To truly understand where you are, you need to know where you've been. College football fans know plenty about the big stories surrounding the sport today: full-cost-of-tuition scholarships, early entrants into the NFL draft, mix-and-match uniforms, the term "geographic footprint," and, of course, the new College Football Playoff.
But go back just 30 years to 1984 and not one of those topics would've been found on talk radio stations or messageboards. Oh, yeah. That's because here was very little sports talks radio and no such thing as messageboards. The overall landscape was so different that dinosaurs might as well have been roaming the sidelines.
Coaches wore sportcoats and ties. Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust had been hired straight from the high school ranks. Championships were determined by the polls, allowing an unbeaten BYU team to claim both the AP and Coaches' Poll titles by beating a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl. Players with pro football dreams had two options out of college -- the NFL and the second-year USFL. The selection of games on your television set each Saturday -- your non-HD television set -- was miniscule compared to today's line-up.
But it was in the summer of 1984, as fans geared up for that fall's football season, that a landmark court case would set the table for nearly all of the changes we've seen over the past 30 years. On June 27, 1984, the US Supreme Court delivered its ruling in a case called The NCAA Vs. The Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma. (The University of Georgia also played a lead role in the court battle, along with OU.) Until that date some 30 years and one month ago, the NCAA controlled the television rights for every conference and every school, limiting the number of appearances teams could make on live TV. After the court decided in favor of the schools that had banded together as the College Football Association or CFA, well, everything changed.
Conferences could cut their own individual TV deals. That meant more money for the leagues. ESPN was still a young enterprise at the time, but with oodles of air time to fill, the channel suddenly became a much more powerful player in the college football game. Notre Dame would eventually cut its own deal with NBC; at the time that was believed to be an insane advantage. Conferences began to expand and steal schools from rival leagues. The SEC popped the cork on the idea of a conference championship game. The Big Ten opened eyes with its very own television network. Games started being moved to weeknights. Over the last 30 years college football has grown to become one of the biggest cash cows in all of sports. And while fans had long wanted championship games and playoffs, it wasn't until the TV rights fees for such events skyrocketed that the powers-that-be finally chose to play along. They did so first by creating the Bowl Coalition, then came the Bowl Alliance, then the Bowl Championship Series, and finally, this winter, the first College Football Playoff will launch.
Just for kicks, take a gander at this quickie comparison of College Football 1984 to College Football 2014. The words "drastic change" come to mind.
1984 Division I-A Conferences: 10
2014 FBS Conferences: 10
1984 Division I-A Teams: 110
2014 FBS Teams: 125
1984 Independent Schools: 21
2014 Independent Schools: 4
1984 Conference Championship Games: 0
2014 Conference Championship Games: 7
1984: No Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance, Bowl Championship Series or playoff
2014: College Football Playoff
1984 Bowl Games: 18
2014 Bowl Games: 38 (plus College Football Playoff championship game)
1984 Bowl Season: December 15th, 1984 to January 1st, 1985
2014 Bowl Season: December 20th, 2014 to January 12th, 2015
1984 National Champion: Brigham Young of the WAC
2014 National Champion Favorites: Florida State of the ACC, Oklahoma of the Big 12, Oregon of the Pac-12 and Alabama and Auburn of the SEC
1984 Heisman Trophy Winner: Doug Flutie of Boston College (then an independent school)
2004 Heisman Trophy Favorite: Jameis Winston of Florida State, last year's winner as a freshman
While there were 10 conference then and now, the look, size, and membership of those conferences has changed greatly, as well.
ACC then: 8 teams. ACC now: 14 teams.
Big 8 then: 8 teams. Big 12 now: 10 teams.
Big Ten then: 10 teams. Big Ten now: 14 teams.
Pac-10 then: 10 teams. Pac-12 now: 12 teams.
SEC then: 10 teams. SEC now 14 teams.
MAC then: 10 teams. MAC now 13 teams.
Where now there are the All-America Conference (11 teams), the Mountain West Conference (12 teams), the Sun Belt Conference (11 teams) and Conference USA (13 teams), in 1984 there were the Missouri Valley Conference (7 teams), the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (8 teams), the Southwest Conference (9 teams) and the WAC (9 teams).
For a real mind-blower, try to imagine how today's teams would perform in yesterday's conferences.
ACC: Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia and Wake Forest
(Dabo Swinney would likely be winning a lot more championships.)
Big 8: Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Nebraska
(Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Missouri would form a consistent top half of the conference. A lack of major TV markets would hurt the league's coffers.)
Big Ten: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin
(Nebraska and Penn State have been marquee additions, but Maryland and Rutgers offer more in terms of geography than athletics. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin would dominate.)
MAC: Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (OH), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan
(Akron, Buffalo and UMass have joined this steady little league, but it would still be one of the have-not conferences.)
MVC: Drake, Illinois State, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Tulsa, West Texas State and Wichita State
(The Missouri Valley would go bye-bye in 1985 with most of its schools dropping out of the Division I-A ranks altogether. Here's guessing Tulsa would really be dominating a one-team league at this point.)
Pac-10: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern California, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State
(This league would look pretty much the same top to bottom. To date, Utah and Colorado haven't added much in the way of football.)
PCAA: Cal-State Fullerton, Fresno State, Long Beach State, New Mexico State, Pacific, San Jose State, UNLV and Utah State
(In 1988, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association became the Big West. In 2000, the league stopped sponsoring football and its teams went in various directions.)
SEC: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt
(Since 2011, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas A&M have all won 11 or more games at least once. Traditionalists might not like it, but the new kids on the block have helped make the SEC race more interesting each season. And they've made it possible to launch an SEC Network that will bring in silly amounts of new money.)
SWC: Arkansas, Baylor, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech
(A league brought down in part by rampant cheating -- ask an SMU fan -- and in part by unhealthy bickering -- that's you Texas and Texas A&M -- the Southwest Conference would make for an interesting league today. Would Arkansas be as down as it currently is in a weaker league? Could Texas A&M have passed Texas as the lead dog in the conference? What of Baylor and TCU and their recent successes?)
WAC: Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, Hawaii, New Mexico, San Diego State, UTEP, Utah and Wyoming
(The WAC dropped football altogether in 2012, a sad end for a conference that boasted the national champion 30 years ago.)
The most interesting change has been the decline of independent football programs over the past three decades. In 1984, the list of indies included: Army, Boston College, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, Memphis, Miami (FL), Navy, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette), Syracuse, Temple, Tulane, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
The only independents on the horizon today are Army, Navy, Notre Dame and Brigham Young. It's better to partner up and pool resources than to go it alone on the television contract negotiation front.
Thirty years and a century's worth of changes. And all the shifts and shimmies and shakes began with one court case 30 years ago this summer.
In hindsight, was the Supreme Court's decision to give the schools their own television rights good for the sport or bad? In terms of money, that question doesn't even need answering. Also, college football on television is as popular as its ever been (though there has been some decreases in actual game attendance).
While interest and profits are up, we can't help but feel that too much tradition has been traded away in the process. Face it, Ohio State/Rutgers and Texas A&M/South Carolina don't exactly scream "Rivalry!" So congrats to the schools -- the big one's especially -- for maximizing their opportunity to turn a game into a high-dollar business. But for the rest of us, it still sorta stings to see how things used to be.
(Except for that whole BYU over a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl thing. That was pretty bad. No way around that...)