For decades, the NCAA has preserved the idea of amateurism. Rather than making a profit, athletes across all college sports have played “for the love of the game,” but this time is over. With NIL (name, image and likeness) deals finally legalized and classic teams from across the country changing their conferences, college sports are going through seismic changes. While the writing has been on the wall for years, purists and pundits are hitting the metaphorical panic button, crying out the death of college athletics like a paranoid zealot proclaiming the coming apocalypse on a busy New York City street.
However, this is far from the case. Yes, college athletics will look very different in the future. But, in the end, the quality of the product will remain, and traditional rivalries, for the most part, will remain.
Look no further than the college football season thus far, specifically the third Saturday in October.
Alabama and Tennessee squared off in an all-time classic on October 15th. The two teams entered the game undefeated for the first time since 1989 in the classic rivalry. Neyland Stadium hosted a sold-out crowd in Knoxville, and for the first time in 15 years, the Volunteers defeated the Crimson Tide 52-49 in a game that will be remembered for generations. Seismologists recorded a small earthquake after Tennessee kicker Chase McGrath made the game-winning field goal in the game’s final seconds. Then, the goalposts from the stadium were thrown into the Tennessee River. If someone had never watched a college football game, this would be the game you would want to show to them.
All of this is to say that college sports are not in danger; the NCAA has entered a renaissance. With NIL deals, athletes are no longer “one-and-done.” Instead, they are sticking around at their respective universities, buying into their programs and performing at a professional level. While some rivalries are dying with realignment, most notably the Bedlam rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (as the Sooners are joining the SEC along with Texas in 2025), great games will continue. The best teams will still play each other for championships, regardless of which conference patch they wear on their jersey.
In summary, it is time to remove the tinfoil hats and realize that the NCAA is not going anywhere. The traditions will remain. Tailgates will be rowdy. Fields and courts will be stormed. March will stay mad, and football will still reign throughout the year. Heroes will rise, and teams will fall. And in the end, a champion will always be crowned. The methods of achieving these have been changed, but the song will remain the same.