CFB adapts in times of major change

You would think that the powers that be at the time would have been incensed. But when someone asked Roy Kramer, then the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, about the proposal, he all but shrugged. Pressed for an answer, Kramer responded with a question.

"Who were the best programs in college football 30 years ago?" Kramer asked. "Alabama, Michigan, Texas.

"Who are the best programs in college football today?" Kramer continued. "Alabama, Michigan, Texas."

In the 1950s, when players received "laundry money" and the NCAA had no scholarship limits, national champions included Auburn, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oklahoma, all of whom played in BCS bowls a year ago.

In the 1970s -- when the NCAA set scholarship limits at 105 per season, teams rarely played on television and cheating began to spread throughout the major conferences -- national champions included Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and USC. All four programs have won or played for a national championship in the past decade.

In the 1990s, when the NCAA reduced the scholarship limit to 85 and the major conferences formulated what would become the BCS, the national champions included Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Nebraska, all of whom have won a national championship or had a 10-win season in this decade.

If a program has a fan base, tradition and a history of success, its stewards will adapt to the rules of the day and to the economic demands. Some schools choose to fall out of the race. The Ivy League did so after World War II. The service academies scaled back in the 1960s. Other programs, mostly in NFL cities, wanted to keep up but couldn't.

Here's what you need to remember: In 1993, the year Penn State joined the Big Ten, seven major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Eight, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC and SWC) featured 66 members. Twenty-one years later, the seven major conferences have whittled to five. But they include 64 teams (drop Houston, Rice, SMU and Temple; add Utah and Louisville).

No program is impervious to poor leadership or ineffective coaching. Tennessee has spun its wheels in the mud of mediocrity for several seasons; Washington, six years removed from an 0-12 season, climbed slowly back into national prominence. Auburn went from 3-9 to :13 short of a national championship.

And now the FBS has split in half. The aforementioned five conferences and Notre Dame -- 65 schools in all -- have separated themselves from 63 other FBS schools. Among those left behind, only Army (last in 1945) and BYU (1984) ever won a national title.

The state of intercollegiate athletics is chaos. Any official who claims to know how the NCAA manual will read in five years is telling you a story. The playoff has become yesterday's innovation before it even gets off the ground. But as the new college football world order asserts itself, Tennessee still will have checkerboard end zones. Michigan will still wear maize and blue. Oregon will still wear God knows what.

In times of fundamental change, there is comfort in the familiar.

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