Kirk unplugged: Ferentz shares thoughts on college football's future
INDIANAPOLIS — Kirk Ferentz has pretty much seen everything when it comes to the Big Ten, or college football in general.
With 23 years at Iowa, Ferentz isn’t just the dean of Big Ten coaches, but all of the FBS. And his experience goes well beyond that. From 1981-89, he served as Hayden Fry’s offensive line coach for the Hawkeyes.
To put how long ago 1981 was in college football terms, the Ivy League was still considered a Division I-A conference that season. Lee Corso was still a coach rather than a guy who tries on mascot heads. The Rimington Trophy wasn’t awarded to the nation’s top center because Dave Rimington was still playing at Nebraska.
No active coach has more first-hand knowledge of what college football was. And because he’s still an active coach, Ferentz is also keenly aware of what the game is becoming.
I know what you’re thinking — “old man yells at cloud.” But when discussing topics ranging from Big Ten expansion to the College Football Playoff to NIL at Big Ten Media Days, Ferentz showed he’s hardly stuck on the past. His candid, thought-out perspective was truthfully quite refreshing.
Ferentz’s thoughts on the Big Ten’s westward expansion
“The biggest surprise to me was that it got kept quiet. It had to be a small circle. It seems like everything gets leaked nowadays.
“The clear message to me is geography and tradition don’t mean near as much as a lot of other things, TV probably being at the front. That’s just the way college has gone. Penn State joined in the ’90s because of football. Nebraska probably the same thing, and further expansion. So the game’s changed a lot. Things driving the direction of college football have changed.
“I’m at the point right now where nothing does or would surprise me.”
How he views the addition of USC and UCLA
“They’re both names everybody knows. Well, they’re not names, I guess, but letters. 3 and 4. I get that. But when you’re a kid, you knew about UCLA and USC. I think it makes a lot of sense – other than geography. It just doesn’t make sense there.
“And the impact of what it will do to the Rose Bowl, what that’s been traditionally. But the trend in college football right now, tradition’s not what it used to be. At least not on the list of priorities. Whether you like it or not, that’s the world we live in. So embrace it.”
How TV runs college football
“It’s just the world we live in now. This has become an entertainment business. It’s going to be revenue-driven. I’ve said jokingly that I don’t know how the NCAA works. But I’m pretty sure TV predicts the future. What TV wants is going to materialize, especially when new contracts are coming. And it’s not just football.
“There’s probably no sense in worrying about it. And it certainly doesn’t make sense for someone my age to think about USC or UCLA being Big Ten rivals.”
On why he’s glad he’s not coaching USC or UCLA
“I can’t imagine the travel. Coming to Iowa is going to be a home game for those guys compared to going across the country.”
Why keeping divisions (or not) won’t matter to him
“One thing I’ve noticed, when you get past playing round-robin, you can’t make everybody happy. There’s going to be squawking with whatever format we use. I guess as a coach, just tell me the 12 games I’ll play and I’ll get ready for those.”
On CFP expansion
“This may sound crazy, but when we went to 4 [teams], I felt we were better off either going back to 2 or going the other direction to 16 or 24, whatever.
“Probably the biggest question I have [with expansion] is how do you go to school? I’ve talked to the North Dakota State guys, and they’ve done a good job of it, because you’re pretty much professionalizing your team in some ways going to 16 games. And these guys still have to go to class.
“The other thing I’ve focused on is what it’s done to the bowl system. I know we’re in the entertainment business, but if you’re not in that 12 when the first CFP show comes out, you’re kind of like chopped liver. Nobody really cares.
“We just miss out on a lot of good stories that go on in college football. And we get down to 4 and as you get into December, nothing else really matters. I think we miss a lot of good stories and things that are going on sometimes.”
Why lack of NIL regulation concerns him
“Just read the headlines. There’s a real lack of structure and framework in our sport right now, which I think is concerning and dangerous.
“NIL is a great initiative conceptually. But it looks like there’s potential of getting back to haves and have-nots. And we’re always going to have those, but the degree of separation has the potential to accelerate.
“I don’t think it’s a great look when you have national coaches [Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher] bickering in public. I’m not judging anybody, but I’m not sure that’s good for our sport collectively. And our transfer policies are a little bit concerning, too. That being said, I don’t think any of us wants someone on our team that isn’t happy. That’s just a bad marriage. So there’s so many things on the horizon.
“I’m sure a lot of us are confused on what the rules are and how do you operate. And I’m not sure that’s healthy. We just have such a good game. I’d hate to see it implode or suffer a setback if things are too loose.”
On how NIL is affecting recruiting
“A player comes in and says ‘I’ve got a deal for $100,000 at the school, what can you do?’
“How do I know he’s got a deal for $100? What does the contract actually say? Is it guaranteed? There’s a lot of gaps in there.
“It seems there’s probably a better way to do this and still reward the players. I’m hoping we’re going to get to that point.”