At the outset of the 2023 college football season, it’s time for the annual State of the Union address. Actually, that’s wrong. Let’s call this the State of the Disunion. There is no unity in college football, which is precisely the theme of today’s column.

College football is like the kid who left home for the first time to go away to college, and he goes crazy with his newfound freedom. Suddenly, there are no rules. There’s no grownup to tell him what to do or point him in the right direction. So he eats ice cream for breakfast, gains the freshman 15, plays video games all afternoon, stays up late every night, does whatever he wants, and the result is predictable.

College football left its home roots and, once all the rules were tossed aside, it went crazy with its newfound freedom. It got fat and messy, everyone doing whatever he wants, and there’s no grownup in the room to take charge.

Almost overnight, everything flipped. Boosters were banned from recruiting and financial dealings; now they openly lure players to their university with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Players were prohibited from receiving money beyond their scholarships; now they can chase cash any way and anywhere they want. Players had no rights to their name, image and likeness (NIL); now the door has been thrown wide open for anyone (especially those aforementioned boosters) to monetize their NIL and use it as a recruiting tool. Players were prohibited from transferring to another school without a penalty; now they can transfer to the highest bidder and play immediately simply by beaming themselves to the next school via something called the “transfer portal.”

Utah dominates Florida as college football gets back to the basics

The transfer portal and the NIL have turned college football upside down. College coaches decry the situation, but nobody’s doing anything about it. It’s a collection of warring fiefdoms, with schools and conferences pilfering each other for new members and players, all in pursuit of wins and TV money.

It’s mayhem.

Exhibit A: Last year it was reported that former NFL quarterback Charlie Batch tweeted a $1 million NIL deal to Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams if he would come to Eastern Michigan. He openly tried to steal a player from another school.

Exhibit B: Following the 2021 season, Lincoln Riley quit his head coaching job at Oklahoma to take the head coaching job at USC and a parade of top players followed him there from various schools. Some 20 players transferred to USC, including the Trojans’ starting quarterback (Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner), the team’s top two running backs (Travis Dye via Oregon and Austin Jones via Stanford), three of their four leading receivers (Jordan Addison via Pitt, Mario Williams via Oklahoma, Brenden Rice via Colorado) and five of their six leading scorers. The Trojans went from 4-8 a year ago to 11-3. Oklahoma went from 11-2 to 6-7.

“We didn’t take players from Oklahoma; we took players from the transfer portal,” Riley said rather disingenuously on “The Herd” radio show.

Exhibits C and D: Jarret Doege played quarterback for three schools in three years (West Virginia, Western Kentucky, Troy). Kedon Slovis is doing the same thing (USC, Pitt, BYU). College football: See the world via the transfer portal.

Exhibit E: The Pac-12 is now the Pac-2 and headed for extinction. The Big 12 and Big Ten did a hostile takeover that would’ve made Gordon Gekko proud. They raided the Pac-12 and stole away UCLA, USC, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Arizona. On Friday, the ACC announced that Stanford and Cal would be joining the the league beginning in 2024-25.

Just like that, the 108-year-old conference — the league of Wooden and Jackie Robinson and Marcus Allen and Lew Alcindor and Steve Prefontaine — is on life support, barely hanging on in the dog-eat-dog world of college football. This is only the latest conference “realignment” (a polite word for takeover), with no regard for regional rivalries, travel, tradition, fans, the time it requires of “student-athletes,” etc.

College football needs a reset

Meanwhile, the one adult in the room who used to punish athletes for accepting free pizzas hasn’t been heard from in years. The NCAA, once the big bully on the block, is supposed to be in charge, but it ceded control to the conferences, whose only interests are their own. No one is mourning the NCAA’s fall, given its heavy-handed and even mean-spirited treatment of athletes, but someone needs to take charge. The game badly needs a central government. Until then, it’s every conference and every athlete and every coach looking out for their self-interest while the mayhem continues.

“I don’t think what we’re doing right now is a sustainable model,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told AP in April 2022. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told ESPN much the same thing, calling the college game “out of control,” “not sustainable” and “an absolute mess and a train wreck.”

Three weeks ago, Pete Carroll, the former USC coach who now leads the Seattle Seahawks, told NBC Sports, “I’m pretty disappointed in college football right now. Just in general. Just disappointed it’s gone the way it’s gone. With all of the stuff that is happening, I hope they can get it right.”


Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who used to coach the USC Trojans, has this to say about the current state of college football: “I’m pretty disappointed in college football right now. Just in general. Just disappointed it’s gone the way it’s gone.” | Tom Gannam, Associated Press