Myths and mysteries: competitive power and the way of the future

The balance of power on the field in college football and the future of academia as we know it — these are big ideas best tackled by fertile minds.

Our guest columnist today raises them and invites us to consider college sports in a much broader and far-ranging context.

David Wunderlich, co-manager of SB Nation’s SEC blogsite Team Speed Kills, is an impressive thinker, and that’s what makes him one of 10 unsung College Sports Twitter stars. He was asked to identify the biggest myth in college sports today. He chose to offer one example on the field, and one example off it. We’ll certainly allow each answer (not merely one or the other) to be published.

We hope you’ll enjoy what David has to say below:


Part I: The Biggest On-Field Myth

The biggest myth in college sports today is that there is an enormous gap between the Power 5 conferences and the Group of 5 non-power leagues. A gap does exist, and it is a far distance from the very top to the very bottom, but it’s not growing wider.

The P5 leagues do have more money than ever right now, but so do the G5 leagues. Most P5 programs have picked all the low hanging fruit and are getting diminishing returns on each marginal dollar spent. Their facilities get ever more lavish, but they’re still largely signing players who wouldn’t have gone to G5 schools anyway. They spend ever more money on head and assistant coaches, but those coaches also largely wouldn’t be at G5 schools either.

Meanwhile, G5 programs are spending their new income on things that really can make a difference. They increasingly can pay enough to keep head coaches around for longer unless a coach just wants the prestige of being in a P5 conference. They can upgrade their weight rooms to get more out of their players. They can improve their video equipment to get more out of each practice session.

It will always be harder for the median G5 school to sustain success than it is for the median P5 school to do so. That said, G5 schools which spend and invest wisely can increasingly compete with even some of the richest P5 schools.

The U.S. population has grown by about 100 million since 1973, the year the first NCAA scholarship caps appeared. There are more and more young athletes every year, but the number that P5 programs can take in doesn’t change. No matter how much more revenue the P5 programs take in, they won’t irrevocably distance themselves from well-run G5 programs.


Part II: The Biggest Off-Field Myth

The biggest myth in college sports today is that the potential death of amateurism is the true existential crisis. The system as it exists is too profitable for too many people to just disappear immediately following an unfavorable court ruling. College sports will survive a future where offensive lines film commercials for the local buffet restaurant. The actual existential threat to college sports is the death of academia as we currently know it.

When then-Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin moved the Aggies to the SEC, he called it a “100-year decision.” That’s nuts. Think about how different things were a hundred years ago, when fewer than half of American households even had electricity. Now think about how quickly technology progresses. It was only 66 years from the Wright Flyer to a man walking on the moon. It was just 23 years from the first Macintosh to the first iPhone. It was merely nine years from the first Netscape Navigator release to freshman me taking intro to economics entirely online at the University of Florida—and mine wasn’t the first class to do so.

A hundred years from now, the idea of tens of thousands of students congregating in a single physical place for higher education will be passé if not obsolete. Without colleges as we currently know them, we won’t have college sports as we currently know them. College sports will either radically change or just fade away during the 21st century. I don’t know precisely how or when we get to that future, but that future is inevitable.

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.