College football has come a long way throughout its history. The game that predates the professional game has seen a number of innovations and advancements since the day when Rutgers and Princeton got together to play a brand new game. The technology in the game has advanced to levels that would confuse and perhaps scare those who played the game with or without a leather helmet. Today college football has emerged as the second most popular sport in the United States, trailing only the NFL in terms of widespread popularity. We know where football has been and where it stands today, but what will it be like in the year 2030?
Together with Awful Announcing and This Given Sunday, Crystal Ball Run is helping to get a glimpse at the future of the sport of football form all angles. All week long we will be focusing on what's next for football at the college and pro levels and beyond. Our week-long features kick off with a look at the college game and will continue tomorrow with our first look at the NFL's future on This Given Sunday while Awful Announcing will keep tabs on how the game will be covered.
Today we have put together a top-notch panel of college football experts from a variety of outlets. Our panel includes:
Bruce Feldman, CBSSports.com college football columnist and co-author of Swing Your Sword
Gerry DiNardo, Big Ten Network analyst and former coach at Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana
Bryan Fischer, Pac 12 Network
Ty Duffy, The Big Lead senior writer leading the site's college football coverage
Ramzy Nasrallah, Eleven Warriors staff writer covering Ohio State football
Aaron Torres, co-managing editor of Crystal Ball Run and staff writer for Fox Sports Live
Our coverage begins with a look at the fractured state of the NCAA. Is the organization beyond repair or can it be saved? What concerns face the future of the NCAA and college football? How close are we to an actual split from the largest governing body of collegiate athletics.
Has conference membership to the NCAA changed or are the power conferences still under the NCAA banner?
Bruce Feldman: Yes, I think it will have changed and major college football will break away from the NCAA banner as we know it now. The people at the top of the food chain are tiring from the smaller programs having (too much) say on how they operate, esp. when they are the ones generating the bulk of the money. The “level playing field” myth will eventually get tossed aside.
Gerry DiNardo: As all organizations this size there has been some change but the power conferences are still members but the legislative process has changed. The voting process now allows the power conferences to make changes that only impact their schools without the approval of the non-power conferences.
Ty Duffy: The major conferences will have autonomy, whether that’s under a nominal NCAA banner or not. The tensions and unworkability of the present model are already apparent. The need for flexibility with upcoming crises will become worse.
Bryan Fischer: The power conferences are still under the NCAA banner but they have their own subdivision, rules and processes.
Ramzy Nasrallah: There are no defections by 2030, but the divisional hierarchy has evolved to split the current FBS into two tiers. The NCAA will provide a framework for player compensation that varies based on the tier.
How has the total value of a scholarship changed or evolved? Are players receiving any more compensation than what they currently receive? Is it just football players and where would additional compensation come from?
Fischer: Compensation would be more than it is now. A full scholarship would cover cost of attendance and any/all related expenses related to going to school. All athletes would get a stipend. Prominent football/basketball athletes that are used for marketing purposes would get a percentage cut placed into a trust that they can have access to upon graduation.
DiNardo: The total value of the scholarship now includes the cost of education meaning other costs other than room, board, tuition, fees and other things that have been traditionally included in grants and aids. The power conferences have given each school the authority to apply this to any sports they choose.
Nasrallah: Four-year scholarships are granted from the outset. Full-cost scholarships are granted beginning with academic sophomores in good standing. Player compensation kicks in for juniors. Seniors are granted greater flexibility around insurance coverage, job placement and benefiting from their own likeness. They’ll also get a raise.
Feldman: I think it will end up shifting in the next decade to account for revenue sports being compensated in before a larger shift takes place.
Duffy: There will be a broad settlement to the O’Bannon case. All student-athletes will receive a cost of attendance stipend. Players will be able to have representation and earn income off the field. There will be some work around (a la coach TV contracts) to distribute extra money to college football and basketball players.
Does the NCAA still exist as it does now? How/when did it change? Is it regarded any better than it is now by the public?
Feldman: I think the NCAA will exist but it’ll be more controlling of non-revenue sports and smaller schools.
Nasrallah: We’ll still be cracking jokes about how inconsistent, inept and corrupt the NCAA is in 2030, and those jokes will still be funny, maddening and true.
Duffy: The NCAA still exists but with a much smaller mandate. The end of amateurism renders its enforcement arm redundant.
Fischer: It does in some form or fashion, especially at the lower levels. It changes structurally but not fundamentally and, once they outsource various functions like enforcement, they’ll be better received by the public.
DiNardo: It does still exist with the biggest change being the answer to number one. It changed the most in 2014 – 15. The public perception changed with a change in leadership that did the best job in the NCAA history of communicating. The narrative changed with the new leadership and it was a narrative that did a better job than in the past of explaining the issues.
Has the improvement of the home watching experience harmed attendance? What will the game day atmosphere be at a typical college football game in 2030?
Aaron Torres: We’ve already seen the effects of this, and I think it’ll only get worse as time goes on.
