how the unrestrained conference delegates suddenly feel to reimagine the college football landscape.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren hasn’t hidden his intentions of taking his league count to 20, which means the SEC will almost certainly do the same because neither conference wants to go an inch behind the other in their pursuit of world domination.
Twenty schools will allow the Big Ten to form four divisions of five teams. In this model, the conference could host its own mini-tournament, with the winner from each division progressing to the semi-finals, followed by a championship match. Cha Ching.
The reorganization became a game of hungry hippos with the Big Ten and the SEC devouring schools from other conferences, leaving the fate of those tournaments uncertain.
Pac-12 is particularly vulnerable after the loss of leading members USC and UCLA. There was talk of a Pac-12 and Big 12 merging, but discussions stalled in July, according to ESPN.
Consolidation is inevitable among the second-tier Power Five conferences to avoid the gap between them and the Big Ten/SEC getting wider than it is now. The impact of TV and media rights revenue has boosted the cannibal nature of college sports. Nobody wants to be left outside looking inside.
What will emerge are hyper-conferences that are geographically meaningless by conventional thinking but meet new goals of having broad footprints and new television markets. Three, maybe four leagues that will dominate everything, especially the playoffs.
By 2032, college football will host a full playoff with at least 12, possibly 16 teams, a real slice guaranteed to deliver record ratings, which will pump more TV revenue into the coffers.
I’ve always feared that an extended playoff would harm the regular season of college football by stripping away some of the weekly drama and tension that makes the sport so endearing. In fact, a larger playoff would have the opposite effect. Placing more teams in search of a break will add excitement and fan engagement in more markets.
Although the super conferences will use a powerful sledgehammer, it would be wise to include automatic qualifiers for the conference champions (however appropriate) as this will provide wider access to the qualifiers, which should be the goal.
Who do you know? Perhaps Nick Saban will still win the National Championships in Alabama a decade from now. Do not bet on it. Almost everything else is subject to change.
There is a seismic shift underway in college athletics, and football is driving it. It looks like the Big Ten is destined to grow to twice the size of its name. The scramble will trample tradition and mathematics.