Why College Football Will Be Dead in 20 Years

By DJ Byrnes on July 18, 2013 at 3:03p

Jon Johnston of CornNation had a very provocative read today concerning the future of college football (that should be read in its entirety). The concussion crisis, the sports cable bubble and even the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit are all red flags that have been flagged as being potentially poisonous to college football.

Johnston's angle is different; he says college football is in trouble because the American university itself is in trouble and will take college sports with it:

Some people, like Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, predict that in as little as 15 years half of the colleges in the United States will be in bankruptcy, upended by online learning and the move to hybrid models in which only select classes are taught in person on campus. Others see more incremental shifts, with virtual learning remaining a tool rather than a transformative technology in higher education.

Higher education officials are also concerned about MOOCs — Massive Open Online Courses which are tuition-free and can be taught to innumerable people at once:

MOOCs are a recent development, but are quickly causing a stir amongst higher educators because of their ability to reach so many students using few resources. Example: In 2011, Stanford offered three MOOC-based courses in machine learning, artificial intelligence and databases. 350,000 students from 190 countries signed up. To understood the magnitude of Stanford's experience, professor Andrew Ng stated:

"In order to reach a comparably sized audience on campus I would have to teach my normal Stanford course for 250 years."

The advent of the internet and computers has changed all facets of life, so it shouldn't be surprising that these tools have the potential to radically alter our education system. While I don't think state colleges are going anywhere, only 23 of 228 athletic departments operated in the black last year. Even as the NCAA has allowed for-profit Grand Canyon University to join the WAC, it certainly isn't hard to envision the open-sourcing of education having chilling effects on college athletics as we know them today.

Before you write this scenario off as implausible, how ridiculous would Detroit filing for bankruptcy have sounded back in the 1970's?


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bodast67's picture

A world without Ohio State football is a world that I don't want to live in....




     " I hope when I die, I die laughing"...                

yrro's picture

As much as I love college football and basketball... the whole concept of revenue, near-professional sports being linked to a university is kind of ridiculous.

d1145fresh's picture

While I have taken online courses and have a lot of family in education who talk about the growing importance of online education I cannot see universities going away. Some schools will, or at least shrink to become more specialized in specific areas, but a lot of universities will remain. I hope it is this way to because of all of the classes I took in my 7+ years of higher education the best thing I learned what how to be an adult. Going to college is half about the education and half about finding out who you are and what  you can and sometimes can't be in your life. The individual growing that a young person does throughout college cannot be achieved through online schooling.

BUCKfutter's picture

hear hear. i work for a large professional services firm with a strong worldwide reputation and they won't even give people with degrees from online schools an interview. you can learn the facts over the internet but the soft skills you begin to develop in college are priceless.  colleges might move some courses to online, but the university model will never be replaced by fully online schools.

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

AeroBuckeye2001's picture

I agree with you 100% Buck. In fact, I believe the proliferation of online degrees makes it easier to sort out preferable job applicants. I can see many people going the traditional degree route to separate themselves from the rest, giving them an advantage in a very competitive job market.
One of the big things we look for in our candidates is the ability to interact and work with diverse groups of people. No experience with teams, then no job.
I think our Buckeye football will be safe.

The Ohio State University Class of 2001

BS Aero & Astronautical Engineering

BuckeyePoetLaureate's picture

I know it's VERY hard for some people to go to a traditional college for whatever reason.  Maybe they have kids, maybe they don't like being around other people...but I'm guessing that people who hire others are less interested in applicants who DIDN'T take the difficult road. 
I would LOVE to be a pitcher in Major League Baseball.  I suppose if I worked out enough and spent all of my time working toward that goal, I might achieve it.  (Probably not.)  Those jobs in MLB, however, are not going to be taken by players who "did the minors" online.  You have to do the hard work, sleep on the buses, survive on a small per diem.  There are no shortcuts.

Proud alumnus of the Ohio State Creative Writing MFA Program.  Creator of the writing craft site Great Writers Steal.

AeroBuckeye2001's picture

That's a great point, and I'm not suggesting that one group is harder working than the other. I graduated high school in the mid 90's and was told that I needed to get my college degree to get a decent job. Whereas, some of my classmates went to work directly out of high school because they couldn't make college work for them, for whatever reason. Obviously, employers would consider my degree an advantage over a high school graduate.
I also recall graduating from OSU and wondering if my bachelors was enough to get a decent job at the time.
The online degree will become the high school degree equivalent of the 90's, thus providing some separation to the traditional degree holders, in my opinion. 

The Ohio State University Class of 2001

BS Aero & Astronautical Engineering

phxbuck's picture

Online degrees are now being offered by large state run institutions, Penn State being on of these.  When you graduate with an "online degree" through a school like Penn State there is absolutely no paper trail that it was online or on campus when you get your actual degree. When you put this on a resume you do not have to distinguish whether it was on-site or not.  

dsbgobux's picture

Not necessarily true. While the degree will say The Pennsylvania State University at the top, under the name of the degree they list the campus the degree was obtained at. In your example it would state "World Campus" I completed my Master's program at Penn State and took a few classes at other campuses. On my transcript the classes not taken at UP were listed as such.

