Evolution Or Devolution: College Football’s New Direction

We hear it everyday, college football is changing very quickly.

Long gone are the days when coaches smoked cigarettes on the sidelines, chewed tobacco and spit on the field. Interestingly, as legend goes, legendary head coach, Frank Howard, spit tobacco juice in all four corners of Memorial Stadium before it’s construction for good luck. Most coaches were unencumbered by politically incorrectness and would bark out a few, well chosen expletives to get their point across to the players.

In those days, recruiting was about a face-to face visit, a handshake and a steak dinner. Life was simpler in those days, that’s why it’s understandable that those of us caught between the two worlds, the old and new are so confounded and confused. We long for the good ole days but still marvel at the great success of today. It’s duplicity at its best, I acknowledge.

All have sat, watched, marveled and participated in the building of shiny, new, cutting edge, world-class facilities. We’ve also seen the evolution of the recruiting process over the course of our lifetime.

Once upon a time, a coach would get in their own car and drive all over the state, or across the entire southeast region to meet and hopefully convince a few young men to play for them. Today, recruiting has evolved into a fleet of private jets flying all over the country to see recruits and sell their program.

I know, it’s not a bad thing in and of itself but to many, it’s just a business transaction. It is what it is and whether we like it or not, it’s not ever going back to the way it was.

Thanks to a more enlightened view of amateurism and the lack of any oversight, those once so called sinners are now viewed as de-facto saints. The elite, five-star student athletes are thought of, treated and compensated as gods. A select few could actually retire after four years from endorsements alone.

Then, it was announced any student-athlete that is recognized for their academic achievements could receive nearly $6000 dollars a year. I think this type compensation is worth giving, it’s inclusive for everyone without emphasis on athletic abilities, but to date only 22 FBS schools are taking part, with Clemson being one.

All of the aforementioned compensation is intoxicating for the winners and for the old crowd. It’s hard to understand the nuisances of this evolving (or devolving) process, this money tree. It’s athletic Darwinism, survival of the richest. Those with the largest war chests control theirs and other’s destiny. Deep pocketed boosters are now of more importance in recruiting than coaches and even the majority of those student-athletes actually being recruited.

Competition in my father’s generation was what happened on the field of play. When the final whistle blew, it was over. Today, the competition is everywhere, it begins and seemingly, never ends. Recruiting today is a year round sales pitch, an auction with players, especially the super-stars, going to the highest bidder.

Funny, that type of thing, back when there were some semblance of rules, was illegal. There’s was even a “death penalty” for the worst sinners. Don’t believe me, ask the sinners at SMU. Their once mighty program was executed on February 25, 1987. Today, in 2022, such is now legitimate, legal and out of control. Simply put, it’s celebrated, almost admired. Totally crazy.

There are many well intentioned programs and then, there are those programs where the thrill of winning at any cost, is all that matters. Like many forward thinkers, always looking for the right way, Dabo Swinney and Clemson seems to have adapted to the changes, not succumbing to them.

No, I’m not saying Swinney is perfect but he has always been as transparent as possible. He’s always tried to remain virtuous and honest in his dealing with recruits, parents, the media and the fan base. He is arguably one of the best examples of leadership and stewardship of the young men in his charge and within all of the sport.

This article, obviously about NIL, isn’t meant to rehash all of the recent publicity about the new NIL initiatives and collectives being formed in support of the Clemson Student-Athletes, it’s simpler than that.

I’m sitting in my armchair, looking at photos from what seems like a lifetime ago of a life spent in Death Valley, Section F, Row AA. I wistfully reflect on my experience as a lifelong fan. I dwell in a place positioned somewhere between the sport of my father and that of my nieces and nephews. As a realist, I know the good ole days are over and gone. Unbridled greed changes everything and the change is irreversible.

Today, one either adapts or risks becoming irrelevant. I’m glad that the generosity of some won’t allow irrelevance for the Tigers. I’m just sad today, for the ones that won’t be able to compete, rendering them irrelevant.

Never ever doubt, it’s all about money, we’ve known that our entire lives but it’s still hard to comprehend the size and scope of some university’s athletic booster’s war chests. Even harder to comprehend? Unbelievably, most everyone actually agrees, this is acceptable. This is a strange new world, one my father wouldn’t even recognize. The sport he loved his entire life is unrecognizable.

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