Warming to the Idea of a Modified FBS “Relegation”

Allow me a brief digression to open …

At 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 5th, bleary-eyed Montana State University football players gathered at the team’s training facility, boarding buses which would to take them to the Bozeman/Yellowstone International Airport.

Their destination: Frisco, Texas, and the FCS national championship game against North Dakota State.

Along the eight-mile route to the airport, the players were treated to a constant line of Bobcat fans. It was dark – it’s still dark in Montana at 7:00 a.m. in January – but fans were out nonetheless, wearing their MSU gear, waving flags and handmade signs. There was a local firetruck, its ladder extended out over the road, with a huge MSU flag fluttering in the breeze. Once at the airport, the Bobcats got off the buses, met by another crowd which had gathered outside the entrance to the airport.

More fans. More blue-and-gold flags and signs. More early morning cheers.

Oh, and did I mention that it was eight-below zero at the time?

Now, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. The Bobcats, already over a touchdown underdog to perennial contender North Dakota State, lost their quarterback to an ankle injury on the first series of the game. After that, it was all over but for the crying in a 38-10 rout, with the Bison winning their ninth national championship in the past 11 seasons.

(Note: North Dakota State is the real deal, with the Bison having had no trouble mixing it up with the big boys. In the past decade, NDSU has posted wins over Minnesota – twice, Colorado State – twice, Iowa – when the Hawkeyes were ranked No. 13 in the nation, Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas. NDSU takes on Arizona next fall … and comes to Boulder to in 2025 … Yes, I’m already dreading that game).

The relevance of all of the above to CU? I’m getting there.

While Montana State didn’t win the national championship, the Bobcats were in the title game for the first time since 1984, and Bozeman was all in. MSU’s run through the playoffs included a road win over No. 1 and defending national champion Sam Houston State, which set up a 31-17 home win in the semi-finals over South Dakota State.

There was a three week layover between the semi-finals on December 18th and the championship game on January 8th, and Christmas in Bozeman went from red-and-green to blue-and-gold. Everyone was wearing Bobcat gear, and the newspaper and the local television station provided wall-to-wall coverage of the players, the chartered planes filling with MSU fans for the game, and updates on the MSU band’s efforts to raise funds to go to the game (they did).

All this with barely a mention from ESPN or the national media. Yes, ESPN did give cursory coverage of the title game, but nothing close to what it gave to “Neon” Deion Sanders and Jackson State leading up to its “Celebration Bowl” loss to South Carolina State.

Montana State v. North Dakota State?

Not getting anyone’s attention in Bristol … or pretty much anywhere else.

But that didn’t matter to the folks in Montana, who were cherishing the moment.

Which brings me, finally, to our Buffs.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month or two, you have been keenly aware that there has been an explosion in Name, Image and Likeness abuse, and an implosion of the CU roster.

While the rest of the nation is finding new and creative ways to flaunt the system and pay its players, CU is complaining that other schools are ignoring the spirit of the rules. While other schools are loading up their rosters with an infusion of talent, CU is losing its stars to programs which are active participants in the Transfer Portal and the brave new world of NIL.

I’m not going to document here all of the stories that are out there, because there are too many … Texas paying its offensive linemen $50,000 apiece to play for the Longhorns (under the clever name of “Horns with a Heart”); the $25-$30 million slush fund being set up by Texas A&M boosters to pay for recruits; the Tennessee wide receiver who is telling the Volunteer Nation that he wants $600,000 of NIL money to keep him from going pro; BYU and Miami players being paid directly by Built, a protein bar maker; Washington State boosters ponying up to set up a fund to lure Incarnate Word quarterback Cameron Ward to Pullman.

And now, state legislators in Alabama and Oregon are taking steps to revise – or outright eliminate – any NIL regulations.

Meanwhile, in Boulder …

“I don’t think the NCAA is performing their role,” CU athletic director Rick George said last week. “To allow the NIL to get out of hand like it’s gotten is not acceptable and we as an industry have to embrace getting this back together so we have some guidelines that are consistent across our industry.

“There’s some things out there that I’m disappointed in that some schools are doing because I think some of it falls under inducements.”

If you can’t beat ’em … complain about it?

For the Buffs to have any plans on being competitive in 2022 and beyond, things needed to fall just right this offseason.

Instead, things have only gotten worse.

While there have been upgrades to the coaching staff, the same can’t be said for the lineup.

The defection list on the Transfer Portal is up to 17, including over a half dozen starters. Christian Gonzalez, Mark Perry, Jarek Broussard, Brenden Rice, Ashaad Clayton, Mehki Blackmon … all gone.

