Jul 29, 2022 - Sports

College football is starting to look like the NFL

Illustration of different colored footballs
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Major college football is starting to look more and more like the NFL.

A few examples...

1. Free agency: The NCAA's D-I Council is expected to approve unlimited transfers next week, which would effectively bring free agency to college sports, with NIL deals instead of contracts. Playing for four schools in four years wouldn't be the norm, but it would be possible.

"Having been a strident leader for the rights of college athletes, I never anticipated they would go this far."
— Tom Mars, attorney and college sports advocate, via CBS

2. Two conferences: On fall Sundays, America watches the NFC and AFC, two 16-team conferences. On fall Saturdays in the near future, America will watch the new-look SEC and Big Ten, two 16-team conferences (for now).

"Honestly, I think that's our future. ... About 50-55 teams, half of them in the Big Ten, half of them in the SEC. If we're simplifying it, think AFC, NFC in the NFL. Saturdays, you're going to have three divisions: West, Middle and East or South, and that's what it's going to be."
Kirk Herbstreit on "SportsCenter" last month

3. Revenue sharing: Penn State QB Sean Clifford is part of a college football players advocacy group demanding a share of Big Ten media rights revenue, which is expected to top $1 billion annually. Jim Harbaugh thinks they should get a cut, just like NFL players do.

"I believe players should have a share in the revenues, and I think that's something that's really possible at Michigan. I think that's where we're headed."
— Harbaugh

4. Employment status: The National Labor Relations Board last fall said college athletes in revenue-producing sports are employees. That creates a potential path for them to get paid, which roughly half of American adults would support.

"For decades, the idea of college athletes forming a labor union has been a far-flung fantasy … No longer."
Alex Kirshner, Global Sport Matters

The bottom line: As the NCAA's "amateurism" model corrodes amid the rise of NIL, player movement and superleagues, the difference between college and pro football — between Saturdays and Sundays — is fading.

Go deeper