James Franklin Unleashes Truth: College Football's Revolution and the Road Ahead | STASZAK - NittanyCentral

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James Franklin Unleashes Truth: College Football’s Revolution and the Road Ahead | STASZAK

To say that the landscape of college athletics, namely football and men’s basketball has changed in the last three years would be like saying Patrick Mahomes looks like he’ll be a serviceable starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs going forward. Penn State head coach James Franklin is the latest coach sounding alarms.

When my editor gave me a choice of topics for my next story it wasn’t even close. I locked in on this one immediately.

This piece is a “State of the Union” look at the landscape of college athletics right now, namely men’s football and Franklin’s take on it. In my humble opinion, the NCAA has always been an example of abusive power, egregious injustice, sanctions without reform and a system devoid of due process that I’m pretty sure is guaranteed to us by the United States Constitution. So the “governing body” of collegiate athletics has always been a hot button for justice advocates out there. In the interest of full disclosure I asked my editor for a little more time with this story because I felt a manifesto coming on.

So here we go.

When UCLA power forward Ed O’Bannion led his squad to a National Championship, and was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, few thought he would have a much bigger impact on the game than just his 30 point, 17 rebound monster night vs Arkansas in the National Championship game back in April of 1995. Talk about 40 minutes of Hell.

O’Bannon had a nomadic basketball journey after graduation that included 12 different professional teams in at least six countries for 15 different coaches. Of course his natural career progression after that world-wide adventure led him to become a probation officer in Las Vegas. He’s now a high school basketball coach in Henderson, Nevada.

But the big fella from the legendary program that John Wooden built, made a “game-changing” contribution to the evolution of college athletics that has stripped much of the power from the “powers that be” and has given it the much deserved student athletes, who are actually the ones who have generated millions and millions of dollars for their institutions for decades.

About 15 years after he left the land of O.J., O’Bannon became the lead plaintiff in the O’Bannon v. NCAA antitrust class-action lawsuit filed against the league on behalf of its Division I football and men’s basketball players over the organization’s use for commercial purposes of the images of its former student athletes. And it all started because of a video game.

Yes, you read that right, a video game.

In 2009 O’Bannon saw his likeness from the 1995 championship team used in the EA Sports video game titled NCAA basketball ‘09. The game featured an unnamed UCLA player who played O’Bannon’s power forward position, while also matching his height, weight, bald head, skin tone, No. 31 jersey, and left-handed shot. All of it was done without O’Bannon’s permission and in January of 2011, Oscar Robertson a.k.a “The Big O” and Bill Russell were two of the 20 former players that joined O’Bannon in the class action suit that argued that “ upon graduation, a former student athlete should become entitled to financial compensation for future commercial uses of his or her image by the NCAA.”

On August 8, 2014, Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the NCAA’s long-held practice of barring payments athletes violated antitrust laws. That ruling made it ok for collegiate athletes to get compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness AFTER graduation.

Score a win for the players and a loss for the NCAA.

But, the other Big O (is that blasphemous?) wasn’t done because in 2021 he was part of a similar antitrust suit against the NCAA where the Supreme Court ruled in NCAA v. Alston that the NCAA restricted trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA and ordered them to allow student athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness WHILE STILL IN SCHOOL. And thus, the NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) was born.

Since then, student athletes, some who could barely scrape together enough change for a White Castle double burger before, can now cash in on autograph signings, memorabilia camps, clinics and personal appearances, blogging, podcasting, public speaking, music, art, etc.

Score a bigger win for the players and much bigger loss for the NCAA.

Now, let’s talk about the transfer portal.

I think a lot of people think that the transfer portal has also changed the balance of power in collegiate sports but the reality is the transfer portal is just a database and a compliance tool that was implemented in October of 2018 that helped manage and facilitate the process of an athlete wanting to transfer schools.

It was a brilliant technological breakthrough for school administrators making organization and the transparency of the transfer process more public. So the “suits” had themselves a new device to play with that made their job easier.

But, this story’s version of the “perfect storm” picked up speed and massive momentum in 2021, the same year the NIL’s anti-amateurism coup occurred.


NIL Completely Changed the Landscape

Along with the NIL ruling, new regulations were adopted allowing student-athletes in Division I football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, and baseball to change schools using the portal once WITHOUT having to sit out a year after the transfer, which was the case previously.

Having to sit out a year was a huge deterrent to college athletes and that’s why there were very few big name transfers prior to 2021. But the change has given the student athletes seats at the big table because the new transfer rule has given the players more autonomy to choose their own path of endeavor, if for whatever reason, they aren’t happy with their present situation.

So basically, in 2021 the NCAA went from being North Korea to being on the wrong end of a John Wayne movie, a place where disorderly behavior and its citizens running amouk not only prevailed, it was the norm.