Meanwhile, CU has supplemented its roster through the Transfer Portal with … two players, including an unranked defensive lineman from Incarnate Word.

The 2021 Buffs went 4-8, and that was with all of the above players in the lineup, not to mention Nate Landman, Carson Wells, and Mustafa Johnson.

Think the Buffs have any chance of going even 4-8 without them?

Sure, there are some good freshmen coming in. There are better coaches in the Champions Center. And there is still the hope of adding more players through the Transfer Portal.

But … even if Karl Dorrell & Co. can find a way to six wins and a bowl bid (not likely, but it’s still January, so you never know), what will happen next December/January?

The best players from the 2022 team … will enter the Transfer Portal and find a better NIL deal than the $0.00 being offered by CU boosters.

And Dorrell and Co. will face yet another uphill climb just to get to mediocrity in 2023.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

If CU coaches can’t recruit better than 1-10 Arizona, and CU boosters can’t fund NIL opportunities better than Washington State … where does that leave the University of Colorado football program?

Yup. Right where it’s been for almost 20 years now … absolutely nowhere.

What’s the best hope for CU at this point?

Sad to say, but it might just be relegation.

Not relegation in the European soccer sense (if you’re not sure what relegation entails, go rent Ted Lasso – and thank me later). I’m not talking about CU and Arizona battling it out to see which Pac-12 team gets sent to the Mountain West, to be replaced by Boise State or San Diego State.

No, I’m talking about relegation in a more practical sense.

If the NCAA (ha!) or Congress (ha!) are not going to install some rules for NIL, then CU’s chances of competing for the national championship are, well, nil. For whatever reason, there are no CU boosters out there willing to step up and make the CU a destination school. Without NIL dollars, a school which is already a non-factor for high profile recruits and transfers will slide even further into the abyss.

So, why not embrace it?

Why not allow the schools who have millions of dollars to pay players (no sense hiding behind any other word than “pay” anymore) have their own FBS division? You think that players who are being paid now are going to let the NCAA – or anyone else – try and put the toothpaste back into the tube?

The genie is out of the bottle. The die has been cast … pick your cliché, but college football as we knew it is gone.

CU may historically be a Top 25 program, but no one would argue the Buffs are a Top 25 program now.

Why not let the SEC, together with a handful of Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 teams (USC and Oregon, perhaps) play in their own sandbox, and create an intermediate division for everyone else?

FBS-1A would constitute the Top 24 or 36 programs who will become a semi-pro feeder institution for the NFL. No financial restrictions – teams could spend as much on coaches, players, and facilities as they want. The five-star players – who are going to these schools, anyway – would have a clear path to collegiate riches on their path to the NFL.

The other 94-106 programs could become the FBS-1AA. There would still be conferences for the rest of us; there would still be bowl games; there would still be a playoff. There would still be games between Oregon and Oregon State, but now they would be non-conference games in September, more along the lines of Colorado v. Colorado State, than the season-ending conference games they are now.

FBS-1AA schools would have restrictions, imposed by its new governing body (one with actual teeth, not the NCAA). There would be agreed upon limitations on salaries for coaches; there would be transparency in recruiting; and Name, Image and Likeness could be used to promote student-athletes, not just pay them for breathing.

It would give fans of the FBS-1AA schools hope for competing for a championship. Schools like Colorado would still have work to do. The Buffs would still be competing with schools like Utah and Arizona State for coaches and players, but a path to a winning season and perhaps a conference title would be much more realistic.

Would the excitement be diluted, if Colorado was not a part of the Power Five? Not a part of the discussion for the highest-rated national championship?

Sitting at home in Bozeman, watching the fans of Montana State celebrate their Bobcats make a run to the national championship game, I didn’t see anyone who felt that the title was inferior. I didn’t see anyone who believed that the run wasn’t fun … and totally worth it.

From the smallest high school to the largest SEC school, fans want to cheer for their team. They want to have dreams in September that their team could be playing for a title in December.

CU fans currently have no such dreams. And with CU not killing it in recruiting (compared to 1-10 Arizona), losing starters to the Transfer Portal, not funding NIL (like Washington State fans in eastern Washington), the Buffs will become, if that is even possible, less relevant in the Pac-12 and on the national stage.

The creation of an FBS1-A and FBS1-AA would at least help to bring to a close the lie that teams in the FBS compete on a level playing field.