Buckeye in PA purgatory

captain obvious's picture

hello to NFL Minor League football

I'm a friend of thunder is it any wonder lightning strikes me

TMac's picture

As well as different/expanded NBA-D league. 
If universities go the way of the Newspaper, it will be the Olympic type sports that won't have the funding source(s) for many athletes to continue after HS. 

ONE Not Done!

Haybucks's picture

Some players have admitted to be ready for that shift.

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


BuckeyePoetLaureate's picture

I hadn't heard about that.  Amazing.

Proud alumnus of the Ohio State Creative Writing MFA Program.  Creator of the writing craft site Great Writers Steal.

Hovenaut's picture

It's a valid point....but the money involved finds a way to keep the sport afloat.

Briefly saw some the SEC media day earlier....their TV deal with the WWL is through 2034. If the demand is there, the sport evolves and stays relevant.

Iwearmocs's picture

I kinda think football should go the way European soccer does it.  Get the guys out of here who just want to go pro and put them into "football clubs" where they get an education but are actually trained to play professional sports.  Then let Collegiate athletes be actual students, not quasi-celebrity superheroes that we critique way too much and people make way too much money off of.

ChillitownBuck30's picture

I am sorry but I just don't see universities, especially tOSU, taking away college football.  This may sound ridiculous, but for some people it is almost like a way of life.  You would be taking something extremely important from hundreds of thousands of people.  I realize there are more important things in life than college football.  I am a single father and I know the responsibilities and life I have ahead of me.  If they took away college football it wouldn't end my life (to be so dramatic), but it would be very, very disappointing.  Those Saturdays have been some of the best times of my life.  It would be a shame to not be able to share those times with my son, and for him to have those experiences with me when he is old enough to really understand how great the game can be.  

“Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself.”

raki's picture

But One thing is for Sure "The Big Ten Network Sucks"

BME_Buckeye's picture

If only there were a device out there that let me change the channel. 

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.


rampageripster's picture

The hybrid model is the one that is getting the most buzz.  In the sciences, lab or field-based courses are still VERY important.  But a lot of the lecture based general education courses could disappear.
The important factor to consider is the role of research.  The majority of major research in this country is either university or federal.  If universities disappeared, where would all those displaced researchers go to?  The federal system can't support them.  The idea that they can go to corporations is not realistic.

Cause I couldn't go for three

Estrada's picture

The catch is that most of the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) based research occurring at American Universities is federally funded.  So it's a university and federal partnership, but one where a great deal of federal money is poured into universities (which take substantial overheads from research grants awarded to individual researchers).
So you're correct that if universities went away there wouldn't be any place for them to go (BioTech could not and would not take any more from those fields than they already do).  But there is currently enough federal research dollars to keep the STEM research arms of all tier 1 universities open (by tier 1, I'm referring to the ~100 top research universities)--even if they shut down all education (yes there's that much money coming in).

BED's picture

The Ohio State University, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2006
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Class of 2009

southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Haha.  Way to put this silly notion to bed, Bed.
Here's one that can't go wrong...we will all be dead in 500 years.

I like cookies.

741's picture

Not the vampires. Don't you watch television?


^ And Y2K was supposed to kill us all from all the computers going apeshit and launching our nukes against us...oh wait, that was a Family Guy episode, nevermind :)
Does anyone realistically think something that generates that kind of revenue will ever be destroyed? They'll start playing 2-hand touch because of all the concussion lawsuits sooner than they will just stop trying to generate hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
If the NCAA is ever dissolved you'll just see schools turn their programs into club sports...only with multi-million dollar TV revenue backing and 100,000-seat stadiums. Think of it as the world's most expensive intramural league. The sport would change in name only.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Basso Profondo's picture

Definitely +1.  Hindsight is 20/20, but in the mean time we have one hell of a coach and let's enjoy where the Urban era takes us. 

Idaho Helga's picture

When I was a kid, we were all schooled in science class that the earth is cooling and another ice age was on the horizon.  This is why I don't buy the global warming stuff.  It's al cyclical folks.

cal3713's picture

True, it is all cyclical, but the cycles are so long that we'd almost never notice them in a generation or two.  Current (human caused) global warming theories, however are supported by a near unanimous scientific consensus.  It's only a very vocal minority (of mostly non-scientists) who are good at getting media attention that convinces the public otherwise.  

smith5568's picture

Wasn't the world going to end in 2012? Most of these types of claims are a bunch of conjecture aimed at gaining attention. I do not see there being any chance that Universities will become bankrupt because of online learning. As many have stated, there are things that you learn while in college that cannot be taught in a solely online environment.   

