Kirk Schulz sounded a warning last week. The Washington State president has his own problems with his school's entire identity sits in question after having been left out in the latest round of conference realignment.
But given he was asked -- while on a media Zoom call with officials from his school and Oregon State -- it was time for Schulz to tell college athletics what it's getting into.
"Practically, we can all come up with something better than it's done today," he said. "I just don't see an easy path to get there without a major market disruptor with a lot of resources in there [saying], 'Let's do something different.'"
Washington State and Oregon State currently aren't in the position of disrupting much of anything these days. Their athletic budgets are about to be slashed. They are, however, the leading indicator of what's to come.
The invisible hand of market forces has drawn the line at the Cougars and Beavers. They are no longer part of what will soon become the "Power Four." Their conference collapsed. The other 10 Pac-12 teams found power-league homes.
As the latest College Football Playoff meetings commence Tuesday, Schulz has an idea of what's coming next, and it's not good.
- Will schools be eliminated from within more power conferences during the next round of realignment?
- Will there be a federal law governing NIL? If so, get ready for the feds to basically run college athletics. If not, can schools and collectives and boosters control themselves?
- Will athletes become employees? There are at least two National Labor Relations Board complaints filed that could affect Dartmouth and teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12.
- Will more court cases impact the NCAA? A ruling last week gave class-action status. If that case goes the plaintiffs' way, the NCAA could be on the hook for billions of dollars.
- Will the media rights bubble finally burst? The transition from linear to streaming as a video delivery system should occur in the next 5-10 years, potentially impacting the next round of media rights contracts.
- Will there be more in the sport? A recent Sports Business Journal report noted that Fox and ESPN could one day partner with the NFL to "buy" the top 40 college football teams.
- Will revenue sharing remain unequal; how much so? We're only about seven years away from the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 contracts expiring. SMU, California, Stanford, Oregon and Washington are already taking less money -- or no money -- compared to their new conference partners -- just to be in power leagues.
"They lowered the market for TV rights," Washington State athletic director Patrick Chun said. "SMU and Stanford essentially set the floor at zero dollars [to go to the ACC]. Think about the repercussions of the decisions by those five schools relative to telling TV, 'You know, schools are OK taking less money.' They reset the money on the market, on the floor."
Chun continued: "It's been very clear that TV looks at college football as an inefficient purpose. They're focusing on big brands right now -- what they deem to be the biggest brands. College football is either going to have to adapt to that or create a different total model."
These issues will not exactly be on the agenda at this week's CFP meetings in Chicago. But they will be discussed in earnest during potty breaks and in hallways.
They must be. The future of college athletics is at stake. The CFP Management Committee -- 11 commissioners who control the playoff on a day-to-day basis -- are just in a different kind of limbo than Washington State and Oregon State. (The 11-member CFP Board of Managers -- university presidents and chancellors with ultimate authority over operations -- will not be in Chicago this week. Schulz is a member of the board.)
"Eventually, there is going to have to be something [that comes of it]," Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said of NIL discussions in Washington D.C. "I don't think it will be NIL-based, it will be how collegiate sports operates."
Those Pacific Northwest schools' status is a significant reason why not much can be accomplished this week. That board is in the process of choosing a new executive director with a replacement for Bill Hancock expected by Christmas.
The committee cannot make any moves on adjusting the heretofore agreed upon 12-team playoff model of six automatic qualifiers (highest-ranked conference champions) and six at-large teams. It doesn't even know how many conferences there will be in 2024.
The Mountain West may absorb Washington State and Oregon State. The Pac-2 may absorb the Mountain West somehow. The Pac-12 is gone for sure, but with the recent, other conferences could collapse.
"We're going to have a period of 6-7 years of relative peace and quiet, other than those two having to join the Mountain West Conference," an FBS commissioner said. "The only thing that could rile the situation is an implosion of the ACC."
