What Is To Become of the NCAA and NFL

Is it possible that in 15-20 years the NCAA didn’t exist as currently constituted and the NFL was financially decimated by the many lawsuits it is now fighting off over health and safety?  They are seen as these endurable monoliths of American sports culture, but their diminution or outright destruction is entirely possible over the next couple of decades.

Let’s start with the NCAA.  The NCAA has many problems, chief among them a complete loss of faith in it by a large number of its members, athletes, the media that cover its sports, and the fans who watch.  Once you lose trust of enough people, the end can come quick, fast, and in a hurry.  So what would happen if a group of schools decided to leave the NCAA?

What if it isn’t the schools you think would break away?  Everyone assumes the current BCS conference schools would be the leaders in splintering college athletics.  Remember, the NCAA isn’t just the Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament or just the Bowl Championship Series.  It administers 87 championships across three divisions throughout the year.  As someone (John Infante, @John_Infante, I think) said yesterday, the big conferences don’t want to have to run another softball tournament.

Now, these conferences may try an internal coup that changes some of the structure and enforcement, but they would never tear down the whole thing themselves.  First, they don’t want to have to deal with the mess of running a similar organization.  Second, they don’t want to be seen as the ones destroying collegiate athletics.  For something like a splintering of the NCAA to happen, it would have to be a small school insurrection.

The leaders of this would have to be schools small enough in the NCAA world to feel put upon by the bigger schools, but powerful enough outside of the NCAA to attract more schools to join them.  That would of course be the Ivy League.

What if the Ivy League schools got together and decided that not only is the current collegiate athletic culture against everything they stand for as academic institutions it is also a financial and reputationally expensive proposition that isn’t worth the bother.  So, they go off and spearhead the creation of another organization that meets their needs.  Now, how many NCAA schools could they siphon off: The whole of Division III and significant portions of Division II and many FBS Division I schools?  That would leave the NCAA with all the large football playing universities and this new association with all the smaller more “academically centered” schools.

The NCAA imploding and morphing into two or three entities is more of a fantasy.  It requires a lot of leaps of faith and logic.  It is easier to speculate on the end of the NFL.

The NFL being bankrupted by lawsuits is not as much fantasy as the nightmare outcome of the current player safety crisis for Roger Goodell.  The thing is, there are so many lawsuits concerning health and safety and wrongful death against the NFL, not all of these lawsuits have to be successful to do damage.  Just enough of the right ones going against the NFL would damage the league’s reputation and push people to keep their children from playing football.  That is where the real danger lies for the NFL.  If enough fans see football as a death sport and enough parents see the dangers of playing football as too great, the league will lose enough of its fan base and future participants that it will need to change its business model or shut down.

So if the NFL was diminished in its size and popularity, what would fill the void?  I have no idea.  If at the beginning of the 20th century if you had asked a sports writer what would fill the void once horse racing and boxing stopped being the dominant sports in the United States, he wouldn’t be able to answer that.  He would have been hard pressed to imagine a sports world without horseracing or boxing being dominant.  Football was growing as a sport, baseball was already professionalized, but not hugely popular, and basketball was barely a blip on the screen.

So my guess right now is some combination of soccer, lacrosse, MMA, and some wild card like team handball or a modified version of football that is more akin to the 7v7 tournaments taking hold as part of recruiting to fill the void left by the NFL.

I don’t know what will happen in 20 years.  Maybe all of this will happen.  Maybe known of this will happen.  Maybe something entirely different will happen.  Either way, neither of these organizations will be the same in 20 years.  That I do believe.

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