It’s not a great idea, and it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

But it makes me sick to think that my school – blame the administration; blame the coaches; blame the boosters; take your pick – has no plan in place to participate in new world college football in any sort of competitive manner.

At least in my hypothetical world of FBS1-A and FBS1-AA, I can see the Buffs competing for players, for coaches, for championships.

Which would give me something to get excited about … now that MSU’s season is over.


24 Replies to “Warming to the Idea of FBS “Relegation””

  1. Hey, I agree with everybody that college football is messed up and I don’t know how the Buffs will make it through, but here’s what Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh said in the decision last June:

    “The NCAA has long restricted the compensation and benefits that student athletes may receive… And with surprising success, the NCAA has long shielded its compensation rules from ordinary antitrust scrutiny. Today, however, the Court holds that the NCAA has violated the antitrust laws. The Court’s decision marks an important and overdue course correction, and I join the Court’s excellent opinion in full.”

    “The NCAA couches its arguments for not paying student athletes in innocuous labels… but the labels cannot disguise the reality: The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America. All of the restaurants in a region cannot come together to cut cooks’ wages on the theory that ‘customers prefer’ to eat food from low-paid cooks. Law firms cannot conspire to cabin lawyers’ salaries in the name of providing legal services out of a ‘love of the law.’ Hospitals cannot agree to cap nurses’ income in order to create a ‘purer’ form of helping the sick. News organizations cannot join forces to curtail pay to reporters to preserve a ‘tradition’ of public-minded journalism. Movie studios cannot collude to slash benefits to camera crews to kindle a ‘spirit of amateurism’ in Hollywood.”


    1. And yet, it’s allowed for professional sports…. There are ways to allow compensation AND limit it to ensure parity. The NCAA just failed to do it.

  2. There is an alternative to joining the CFB arms race, how about this for CU and similar schools?
    Consider a new league altogether, the AAU.EDU league?
    1. Only aau.edu members would be eligible, see https://www.aau.edu/who-we-are/our-members (click the highlighted link to the .pdf list). That’s 9/12 in PAC12; 13/14 in B1G; 4/14 in SEC; 4/14 in ACC; 3/10 in BIG12; perhaps ND, plus the service academies. Of course some of thecurrent P5 AAU schools may not come along, e.g., UT, UF, TAM, USC, UO; OSU; UM; maybe others. It could be 25-30 schools. Most schools, P5 and G5 alike would not be eligible, but a school needn’t be a current P5 to be admitted to the league. There could be an appeal process for non-AAU schools to join the league.

    In this league: 1)minimum yet significant academic standards would apply; 2)revenue sharing of by means of a league media contract – schools could keep the local media revenue; 3) there could be spending limits for football and MBB, perhaps other limits (antitrust considerations may come into play here); 4) There would be a commission or commissioner that operates the league and enforces the rules; 5) The league could be organized into divisions or pods but would be regionally-based and would impose guidelines for OOC games, including those with the semi-pro schools (Alabama, Clemson, et al); 6) scheduling would preserve traditional rivalries while providing several inter-regional games, e.g., Penn State @ USC, UDUB at Rutgers, CU at UVA, ND @ Stanford, and so on; 6) There would be a playoff for the league title that would also preserve key bowls like the Rose and the Fiesta, maybe the Orange, too;
    3. This model is may allow the non-rev sports to survive in some form – it is not clear how those sports would fare the semi-pro schools. There could be a media contract revenue shock. If the big name schools enroll in this league then the media dollars could be roughly the same as now, it’s impossible to anticipate. Securing a lucrative media package may require the abolition of G5 and FCS opponents.
    4. This model, if done properly, would also preserve most of the charm of old-style college athletics and be a potent counterpoint to the pay-to-play schools in the semi-pro conference(s).

    Sure, the probability of this happening is low, very low. But i like Stuart’s idea of preserving competition and the character of college sports. The entire focus is reduce or eliminate on-the-field outcomes that are, in the main, determined by a school’s checkbook.

    That’s it.
    best regards to you CUATHTEGAMERS,

  3. Everyone… and I mean everyone… every school, every student, and every fan would be better off if all of the Universities up and left the NCAA and formed a new governing body that actually did the job of looking out for the Student Athletes, instead of simply lining their pocket$ and pretending their decisions weren’t made in conjunction with ESPN. Good riddance.

