Brian Murphy: Not just players — pace of change in college football accelerating, too

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comAugust 25, 2013 

College football has neverbeen faster. And that truism extends beyond the playerson the field and the pace of play.

The sport is changing faster than ever, its default glacial spirit being pushed and prodded into action by the forces it has unleashed through its popularity — lawsuits from former players, television revenue and social media pressures.

Conferences have expanded and contracted, been extinguished and created. You’ll find no WAC preview in these pages because the 50-year-old league — one that housed every current member of the Mountain West during its lifetime — no longer sponsors football.

The larger-than-ever, 12-team Mountain West holds its first league championship game Dec. 7.

The American Athletic Conference opens its first season next week.

The NCAA, never known for its nimbleness, acted quickly in disciplining Penn State in the face of overwhelming public outcry. In recent weeks, driven by similar outside forces, the organization pulled jersey sales off its website and ruled a 24-year-old former Marine eligible to play at Middle Tennessee State.

It took 15 years of complaints totopple the Bowl Championship Series. Few, however, expect the four-team playoff system that replaces it next season to last through the end of its original 12-year contract with ESPN. The lure of even more television money and the howls from a disgruntled fan base of the first undefeated No. 5 may prove too much to resist even for traditionalists.

Even larger structural changes could be on the way. A pivotal NCAA meeting in January could pave the way for player stipends or the much-discussed “Division 4” breakaway by the biggest, richest conferences. Any decisions could have a dramatic impact on the future of Boise State’s football program.

Concerns for player safety — bolstered by lawsuits — led to kickoff rule changes last year and now enhanced targeting penalties. Players will be ejected for targeting. We’ll see how long that rule can hold up under the constant review by coaches, media and fans.

And then there is the biggest potential gamechanger: A lawsuit by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon that demands a cut of revenue from television rights, video game licensing and jersey sales. If successful, the entire NCAA model would face a disruption.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has won three of the past four national championships, including the last two, has complained about the quicker pace of play on the field.

But it’s the dizzying magnitude and speed of change that should have everyone holding on.

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