Fugelere's picture

Hopefully I'll be dead before that ever happens.

lamplighter's picture

I'll be over 80 by then, so I'll either be dead or maybe something worse.  Enjoy it while it's here

AngelHeartsBuckeyes's picture


Online classes are to blame for the demise! Thank goodness! I thought it was because Brady Hoke was going to eat all the other coaches.

Buckeye born and bred. Buckeye til I'm dead.

LouieG's picture

Working in education I can tell you that this is on the minds of many people in higher education.  I work at a large, incorrectly directionally named state school in Florida and I can attest that this is something that scares schools like mine. While this article is a bit of an overreaction there will be some casualties and some schools will suffer.   Schools that will suffer are those without stellar academic reputations and those without a strong alumni base that are motivated by athletic program that they take pride in. 

Idaho Helga's picture

I don't think they will all disappear, but they will transform.  No one can afford college anymore.  The liabilities of the retirement packages promised the faculty are slowly coming to a crisis.  I think certainly most, if not all, 100-200 level courses will go online.
Research is what will continue to sustain the model.  So, if you are not a research institution you are in big trouble.
In 2011, the average student loan debt was $26,000. Now it's over $32,000.  That increase in just TWO years.   The worst part is that many won't graduate and are still going to have to pay back that debt. 
Want to really get depressed? Look here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/10/student-loan-debt-median-income...

cal3713's picture

The argument that you can get a better education when you take a class taught to 350,000 rather than 30 is simply wrong.  There are some interesting ideas out there about how to marry this approach with traditional class-room learning, but in the end humans learn best through direct apprenticeship.  Try to learn how to become a successful researcher over the internet.  Just like in football, you eventually need direct one-on-one instruction.

phxbuck's picture

Yes it is called your first job. 

buckeyedude's picture

Well if that's the case, I hope to GOD Ohio State wins the next twenty years so OSU can finish with a winning overall record vs. the Skunk Rats.



YTOWNBUCKI's picture

I've never quite understood the online degree hype.  It's almost incorrect to even call it education.  Sure, it probably invokes some thought, but I've had friends in the Navy who have gone to an online university and it's a joke.  I'm in the majority of thinkers that believe it may bring demise to a select few, but there is no way a school like tOSU will suffer from this.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors

Go get your shine box, Gumar!

BuckeyePoetLaureate's picture

The Internet is a tool and can be good for some things, but online education is simply not the same as real instruction.  (And perhaps the biggest concern is that there's no way to know who is doing what little work is assigned in such courses.)  I read in Harper's, I believe, that 70+% of instructors of online courses don't think that students should get credit.  Why?  They don't require very much work of the students.  Typing out a response on a message board is simply not the same as being in a classroom with a couple dozen other people.  If you're doing it right, college is really hard, no matter how smart you are.  Successful people challenge themselves.
Think of it like a GED: do you really believe that a few weeks of test preparation equals four years of high school?  Can 18 months of taking weekly online quizzes really equal four years of undergraduate education?

Proud alumnus of the Ohio State Creative Writing MFA Program.  Creator of the writing craft site Great Writers Steal.

redfox's picture

It will never happen but i will be dead by then anyhow.

steensn's picture

These doom and gloom scenarios forget to take into account that universities will adjust. Frankly, there is a draw and prestige to going to campus and there always will be. Humans are social creatures, there will always be higher quality education in real world settings. It will just adjust to knew technologies, potentially hosting classes in lecture halls taught by the same professor across multiple campuses.

Haybucks's picture

The online schools should field online teams. Since the schools are virtual it would be prudent to get the NCAA out of the business of virtual gaming.
NCAA removing name, logo from EA Sports college football video game

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


Chilimac419's picture

Where is the terminator when you need him. Down with skynet.   Go bucks 

MN Buckeye's picture

There are some majors where graduates are unlikely to ever earn a sufficient salary in their field to pay back a heavy student load debt (social work, for example).  This is not to say that the field is not important, but a student better think long and hard about the return on the investment.  The science, engineering, and medical fields are among the strongest for potential earning power.  
But universities have for some time been utilizing elements of on-line learning, with some courses completely on-line.  One way universities have been adapting is to eliminate full-time tenure-track positions and hire adjunct faculty at basement wages.  The key is finding the right balance for a strong educational experience to make the educational cost worthwhile.

ColerainBuckeye33's picture

This is kind of similar down here in Cincy when people were making assumptions that netflix would put blockbusters out of business.Seemed kind of ludacris at the moment but fast forward 5 or so years and now redbox and netflix have successfully shut down every single blockbuster in my area and I imagine in alot of other areas as well.I could see alot of the smaller less known universities having trouble.Hell I could live with just the top 56 schools 4 divisions of 14 of the best of the best in football.Every single game would be fun to watch all season.

A wise man once said "success is not final and failure is not fatal"

darbnurb's picture

I have had nightmares about attending class in my underwear.  Now it is a reality.  

Jelligrim's picture

Is the sky supposed to fall today?