  4. The reason why the NCAA isn’t doing anything and never will is because the Supreme Court ruled in June that the NCAA was violating antitrust laws when limiting how much schools could give athletes with respect to “education based benefits”. The NCAA, universities, television networks, etc. don’t want to do anything to risk a further antitrust legal decision about sharing the revenue, which goes way beyond NIL, with the players. That’s why we will never hear anything more from the NCAA, as they know their days are numbered and just want to keep their heads down for however long they can. The current CU athletic budget (ie total revenue) is a little under $100 million. If the athletes are considered as “state employees” by the Supreme Court, Department of Labor, etc., what share of this will go to the players and not “university overhead”?

    1. Well, I would just point out that all the major North American Professional sports have a quite serious salary cap … and yet they seem to avoid the antitrust problem. There is quite clearly enough gray area to maintain parity … but the lame-ass thieving execs at the NCAA are not clever enough to find it. They are a complete failure. And they should get dumped out with the trash for it like the owners of any other multi-billion $ failure.

      Keep in mind, if the Buffs start battling to be the champion of any second tier competition OR if they fail to ever be competitive again … that $100M is going to shrink a ton regardless of what the NCAA does not do.

  5. At this point I wish the NFL would just come in and crush them all…form the ‘G-League’, draft/sign the top players out of HS and college, then every school is in the same boat in terms of a ‘better deal’ being out there for high performers.

  6. Nike wanted to move their corporate campus to Boulder, which lead to a Billion (with a B) dollars going to athletics. Nike, was shot down by university officials and Boulder Bureaucrats. Can one journalist please do a story on participants in poo pooing this move. Fire the CU staff and vote out the bureaucrats that prohibited this from happening. Go back to Nike, offer them what they wanted and if need be sweeten the deal. Phil Knight still wants to be in Boulder it’s a better fit for the Brnand. The rise of Oregon football directly correlates with CU turning Nike away.

  7. Great article. I have been thinking along these lines for awhile. Don’t think there is a chance this will happen however. I am afraid we will just slip inexorably into oblivion. The only way this could come to be would be to try and join the Mountain West conference. If other schools did the same, there would be just one or two super conferences that compete with big bankrolls. And I would try to not schedule them. Let them beat up on each other. Don’t need the pain of watching us get steamrolled.

  8. Stu,

    That is a brilliant idea!

    Cause what you wrote is the truth about the super league. I like it.

    Victory Kneels Begin

  9. But … even if Karl Dorrell & Co. can find a way to six wins and a bowl bid (not likely, but it’s still January, so you never know), what will happen next December/January?

    Pure earache

    Go Buffs………………….

  10. Well, I was proposing something a little different to my Buff friends a couple days ago. I see the same thing Stuart does, and I think it’s an abject failure of the NCAA not to have done anything at all to address NIL and to keep the idea of being a “student” also part of the college football experience. (Yes, I really do think they should be getting some kind of education if they are enrolled in University, much less on a full scholarship.)
    So, my vision is really that the NCAA (failure that it is) may be blown up soon, by defections of Universities that no longer believe the NCAA can fulfil it’s leadership role. A new association would need to be formed to replace the NCAA, and they could deal with NIL, athletics and education properly — ensuring some level of parity in sports AS IS DONE IN EVERY PROFESSIONAL SPORT in North America.
    Let’s imagine “the Alliance” just saying NO to the NCAA at some point. They aren’t getting anything from those fools anymore anyway. Yes, I know it would mean huge contract headaches (especially TV) — but ESPN would bend over backwards to make sure it still had content for the Alliance geographies. So it wouldn’t be impossible. It would just take a plan and some good leadership and willingness to cooperate for the goals of some parity and the concept of a STUDENT-athlete.
    The NCAA and it’s do-nothing execs could all get together and watch the SEC play itself all year long on regional TV in the South.

    Yes, it’s a pipe dream. But it’s one I like better than the two-tiered FBS, because it just says “No” to the failure that is the NCAA.

  11. Great article Stuart. I think this realingment is where we are heading. I would prefer to see CU and other schools take the lead in pursuing this rather than being left out by the big $ schools. The reality is the southeast and Midwest are the only regions were fans and alumni are SO invested in football where they will spend any amount of money to win.
    I think there would be some media partners (CBS and Amazon) who would be interested in doing media deals for real college athletics rather than the semi pro most Power 5 has become.

    1. Such a great comment. We’re in the West where we all have other distractions, recreations and identities. In Alabama your pride is vicarious through Tuscaloosa. College football is broken. May as well make it Pro minor leagues and actual amateur college football. Mountain West anyone?

