College football in 2001: a superconference beyond imagination

November 11, 1990|By Ed Sherman | Ed Sherman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — There is little doubt the 1990s will determine the future of college athletics in the United States. A system that has been racked by recruiting scandals, academic hypocrisy, drugs and a financial morass of red ink is in need of an overhaul. NCAA and college reformers are aiming to bring big-time sports in line with the ideals of higher education. But if they fail, the pursuit of victory at all cost and TV's big money could end the pretense of college athletics and bring about a system of professional sports sponsored by the schools. Here's a look at what could happen in college football by 2001.

CHICAGO -- So you're looking for Northwestern? Where ya been?

Northwestern doesn't play in this league anymore. Neither does Duke. Looking for Vanderbilt? You won't find it here. Haven't been here for a few years.

Not since 1998. That was the year a Big Ten team finally won the national championship. Barry Alvarez really did a great job with Wisconsin. They celebrated all night in Madison.

But wouldn't you know it? Just when the Big Ten starts getting good, they go break everything up.

Need a fill? Here's the story.

Welcome to the Knute Rockne League. Welcome to the world of major -- we mean, major -- college football.

For starters, you should know that Penn State won the 1999 Bud Bowl. Notre Dame-CBS was the 2000 Bud Bowl champion, but Notre Dame-NBC is the favorite this year.

Bud Bowl?

Remember those annoying commercials around Super Bowl time? Budweiser decided to expand the concept. Costs them only $50 million a year to be the title sponsor.

Notre Dame-CBS? Notre Dame-NBC?

Wait, we'll explain.

You see, the bowls don't exist anymore. Neither do the conferences, or the Heisman Trophy. For that matter, neither does the idea of football players coming to college and being required to take stuff like English, math and science.

Now the players take courses aimed at their football careers, such as "Introduction to Agents 101" and "Television Interviews 151." The classes, though, are voluntary; the players don't have to attend.

You see, everything has changed. Remember back in 1990, when all the schools started switching conferences, and Notre Dame signed a deal with NBC to televise all of its home games? Well, that was just the start.

The thing kept building and building, and finally the pressure became so intense, the model, as former NCAA boss Dick Schultz liked to call it, just exploded. Kablooey. Talk about a mess.

The crowning blow was when Southern Methodist -- you know, the school that got the "death penalty" -- got caught again for cheating. The players were driving nicer cars than the university president.

Well, it's just as well. The thing never worked, anyway. Talk about hypocrisy. Eight players out of 10 don't even know what it means.

But it doesn't matter anymore. The hypocrisy is gone. Football players now come to universities for one thing and one thing only, to play football. What a unique concept, huh?

Since forever, all the experts have been predicting that a superconference, consisting of college football's elite teams, would be formed. In 1999, it finally happened.

A special convention was held to put the league together. Schools were given the option of joining or bailing out.

Of course, they had to meet certain requirements. Namely, they have to fill their stadiums on a regular basis, make annual trips to bowl games and, in general, just have a winning program.

Naturally, that knocked Northwestern out of the picture. Not that it wanted to join, anyway. Indiana wanted to sign up, but Bob Knight thought it would take away from basketball. Well, guess who wields the power in Bloomington?

You see, this new league has nothing to do with the ideals of higher education, not that the other format did. It doesn't matter now if the players graduate. That's not the school's purpose.

In fact, the football programs aren't even affiliated with the universities anymore. Oh sure, they pay rent for the facilities, and the participating schools still have a device to keep the alumni happy.

But that's about it. The teams are nothing more than professional franchises, just as some suggested they've been all along.

However, there's a difference this time. The players get paid. What a novel idea, huh? No more of the bogus argument that a scholarship was reward enough.

Besides room and board, each player cashes in a minimum of $30,000 per year. The league wants to keep salaries down, so in an effort to restrict massive bidding wars, each school is allowed to hand out three "star salaries." Thus far, Walter Payton's kid, Jarrett, took in the biggest haul at $750,000 per year from Oklahoma. When he signed the contract, some people scoffed that it was only slightly more than Barry Switzer's players were pulling in back in the '70s and '80s.

Who's footing the bill for these salaries? Television, who else?

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