Monday, December 20
Things to watch for in college football
By John Crowley

 Retro is in. Whether it's the foot-tapping sound of the Brothers Gibb, the mystique of a martini and a good cigar or the strange appeal of Dennis Rodman's feather boa, nothing seems more progressive than going back to the future.

Fortunately, college football is a bit more forward-thinking than the masses. But not by too much. With an eye toward the future, we took a peek into the Magic 8-Ball. These are the ideas that made their way through the inky bubbles.

Coming from every corner of the globe
It happened long ago in baseball, and basketball has flourished with the influence of European and African players for more than a decade. Remember when Andrew Gaze of Seton Hall was a phenomenon from Down Under? When Akeem-before-the-H Olajuwon was seen as a Nigerian novelty? With apologies to Garo Yepremian, the last time an international player had a major impact on football in this country was Gus The Kicking Mule in the 1970s Disney spoof.

With the globe becoming ever smaller and teams not hesitating to go ever farther in their search for talent, it's a given that players from Europe and Africa, as well as South and Central America, will make their way onto rosters in the new millennium.

In fact, they already are. Pacific Islanders have long been a big part of the game. This year's Cal team featured six players with Nigerian roots. The Big East career rushing leader, former West Virginia star Amos Zereoue, hails from the Ivory Coast. A generation before him, Nigeria's Christian Okoye dominated the small school ranks at Azusa Pacific. More and more players on NFL Europe teams speak the native language. Soon, they'll be learning a new one as they play for a college education in the United States.
Natalie Jufer, Mildnette Williams
Don't be surprised if women's football starts up in the college ranks.

Women putting on the pads
It wasn't too long ago that the thought of women playing rugby would have been enough to make a self-respecting leatherneck spit up his pregame beer. Now, bastions of tradition such as the University of Virginia, Princeton and Brandeis University -- where the team's motto directs a woman to "be willing to take the pain and redirect it" -- offer the sport to their "co-eds." Be ready for the next step -- women trading in pom-poms for shoulder pads.

The Women's Professional Football League might be one place they end up. The league began play in October and is now in the process of its inaugural "No Limits Barnstorming Tour" that will conclude at the NFL Experience during Superbowl XXXIV in Atlanta. Flag football for ladies has been around for years. But this ain't no "Powder Puff League." Title IX may have an entirely new meaning before the next hundred years go into the books.What will happen first, a women's game at the collegiate level or a Division I playoff for the men's? Don't be surprised if the girls get their act together first.

Pay for play
The "pay for play" debate was dragged out of the morality closet earlier in 1999 when CBS signed an agreement with the NCAA to televise the NCAA basketball tournament into the 21st century -- at about $545 million per year. With schools making so much money, shouldn't the players who provide the revenue receive some compensation? Before too long, the answer may be an equivocal yes. The Olympics found a way to eliminate the charade of amateurism -- not so much out of altruism but survival -- and many critics are saying that it's inevitable that a similar day will dawn for college football.

The argument does not center on whether it's fair -- it's hard to say it isn't -- but rather, how to safely administrate it. The old saw about the immeasurable value of a free college education has long since ceased to impress players. It's one reason many come into the NFL with a chip on their shoulder, as if somebody owes them something. And the truth of the matter is that there is a bit of a debt. When the NCAA and its member institutions start suffering a talent exodus, much like the NCAA is encountering with players entering the NBA draft from high school, the calls for player compensation will reach a crescendo. Will it happen in our lifetime? Well, let's just say that depends on how old you are.

The dawn of superconferences
Money provides us a seamless segue from the previous item. While players might be wondering how to squeeze their first nickel out of the college game, the schools themselves are trying to build their own Fort Knox. Can't you see it now? The Big F-K? Now that would be a league worth watching.

While the size of the SEC and the Big 12 might make the leagues cumbersome and geographically schizophrenic, there is a method behind the madness. Their title games are huge revenue-generators, miniature bowl games that draw more than attention to the schools that earn a place in the conference championship. They draw cash -- and not just for the two teams involved. TV money finds its way into the pocket of every team in the league, proving that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. And 12-team superconferences are soon to be recognized as the game's golden egg.

A national playoff
Changes in college football occur at a glacial pace. But the ice shifted dramatically last year with the creation of the Bowl Championship Series, a somewhat arcane formula for determining a pair of national title contenders. The next step is undoubtedly a national playoff for Division I teams.

In the not-too-distant future, the dinosaurs who currently run the show will disappear, and from the primordial ooze will come a new generation of athletic administrators in search of competitive closure. Will is be eight teams, 12 or 16? How will the bowls be incorporated? These are the vexing questions. It's not of matter of why, but how. Public pressure in support of such a system will play a role in advancing it from the drawing board to the playing field. Television will make it happen.

John Crowley is the college football editor at