Nowadays, it’s quite common to see highly skilled and well sought after teenagers, free to roam the country whenever they please, calling their own shots, complete with some walking around money sometimes surpassing the salaries of many of their former and future coaches.

Keep in mind the money does not come from the Universities, but rather small businesses, alumni Go Fund Me funds, podcasts, autographs, memorabilia, personal appearances etc.

The NIL coup along with the deregulation of the transfer rules, has basically rendered the NCAA as powerless as the Burgermeister’s attempt to rule Sombertown like the an overbearing dictator by expending funds for over-reactionary and unfounded witch hunts from an already economically strapped city.

To call the current state of college football and basketball “organized chaos” would be misleading. Drop the “organized” and you’re getting closer.

The student athletes now have what they want but is it in their best interests for the long haul? And what are the rules? Oh wait, there aren’t many and the ones that are in place are murky at best and since the NCAA gets sued these days more often than former President Trump gets indicted for something, the oversight is tentative and tenuous in the current climate.

For years the power abusing, and always accusing, suits from the NCAA, in all of their self-righteous glory, would impose their heavy hands to slap the smaller hands of the ones that have fed them since 1869, with penalties ranging from the vacating of records, to the stripping of championships, to the erasing of team records, to the reduction of scholarships programs can offer, to Bowl game restrictions to the all-encompassing and sometimes crippling violation they like to call “lack of institutional control”. Funny how karma works – like a reliable and always willing ex girlfriend who’s only a drunk text away.

In the case of the NCAA, karma has been hovering, just waiting to pounce on the way-past-bedtime, relentless zealotry and intoxicating hubris by a sub-standard pack of under achieving, over-officious power junkies.

Finally, having a legitimate governing body, with the power of the United States Constitution behind it, was able to strike down the tyrannical “Evil Empire” with the force and vitriol of a certain Iraqis statue that comes to mind, in spectacular fashion. Keep reading because it gets a whole lot worse for the suits.

Let’s take a look at the numbers first. On average a student athlete receives only about an extra $3,000 per year, which isn’t going to make anyone rich. But, the craziness comes from some of the big name, wildly talented players, that don’t have to leave school to score an early payday any more. In fact some of them actually have made more money by staying for three or four years in college instead of fleeing to sign an NFL rookie contract or a professional contract elsewhere.

Currently, NFL first-round draft picks can sign four-year deals worth around $12.75 million.That averages out to about 3.19 million per year. In the second round, that number drops to between $6m and $12m, and third-round picks can earn between $5.4m and $6m. That drops to between $4.5m and $5.4m in round four, with fifth rounders between $4m and $5m.

Now compare that with some of the highest paid NCAA NFL prospects.

USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams made close to $5 million this past season, out earning 14 of his 15 coaches.

While Colorado QB phenom Shedeur Sanders, son of Coach Prime, earned a staggering $4.5 million last year. To quote the great Bart Simpson, “that ain’t not bad.”

But here’s the kicker. Lebron James’ son Bronny, a freshman guard for the USC hoops team, out earned all other student athletes by pulling down an eye popping $6.1 million this season. It helps to have a famous father because he’s only played 19 career games and missed his first eight because he had a heart attack due to a congenital heart defect. God willing he will go on to have a very successful and healthy career but currently he’s averaging 5.5 points per game. Quick math tells me that he earns over a million dollars per point scored (see Bart Simpson).

The advantage Bronny James has, besides his bloodlines, is that he lives in a big market city with an enormous amount of marketing opportunities. Oh yah and he’s related to his dad, Lebron.

Sounds like a win-win for the athletes right?

Well, not so fast my friends, as my favorite pencil pushing analyst Lee Corso would say.

Not everyone thinks so.

James Franklin Strikes All the Right Chords

Recently Penn state Football Head Football James Franklin was asked by a reporter about the current landscape of college football and to his credit, Franklin gave a 5:50 sound bite that was thoughtful, insightful and as objective as can be considering the new scenery affects him and his program negatively.

Personally, I thought it was one of Franklin’s finest moments.

He was very careful not to lay into the new system and the financial gain the student athletes are enjoying, because after all, coach pulls down a cool $7,000,000 per year, so crying about the players now getting a piece of the pie would fall on deaf ears. Here was the question to Franklin verbatim:

Reporter: Now, in Happy Valley recently you hired 3 coordinators this off season. We’re seeing top coaches like Nick Saban retire, and Jim Harbaugh go to the NFL. While other head coaches (Chip Kelly) are leaving big 10 programs to become offensive coordinators at other programs. Can you just kind of comment on where college football is from a coach’s perspective right now, and is this really sustainable for much longer?