Now, do I think that every school will be playing in front of crowds of 5,000 every weekend? Hardly. Like all entertainment outlets (which sports ultimately are), the top teams, programs, rivalries and games will continue to draw. The Iron Bowl will always draw well. Games featuring Top 10 teams will always draw well. If Alabama, LSU, Ohio State or Florida is No. 1 in the country, they’ll always fill the house. My concern is for everyone else, and everything that isn’t considered “marquee.” It’s something that we’re already seeing the effects of, and it’s not even necessarily at second and third tier schools. Remember it was just a few weeks ago that Nick Saban banned certain social groups from Bryant-Denny Stadium for leaving games early. Last year we saw crowds at Tennessee dwindle to 65,000 and 70,000, which seems like a lot, until you remember that the place holds 110,000 people.
Simply put, people are more hesitant to spend their free time or discretionary income on anything that might not deliver. And unfortunately college football- like all sports- is one of those places.
Nasrallah: Seventeen years ago during any given home Saturday in Columbus there were half a million people on campus for the game. Ohio Stadium barely held about a fifth of that; it now holds a little more than that. Campus is as crowded as ever. It just goes to show that game day traffic still isn’t a deterrent to tailgating.
Seventeen years later we have seen the continued corporatization of college football game days: Ticket prices increasing at a logarithmic pace are gobbled up by a sliver of fans who can actually afford them, plus businesses who use them with clientele. Lousy opponents (see: the majority of visitors to Ohio Stadium this season) send stacks of tickets to the secondary market, where they’re bought and sold at a loss, though not to the university.
Seventeen years from now you’ll see more corporate influence in the experience. I would be stunned if liquor licenses weren’t pervasive in campus stadiums. Expect more non-revenue sports to exploit crowds with before/after tilts scheduled for Saturdays. The game itself will be even more transparently used as a vehicle for a profit agenda for both the university and its corporate partners.
Basically, in 2030 expect the game experience to be even more expensive, sterile and scripted. Somehow we still won’t have flying cars and parking will still suck.
Fischer: Home watching has significantly dampened attendance at stadiums across the country. There will still be people tailgating at Death Valley and flashing the ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ gesture in Austin but there will be plenty of people doing the same virtually. Most fans can probably pay to have access to a virtual seat that makes them feel like they’re in the stadium as the team plays.
Duffy: Improvement of the home watching experience, more entertainment options and a preponderance of redundant home games have harmed the game day atmosphere. Teams will be forced to adjust their scheduling tactics to attract fans.
Feldman: Yes, I think the home watching experience will continue to improve while increased concerns/fears about fan safety and comfort while keep many fans from attending games. I feel like that’s already happening to some degree and it’s only going to grow with more social media highlighting issues of fan violence and crude behavior deterring families.
DiNardo: Attendance has been hurt by the watching experience at home. The XFL Bubba Cam has been introduced as not only a revenue stream but as an enhanced game day experience. The Bubba Cam is a camera on the field hand held that stays on the field except during the play. At any time the Bubba Cam footage can be projected on the stadium score board.
Imagine this; Urban Meyer calls time out. Braxton Miller comes to the sideline to talk to him, Bubba Cam is right there broadcasting the conversation on the stadium scoreboard in silence of course brought to you by a sponsor of course with the “DiNardo Pasta” logo in the bottom right hand corner.
College football seasons were extended from 11 regular season games to 12 officially in 2006. How long is the regular season in 2030 and how has scheduling changed?
Feldman: My guess is it won’t shrink any more because of the money schools can make from TV rights although pressure from media will prevent programs from increasing it to the length of an NFL schedule.
Nasrallah: The base schedules will still feature 12 games. Conference championships will provide another while the 8-team playoff will add three more. The bowl season will provide a last hurrah for programs who scheduled their way to six wins. None of college football’s profiteers are going to cede anything here - not in 17 years and not as long as there is college football.
Duffy: I think there is at least one more regular season game. Conference schedules are longer. Conferences have scheduling agreements like what the B1G and Pac 12 tried to do to ensure better schedules.
DiNardo: They add one more game in 2020 after the safety issue has been addressed in more detail.
Fischer: I think it will eventually get to 16 for the final two teams with an expanded playoff, similar to how it is in some high school ranks and the NFL. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that we’d get expanded scholarship numbers as a result. Scheduling is mostly centered on your superconference schedule but there’s some high profile games early and late in the season. Then you’ll have conference championship games, quarterfinals, semifinals and a final national title game.
Torres: Frankly I don’t know that this will change, but unfortunately it won’t be because the college presidents, Athletic Directors and conference commissioners will somehow have some weird moral change of heart. Nope, I still think we’ll have 12 regular season games, but I do see a scenario where teams could be playing 15 or 16 games every season with the addition of another round or two in the playoff. We’ve already seen what kind of money a four-team playoff can produce and as my friends at Awful Announcing can tell you, the cost of televising live sporting events is only going to continue to climb, meaning that eventually this playoff will expand.
Is there be an alternative available to football players, one that provides better financial gain and fortune while playing, perhaps in preparation for a shot at the NFL?