While that doesn't look likely with 13 years left on the current ACC grant of rights, it does refer to that next round of consolidation hinted at by Schulz.
"At that point, Ohio State may say to Purdue, 'We can't give you a full share. We're going to be driving this thing,'" the same FBS commissioner said.
That prospect has a chilling effect coming off the best weekend of the season featuring six games between ranked opponents. The likes of Purdue indeed might not make it. That's understandable. But can there be a credible CFP without Florida State and Clemson, for example? That FOMO moment had to be in the back of those schools' minds when they were so strident about demanding more ACC revenue.
"It's when other, more prominent brands say, 'Hey, we have to look at more,'" Schulz explained. "The Ohio States, the Michigans, the Alabamas of the world. When they start saying, 'Hey, it's time to get together and start changing something,' we want to be in that conversation."
As things stand, that seems like a longshot for the Cougars and Beavers. They almost certainly will have access to the CFP, but they're still nervous. All signs point to further consolidation. The desperation level is high to stay as close to Power Four status as possible.
"Whatever schools you're going to consider 'power' at this point, I don't see that number getting bigger in the future," said Michael Walsh, the Boise State associate AD who created the promotion/relegation model. "When that number inevitably gets smaller, what can we do right now to establish whatever the tier is below that?
"The Vanderbilts, the Purdues, the Kansas States of the world [need to] have someplace to go."
In a slide deck that has made its way around the Mountain West, Walsh proposed three tiers of eight teams each. Teams would move up and down between tiers with the main purpose being to get the top team into the CFP.
Walsh is admittedly projecting a lot in the slide deck. NBC, Apple and Amazon were stated as possible TV partners. NBC has a broad linear reach and already holds college football deals with Notre Dame and the Big Ten. Apple reportedly made the only offer the Pac-12 had at the end: $20 million to $22 million per school for an all-streaming deal. Amazon has the NFL's "Thursday Night Football" package.
According to Walsh, the Tier I schools would get a base share of $6 million to $8 million per year. That's based on an annual valuation of $150 million to $200 million for the entire enterprise. However, his model was released the second week of August and included Stanford, Cal and SMU; those schools have since migrated to the ACC.
"I'm not putting my name on $150 milllion, on what a network would offer this group especially now that Stanford, Cal and SMU are elsewhere," Walsh told CBS Sports.
"If you have a bunch of schools jump on board … they will be jumping on board with the idea that they have to try something different, and that football is entertainment. And I would hope we see we have a 'Hard Knocks'-type show. Even though the games would be more compelling with this kind of format, you'd have more than just the games."
A Bracket Buster week was built into the model with "arranged" games late in the season.
Promotion/relegation would cause budget uncertainty. ADs at Washington State and Oregon State both said they are unable to plan budgets at the moment because they don't know where they'll be playing. Typically, ADs plan budgets years in in advance. That so-called "pro forma" budgeting lays out a financial play in a "what if" scenario.
Since the debut of the playoff in 2014, Washington State has better TV ratings than any school joining the Big 12, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The Cougars are presently one of five undefeated Pac-12 teams, and they are on track to be bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season. All that excellence almost assuredly won't be enough to keep them playing at the top level.
Chun said Washington State and Oregon State wouldn't be subject to relegation because "I don't see a model where two top 25 programs are relegated."
Oregon State AD Scott Barnes was more receptive.
"I think a sort-of relegation model -- either in unequal distribution, a contraction of teams and/or peer relegation -- will take place. I think that's coming," he said during the Zoom call. "In terms of the model itself, I think there's some merit to look at some form of hybrid model that does support that. We see it working in a similar fashion in [European soccer], and certainly it's worthy of our study."
Frustration continues to simmer. Following Saturday's win over Oregon State, Wazzu coach Jake Dickert lashed out at ESPN's Lee Corso for calling Saturday's game with the Cougs a "Nobody Wants Us Bowl."
It seems like the major disrupting has just begun.