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College football badly needs a commissioner. Here are some candidates

Our list includes current and former coaches, administrators and a dark horse or two.
 
Stanford head coach David Shaw holds up the trophy after the team's 45-16 win against Iowa in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016, in Pasadena, Calif.
Stanford head coach David Shaw holds up the trophy after the team's 45-16 win against Iowa in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016, in Pasadena, Calif. [ JAE C. HONG | AP ]
Published Dec. 28, 2023

In a sense, college football has transformed into a metaphorical mosh pit: The more chaotic and unruly it becomes, the bigger it gets.

TV ratings continue to soar, as do media rights deals, coaches’ salaries and name, image and likeness agreements. But amid its burgeoning popularity, this is a game that seems bent on blowing itself up.

Conference realignment, achieved at the expense of non-revenue sports programs, has obliterated many regional rivalries. Name, image and likeness has become a lampooned euphemism for pay-for-play. The transfer portal remains unwieldy. Heck, there’s not even a centralized scheduling format; schools do their non-conference scheduling on their own.

Clearly, this is a sport in dire need of order and oversight, of scheduling and revenue-sharing models.

Or to be more concise, it needs a national commissioner.

Make major-college football its own entity, elect someone to preside over it, and you’re likely to see some degree of stability ensue. Question is, who could handle such a gig? Who possesses the type of universal respect and trust among the college football demographic required to build consensus and — where necessary — reach compromise?

We’ve got a few names in mind. See if you agree. Candidates are listed alphabetically, with their ages.

Joe Castiglione, 66

Oklahoma's Joe Castiglione has been recognized nationally as the athletic director of the year multiple times.
Oklahoma's Joe Castiglione has been recognized nationally as the athletic director of the year multiple times. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]

If we’re going the administrative route, this longtime Oklahoma athletic director seems a sound choice. The resurgence of Sooners football occurred on Castiglione’s watch (he hired Bob Stoops), and he has presided over sprawling facilities upgrades via private donations. Since arriving in Norman in 1998, Castiglione has been named national AD of the year several times by various organizations.

Jim Grobe, 71

Former coach Jim Grobe is a current member of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Former coach Jim Grobe is a current member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. [ LM OTERO | AP ]

Can’t have too many widely respected coaches in this candidate pool, and Grobe — a current member of the College Football Playoff selection committee — earned sprawling acclaim for transforming Wake Forest into an ACC champion (in 2006). Though out of coaching the better part of a decade, he remains familiar with the game’s pressing issues and would be a voice of reason in any negotiating room.

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Chip Kelly, 60

UCLA coach Chip Kelly has some definitive ideas on how the future college football landscape should look.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly has some definitive ideas on how the future college football landscape should look. [ RYAN SUN | AP ]

If his recent monologue prior to the L.A. Bowl is any sign, Kelly has given extensive thought to how college football’s future landscape should look. If he’s ready to leave the sideline, the UCLA (and former Oregon) coach at least would take the job with some conviction. Anyone hoping to rein in name, image and likeness and stabilize realignment must possess some bulldog tenacity. Kelly has it.

Oliver Luck, 63

Former West Virginia quarterback and athletic director Oliver Luck has presided over two professional football leagues.
Former West Virginia quarterback and athletic director Oliver Luck has presided over two professional football leagues. [ TED S. WARREN | Associated Press ]

Arguably no one on this list possesses more wide-ranging experience than Luck. The former West Virginia quarterback has served as an athletic director (at his alma mater), NCAA administrator and pro football league president (NFL Europe) and commissioner (XFL). Such a sprawling resume oozes leadership, diplomacy, compliance and big-time negotiating chops — all prerequisites for this gig.

Ken Niumatalolo, 58

Former Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo owns the most victories in program history.
Former Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo owns the most victories in program history. [ NICK WASS | AP ]

Navy’s winningest coach appears to possess the universal respect of the coaching fraternity. Essentially the anti-Urban Meyer, he eschewed the midnight oil and once cut spring drills short by three practices so his players could focus on academics. We’re not sure how he’d fare in terms of implementing policy, but for principle and perspective, Niumatalolo’s the guy.

Condoleezza Rice, 69

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was an inaugural member of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was an inaugural member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. [ MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ | AP ]

The former U.S. Secretary of State (during the George W. Bush administration) and inaugural member of the College Football Playoff selection committee possesses solid criteria: diplomatic chops, passion for the sport and decision-making boldness. In the college-football context, we don’t see her as politically polarizing, just someone who knows a thing or two about high-stakes dealings.

David Shaw, 51

Former Stanford coach David Shaw led his alma mater to eight bowl games in 12 seasons (2011-2022).
Former Stanford coach David Shaw led his alma mater to eight bowl games in 12 seasons (2011-2022). [ RICK BOWMER | AP ]

Shaw seems to check all the boxes: strong coaching background; intimate familiarity with the sport’s current challenges and universal respect among peers. A Stanford alumnus (with a sociology degree) who led his alma mater to eight bowl games in 12 seasons (2011-2022) with nary an NCAA violation, Shaw also is young enough to perform the job with a high degree of energy for many years — if he wants it.

Jim Tressel, 71

Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, whose ultra-successful tenure with the Buckeyes ended with his resignation amid an NCAA probe, later served as president at Youngstown State.
Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, whose ultra-successful tenure with the Buckeyes ended with his resignation amid an NCAA probe, later served as president at Youngstown State. [ DAVID DERMER | AP ]

This former Ohio State coach is somewhat of a wild-card candidate; he resigned at State in 2011 amidst allegations that he lied to the NCAA during its probe of his program. But Tressel resurrected his image, serving as Youngstown State president for nearly a decade. An elder statesman with administrative and coaching perspectives would seem ideal for the commissioner’s gig. Tressel fits that bill.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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