Fischer: I think so. I’m pretty surprised there’s not already. The one thing I keep thinking about football however is it’s not like basketball. A high schooler may be ready physically to jump to the NBA but it’s very different in football for most. Sure, Adrian Petersen or Jadeveon Clowney might have been able to make the jump but the number of players are few and far between. I’m sure there will be an alternative but it will have to be figured out how to make sure it’s not men against boys.
Feldman: Maybe a few more players may route through the CFL but I don’t see any real alternative springing up as a minor league route.
Duffy: No. There’s too much money involved in college football. Amateurism is not worth preserving. The NFL has zero interest in creating a workaround.
Nasrallah: Fame and fortune? Not as long as the NFL enjoys its legalized monopoly over professional football. Viable employment for aspiring players that provide merely income and opportunity will continue to be the smaller leagues with modest audiences, or moving boxes from loading docks onto UPS or FedEx trucks. This will remain unchanged in 2030.
Torres: Simply put, no.
How has NCAA enforcement changed? Has progress made to level the playing field or are scandals still rampant?
Fischer: Two things on this front and I would wager they happen sooner rather than later. First, enforcement as a process will likely be outsourced. This would include both the investigative process and the sentencing process. I’d imagine we’d have this around for several decades once 2030 rolls around. Second, something that is already begun will continue to accelerate and that’s people recognizing there’s no level playing field. It’s different at Texas, USC, Ohio State, etc. than it is at North Texas, Fresno State and Miami (OH). The gaps may grow wider from the haves/have nots unless an Uncle Phil (i.e. Phil Knight at Oregon) intervenes but people will understand and have less objection to it than they do now.
DiNardo: Enforcement changes in regard to staff size. They become better staffed and is headed up by a person who has had extensive background in this type of activity. It moves from a mom and pop arm of the NCAA to a very sophisticated unit inside the NCAA. CIA and FBI type of units.
Feldman: My guess is the NCAA will outsource enforcement and will change its methods of punishment (diminish) so it doesn’t limit scholarship access and instead try and punish those who break rules not the places where they worked when they did it as much.
Duffy: The end of amateurism changes the mandate for the NCAA. It refocuses on safety and other issues.
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART I: THE STATE OF THE NCAA (CRYSTAL BALL RUN)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART II: COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREDICTIONS (CRYSTAL BALL RUN)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, Part III: THE STATE OF THE NFL (THIS GIVEN SUNDAY)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART IV: NFL PREDICTIONS (THIS GIVEN SUNDAY)
FOOTBALL IN 2030, PART V: INNOVATIONS TO MEDIA COVERAGE (AWFUL ANNOUNCING)
1: There is a football-only system of promotion and relegation, with each level having its own rules, allowing the old conferences to apply only to the other sports and a more dynamic scale of restrictions on each level. Okay, that's just my wishful thinking. More realistically, I think the biggest schools separate the biggest programs in each sport from their direct support, at most "taxing" them to give back to the university, allowing them to operate more like professional teams while allowing the NCAA to get back to amateurism much more while still retaining the biggest colleges. Most athletic departments don't even pay for themselves, and I think with rising tuition, there will be an increased movement to recognize the lucrative ones as the wholly non-academic enterprises that they are.
2: One of three things will happen: either there is a large-scale restructuring of the revenue sports at both the school and NCAA level (like that described above) to attempt to escape Title IX and other restrictions that would force them to pay players in non-revenue sports, schools will just buck up and pay players in non-revenue sports, or the NFL and NBA will have robust player-development systems for players right out of high school, the sports cable bubble will burst and take with it conferences' various money trains, and college sports goes back to something closer to the pre-ESPN ideal.
3: See answers to first two questions.
4: The biggest programs will never need to worry about attendance because of the passion they inflame in their fans, a passion that is in part specifically about your own contribution to the gameday atmosphere. Smaller programs will have a lot fewer games on traditional TV, replaced by webcasts, and there will be a lot less promise of breaking into the big time anyway, so they'll be less affected. The problem could come with the mid-size programs that could find themselves having to sink or swim.
6: See answer to question 2. The reason the NFL doesn't support a developmental league right now is because it likes getting one for free from the NCAA, and the NCAA is too busy counting the money its schools receive from so many sources to care enough about amateurism to pressure the NFL to change it - especially since it is the popularity of college football, which is independent of the quality of the players, that makes it so lucrative. The bursting of the sports cable bubble (which I'd be shocked if it doesn't happen by 2030) should result in the bottom falling out of the money train and a return to something closer to pre-ESPN economics; college football will still be wildly popular and a much more national sport than regional one, but money won't completely blind the powers that be to higher considerations anymore. I don't know that all this will happen fast enough for the NFL to start a developmental league by 2030, but it will look like a more certain possibility than today, though I also don't know if that will change things enough not for schools to increase the value of what they offer student-athletes. More likely is a semi-professionalization of the most lucrative teams as described in the answer to question 1.
7: See answer to question 3.