Here was Franklin’s response:

“I know really nobody wants to hear from college football complaining about the current model, because of the money. And I get that. I think when coaches went too far and were limiting where players could transfer to, they were abusing that. We went from one extreme to the other. You can’t tell me that it’s good for the student athletes to transfer three, four times. Every time you transfer, the likelihood of graduating goes down. I don’t think that’s in anybody’s best interest. The ability to overcome adversity, I think in college athletics, is really important. I think we’ve lost some of that. The path of least resistance is now a choice.

“Obviously, when you get into the NIL, that’s a factor. And I think what you’re seeing is, my biggest concern is you’re having people leave college football that would have never left college football because a lot of the head coaching positions, coordinator positions, and assistant coaches positions, it’s gotten further and further away from what they signed up for. Everybody knew you had to recruit to coach them. There was a balance between those two, but all these other things are taking you further and further away from coaching and developing kids and the development is like a word that isn’t even used anymore.”Obviously, when you get into the NIL, that’s a factor.

“And I think what you’re seeing is, my biggest concern is you’re having people leave college football that would have never left college football because a lot of the head coaching positions, coordinator positions, and assistant coaches positions, it’s gotten further and further away from what they signed up for. Everybody knew you had to recruit to coach them. There was a balance between those two, but all these other things are taking you further and further away from coaching and developing kids and the development is like a word that isn’t even used anymore. You know?

“It’s like I told the players when they showed up on campus and their parents, you came here because we want to develop you. But if you decide to jump in the transfer portal a year from now and you don’t give us the time to develop you, you’re almost forcing us to go into the transfer portal. And teams that are heavily transfer portal teams, they’re basically saying we’re not gonna develop you, we’re just going to go out and get guys that we know are proven commodities and have them come into campus. And there’s a fine line between all of this. But the thing that probably concerns me the most is I worried probably five or more years ago when the money kept going up, that I think college football started to attract people into the industry for the wrong reasons. And maybe I’m old school, but I still truly believe that if you’re coaching college football, you should be coaching it because you care about the kids and their total development academically, athletically, socially, spiritually, the whole package. And I think because of the changes, people were getting into college football for things that didn’t align with that.

“So we’ve been on a slippery slope for a while and the reality is it’s the college football that we’ve all known, the college athletics that we’ve all known is not coming back. And you’re gonna have to embrace the current model that we’re in. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make it better and can’t still get back to something that I think is in the student athletes’ best interest long term, and still be able to complement what’s happening, in a university setting, which I think has also been something that’s been very, very important for a long time.

“But there’s gonna have to be some tough decisions that are made, from people that are in the position of power to to get those things done. If not, you’re gonna continue to see coaches leaving college football, and you’re gonna continue to see student athletes transferring three and four times.

“What do we need to do short term for the student athletes, which they deserve, is to still prepare them for long term sustained success. We’ve all heard really challenging stories about professional athletes when they get done playing and the real world hits them.

“The reality is the real world hits them, and they’re not prepared for that because they don’t know what the next stage of their life is. I think you’re gonna see that really push forward because you’re having college athletes that are not gonna have the opportunity to go pro afterwards, and they’re going to get hit with reality a lot sooner. So a lot of things have to happen. I love that the big ten and the SEC are taking leadership roles and hopefully can do what’s best for everybody, because we need that right now.”

Well done coach.

You made many succinct, salient points without a shred of circumlocutory. I’m impressed.

So, that’s what he said, here’s what he meant: Continuity, loyalty, stability and adversity in college football have given way to autonomy, leveragability, optionality and capitalism in college football, which certainly has some upside for the student athletes, but with it comes some unintended consequences that may not be in their best interests.

There’s a growing number of coaches who are cutting bait and heading elsewhere because they spend much of the year putting their efforts into recruiting these young men and their recruits have no “legal” obligation to stick around long enough to be developed or to maintain team continuity, and many of them don’t.

The current situation is a deal breaker for some old school coaches, who prided themselves on building powerful and sustainable programs. That can’t happen anymore if there’s the possibility that their programs could turn into one-and-done stops. In the past two years five legendary Hall of Fame coaches have abandoned their blue-blooded programs, most by retiring, because of, pardon me but, “lack of institutional control”. Jay Wright, Nick Saban, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Jim Harbaugh are all NCAA ghosts.

At last count, the aforementioned fab five have won 17 National Championships combined. The inmates don’t exactly run the asylum nowadays but they certainly have a say in their living accommodations and they’re release dates which makes it an untenable situation for coaches with old school principles.

Students that transfer three or four times will have less of a chance of graduating. (while that’s probably true, I don’t think you will see many students transferring more than once because you can only transfer to a four year school once without having to sit out a year. Students could lose credits each time they transfer, and as I said before, you will probably be seeing more students staying three or four years in school because of the financial opportunities given to them.)

