Jim Gazzolo column: Trying to stick the landing

Published 10:16 am Thursday, August 10, 2023

In the world of Gordon Gekko, greed is good.

In the world of college football, it is likely the death penalty for some small programs.

But looking at the wild times of realignment and saying it is all about greed is a bit simplistic. It seems to be much deeper than that.

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The game of college football is clearly at a tipping point. Big conferences have taken over and changed the way the game is watched and played.

Oregon and Washington didn’t leave the Pac-12 because of greed. Arizona and Arizona State aren’t rushing to the Big 12 over greed either.

Instead, they are all heading to greener pastures more out of survival.

Schools are racing for the softest — and richest — landing spots possible so they don’t get left behind. Making a few bucks along the way isn’t a bad thing for the athletic departments either.

The simple fact is, no school wants to be left without a chair when the realignment music stops, which it one day must. That would mean playing in a league few care about and even fewer show up to watch.

The fewer the television viewers, the fewer the dollars.

We can call this the McNeese State dilemma.

The Cowboys are playing on a much different level but the stakes appear the same. McNeese’s dreams are too big for the Southland Conference and yet too small to find a bigger home just yet.

And the clock appears to be ticking.

With each move of the college football chessboard the game itself shifts.

Right now there are more Football Championship Subdivision teams talking about moving up to the biggest level than ever before. The FCS division has limitations in scheduling, travel and money that the bowl schools don’t even think about.

And the FCS is always looking to the Football Bowl Subdivision schools for at least one big paycheck each fall. Two would be even better.

When you are forced to count on others for your pay, essentially you become their employee. That’s not what schools like McNeese are striving for.

The Cowboys, like so many others in their division, want the independence FBS cash brings and the scheduling doors it opens.

Ask any true McNeese fan, they say right off they want to see better teams and bigger schools come to play in Cowboy Stadium. They are tired of the Houston Christians and the Northwestern States.

Imagine the crowds if Louisiana Tech or Louisiana-Lafayette come back to Lake Charles. McNeese officials dream of that possibility.

While fans think it would be great, many who understand the shifting landscape believe it is the only way to guarantee the fiscal survival of the football program long term.

It is the only way for the Cowboys to be in control of their own destiny.

This mini drama is taking place all over college football on all levels. Division II schools are worried, same with non-Power Five conference programs.

Talk to any athletic director or any school president, the conversation always turns to finding new ways to pay for old things.

And fans, they don’t care. They want bigger games, better players, and of course, more championships.

Maybe in the case of fans it is about greed.

Where all this chaos ends is anybody’s guess, but there will come a day, probably sooner rather than later, when it will end. It has too.

It is at that point when we find out what real damage has been done.

And McNeese, along with more than a few others on the FCS level, learn if they landed on the right side of the fence or not.

That landing could prove painful for some programs and fatal for others.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com