  12. So let’s think this through , let the heavily funded schools leave and set up a super conference with twenty or do teams . The rest of the NCAA , and I agree not governed by the current incompetents, reform all the conferences regionally. Let the super teams play each other and everyone refuse to schedule or play them for anything….! They will end up looking like the NFL with multiple losses with no patsies to fatten up on. Lots of 8-4, 7-5 teams, won’t that be fun to watch their “super fans” bitch about mediocre records. Hoist them on their own pittards of greed and superiority. I agree with Stuart, conferences of the non- privileged playing meaningful games and going to one of the 50 or so other bowl games would be way more fun for CU fans than the current situation. 🤔🤔😁

  13. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I maintain that the key to succeeding in this cruel new world can be measured by things such as, urgency, “grit” and the intense desire to win.
    OK… KD and RG are both relatively competitive personalities; I’ll give you that. There comes a point however, when leaders of such, “disadvantaged” programs, must make the decision to stop complaining about how the system isn’t fair and develop aggressive, new level strategies, that will enable them to successfully compete. The unemployment lines are littered with proud people who have stuck to their traditional system because it, “always worked for them”.

    As it stands now, our leadership team just seems to be methodically going through the motions in what on the surface at least, resembles a normal recruiting model. Not good enough. Sad.

    Clearly not good enough to successfully compete in this new system.

    I submit to you that this is a situation that calls for urgency, creativity, agility, and willingness to be bold. No… Having the coach’s son make some phone calls, does not an aggressive portal recruiting system make.

    I’m sad to say that KD and even RG have obviously NOT revamped their system, to the degree of schools such as Arizona. Disagree? Seriously?
    I’d say… Actions, (results) speak louder than words.

    I would even say that Arizona has set a new standard in how to successfully thrive within this new system as mid-level, “disadvantaged” schools. I would also say, that based on what we have observed so far; our system will not be revamped anytime soon. This tells me that it may take a complete overhaul in leadership, for us to finally see a willingness to embrace a system that will allow us to jump into the fray successfully. That eventuality is up to current leadership.

    The good news? By design, a wholesale revamping of a roster can quickly improve a team.
    The bad news? The more time we take to do this, the harder it will be.
    My hope is that we decide to do this asap.

    Go Buffs

    1. I understand the idea of facing the truth and taking your responsibility, GJBuff. But I do not believe for 1 second that succeeding in the new, wild west that the NCAA has created can be achieved with “…urgency, “grit” and the intense desire to win.” 17-year-old players may have that stuff in them, but most of them don’t have any $$$. So, whomever can add money to the equation will get the players. I’ll bet that’s true for all but a few — less than a quarter of these kids will make school decisions for non-cash reasons. CU (and many, many other universities) will NEVER be able to compete in this model that the NCAA has given us.

  14. Screw 1A and 1AA. If you are going 1AA just divorce yourself completely with the super conference and make up your own governing body with absolutely no old NCAA staff.
    Maybe putting the cart before the horse because how many other schools are going to “relegate ” themselves? Do ya thing WSU will now that they have an nil thing going? Do think AU will now that they have a recruiting jones?
    Stanford and Cal might citing academics before football but I am hard pressed to come up with more than 15 teams that would have a snowball’s chance in a super conference…….but plenty that wouldnt admit they dont. Cincinnati is big time right now but how much longer is their coach going to be there.? No way Utah and BYU are going to relegate themselves. ….and on and on.
    right now it looks like herding cats and hopefully KD will get his act together before 2025 but right now it looks like he will be playing freshmen and maybe some sophomores, and underperforming upper classmen from here on out….which brings me to another point . If they are going to separate the conference levels (again) they will have to seal off the portal.

  15. I’m kind of with CUAlum, and other commenters here, that I don’t think the current unregulated environment is sustainable. The legal challenges and NCAA lack of response created a void, and it is not pretty right now. What happens when every year the national championship game is a repeat of the SEC final? I mean, Georgia vs. Alabama was a fun game to watch this time, to my surprise, but year after year going forward? This is why the NFL, run by businessmen who know how to run a real business (sort of I guess), have regulations and limits and draft rules to help keep some sort of parity. I think, hope, the NCAA or Power-5 combined with the TV networks, will someday realize to keep fans entertained they need to institute some rules to maintain parity in football. Maybe CU will be part of that system, or maybe it will be too late.

  16. Well all that changes if some billionaire decides CU football is their baby. Seriously though it would be more like the NFL except billionaires would own university teams. Bottom line the landscape has changed permanently and the long term consequences are still TBD, but we all know this isn’t going to work in its current form.

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