While we loudly sing the praises of Deion Sanders as the miracle worker that has brought CU football back from the dead, has all the gold and glitz of Coach Prime blinded us to the imminent demise of college sports?
“If we’re going to have to pay the players, college athletics that we’ve been used to will be obliterated. College athletics as we’ve known it will be gone within three years,” Chuck Neinas told me Thursday.
“CU won’t have skiing, won’t have track and won’t have soccer. They will all become club sports, with no financial aid for teams that will have to find their own coach and make their own travel.”
For more than 50 years, Neinas has been one of the most influential power brokers in college sports, serving as a conference commissioner, NCAA executive and disruptor. Long ago he was a pioneer in mining big television money that now contributes heavily to the portal transfer chaos of name, image and likeness Sanders has exploited to remake the Buffaloes into a top 25 program overnight.
“You know what NIL stands for?” said Neinas, pausing for maximum effect, before delivering the punch line.
“Now it’s legal.”
Now that’s funny.
I chuckled at the get-rich-quick craziness ruling this brave new world in which CU quarterback Shedeur Sanders drives a $200,000 car, as Neinas and I enjoyed lunch in a restaurant a mile from Folsom Field, where everybody from Stephen A. Smith to “60 Minutes” is setting up shop this week to bow and kiss the gold whistle of Coach Prime.
But know what else I found amusing? How Colorado State coach Jay Norvell took a shot at his CU counterpart, suggesting that any grown man who wears a hat and sunglasses indoors was not raised right by his mother.
We’d also be remiss, however, for failure to give Norvell props for making noise at a time when going viral on social media counts almost as much as points on the scoreboard.
In anticipation of a mismatch formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Showdown, we all know college football is Prime’s world, and the best CSU can hope for is to be sacrificial Rams in it.
It’s hard to conceive how Colorado State will claim a seat at the big kids’ table when television executives decide how the business of professional football on college campuses shakes out during the next decade. People far smarter than me foresee a not-too-distant future in which teams capable of drawing a television audience in excess of four million form a premier league driven by the brand recognition of Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
While there aren’t three dozen college football programs that can significantly move the TV-ratings needle for sports fans from coast to coast, Neinas predicts that powerhouses currently residing in the Big 10 and Southeastern Conference will still rule, but the super league will likely be a larger coalition that includes 64 teams.
Why? Because the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes, as Neinas figures it, “will need somebody to beat.” And to attract the most eyeballs for telecasts, it makes more sense to have teams representing every region of the country, rather than only major TV markets.
You don’t need to be a weatherman to predict the acid rain that could wash away everything once believed most laudable about the student-athlete experience on campus. Nothing is sacred anymore except the revenue generated by young men who play football or basketball and the young women who play basketball or volleyball for the enrichment of university coffers.
As Neinas tells it, the decision by the USC Trojans to bolt for the Big Ten, the first ground-shaking move that caused the Pac-12 to crumble, was orchestrated not by then Southern Cal athletic director Mike Bohn, but by Fox Sports executive Mark Silverman. Amid this greed-driven madness of conference realignment, as Stanford and California now scramble to join a conference named in honor of the Atlantic Ocean, we can only stand back and ask:
What’s to become of baseball, gymnastics or any college sport that can’t turn a profit at a time when Sanders might well be able to earn more money in 2024 by playing quarterback for Colorado than declaring for the NFL draft?
After 81 years on this earth, most of them devoted to ensuring all college sports thrive, Neinas worries about where this chaos is headed.
“For now,” Neinas said, “it’s all headed straight to …”
So long as the TV dollars flow from football deals academicians and athletic directors alike make with the devil, nobody seems to care if we burn it all down.
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