What wasn’t touched on is that while the transfer portal offers student athletes opportunities for a change of scenery, more playing time and maybe a better chance at a ring, there is a danger in the rising number of transfer portal entrees each year.

Currently only half of all of the athletes who enter the transfer portal each year do NOT end up attending another school and those who try to return to their current school, run the risk of losing their scholarship at the discretion of the school that recruited them.

As for the loosely regulated NIL, one of the biggest fears the NCAA has is the recruitment of players by “illegal” financial rewards from coaches, alumni, and or boosters under the guise of small businesses or other fake entities.

But while the landscape of college football has changed the product hasn’t, at least not yet. This past year’s National Semi-Final games were two of the best games I’ve ever seen.

Where College Football is Headed

I believe college football is trending upward.

A four team playoff will soon become 12 and if that makes money there will probably be even further expansion. Hey, at least they’re deciding a National Champion on the field these days. It wasn’t too long ago that there were many New Year’s days when you went to bed and still weren’t sure who the National Champion was. You had to wait until you woke up the next day to see which way the AP and the UPI/Coaches Poll voted. Since 1950 there had been 11 “split” National Champions until the BCS came along in 1998, and even that was a somewhat flawed system, relying primarily on computers to select the two finalists.

So, who are the big winners from the power shift in college football?

Not the NCAA. They spent decades promoting the ideal of amateurism, barring football and basketball players from compensation while their coaches and university athletic directors collected millions of dollars a year. Its disciplinary system, rife with corruption, is honored by member universities more in the breaking of the rules rather than observing them.

The “Evil Empire” is currently riding quite a losing streak.

They have been stubborn to compromise or settle their cases and it has cost them dearly. Their obstinance and arrogance has blinded them from the trajectory of future class litigations against them that is snowballing and has them on the brink of elimination. There’s a bad moon rising and somebody’s about to drop a House on them. Here’s how the NCAA has fared against class action suits involving the violation of Federal Antitrust Laws.

Case Result Cost

1998 Law v. NCAA Loss $54.5 M

2014 O’Bannon v. NCAA Loss $146 M

2021 Alston v. NCAA Loss Comp restrictions

And it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

What’s on the horizon for the NCAA has a waft of the housing market collapse of 2008 with the force of the Titanic hitting the ocean floor.

It was virtually a mathematical certainty that the subprime mortgage era was destined to collapse. It WAS a mathematical certainty that the Titanic was going to sink once water breached the fifth hull. The NCAA’s demise is in that category. You might say a “Category 5”.

Do you remember the rogue wave that finally capsized the Andrea Gail in the movie “The Perfect Storm” that sent George Clooney, Brock Landers, Chest Rockwell and others to their untimely demise? Well, the specter of that wave looms over the NCAA right now because in January of 2025, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the House v. NCAA trial is set to begin. That’s where the NCAA amateurism model that was cracked by the NIL might begin to crumble entirely. House vs. NCAA could easily become the death knell for the Evil Empire. It could very well be the third and final courtroom air strike to obliterate the way things used to be.

The headline complaint in House vs. NCAA seeks damages for college athletes who couldn’t benefit from the NIL prior to 2021, and will attack the NCAA’s restriction on use of the NIL as a recruiting tool. There are also larger potential ramifications in the small print. Specifically, it also contends that college athletes should be paid from television broadcast revenues. In the worst-case scenario for the NCAA, potentially thousands of NCAA athletes could be grouped into a class action suit filed in 2020 seeking $1.4 billion in damages representing name, image and likeness revenues those athletes could have earned if it had been allowed during their enrollment.

The lawsuit seeks backpay for NIL and a portion of broadcast revenues. Former Arizona State swimmer Grant House is the lead plaintiff in the case; he is joined by former Oregon basketball player Sedona Prince and former Illinois football player Tymir Oliver.

Under antitrust law, damages would be tripled if the NCAA loses, meaning a potential payout of $4.2 billion. The NCAA’s net assets for fiscal 2022 were $458 million.

If the NCAA has to pay $4.2 billion, the whole system is at risk of collapse. If the plaintiffs end up winning, schools would be able to pay athletes directly. It would eliminate all restrictions and since most institutions are getting tired of hitching their wagon to one that constantly keeps getting sued, it could spark serious change going forward.

The problem is that organizations like the NCAA like to fight to the death but sometimes the ones that do end up being the ones that get buried. I’m picturing Mike Lazaridis, founder of RIM, trying desperately to pitch the heavy hitters from Verizon, on the new BlackBerry “Storm”, that made the same old clicking sound, after Steve Job’s trotted out the Iphone with the new touch screen.

How’d that work out for Research in Motion?

MORE: Penn State Commits, Targets Biggest Winners in Latest Recruiting Rankings Update

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