ATLANTA — The first thing you see when you enter the College Football Hall of Fame on Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta is the wall of helmets.
More than 760, representing “every college that has a football team.”
In the next room, the first person to speak at SEC Media Days spoke of the growing possibility of “super conferences.”
“Well, someone will write, ‘a smart guy,'” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said on July 18. “We are (already) a super league.”
It’s a 14-member SEC for now, 16 with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma on the ground by 2025 (if not sooner) and possibly a few more schools sooner or later.
With the whole group possibly finding themselves contractually bound with the expanding Big Ten.
The College Football Hall of Fame likely needs fewer than 50 helmets for its future super conference display.
Four days of SEC chatter in the rapidly changing world of college football held at Atlanta’s celebration of the sport’s lore provides a clash too obvious to ignore.
The Power Elite against all those other helmets, for example.
Strange changes mean layering on steroids.
Brian Kelly, LSU’s new head coach, has mixed feelings about the realignment. He has coached at Central Michigan and Cincinnati as well as Notre Dame.
“It’s musical chairs,” Kelly said Monday, “and there aren’t enough chairs for everyone. That’s the state of college football right now.
And talk about the Bizzaro World stuff: Sankey in his opening remarks quoted football philosopher Jeff Spicoli, famed high school slacker Sean Penn starred in the 1982 movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
“If I’m here and you’re here,” Sankey joked to the assembled media for his state of the SEC press conference, “isn’t that our time?”
The transfer portal is a more serious thing.
The College Football Hall of Fame’s Famous Coaches Quotes show includes the late Woody Hayes of Ohio State: “You win with people.
These days, most coaches can’t win without recent transfers.
“Fall camp won’t just be about teaching Xs and O’s like it always is,” Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin said Monday. “We have a lot of cultural work to do that you (usually) don’t have to do as much because it’s already established, because your best players have normally been in your program for a year or two.”
Kiffin talks about payroll
The Equipment Revolution display shows some interesting examples of progress. These range from leather helmets and face mask concept to synthetic jerseys and sticky gloves that help catch passes.
During that same long period of college football, there should have been fair name, image, and likeness rules favorable to players. But the NIL landscape has changed so rapidly over the past year that coaches are still scrambling.
Most of them want rules.
“It’s like a baseball payroll,” Kiffin said. “Which teams win over a long period of time? Teams that have a high payroll and can play a lot of players. We are in a situation which is no different from that.
It is important to note that players are not as frustrated with NIL. They kinda like the recent flow of new money coming their way.
“It’s competitive,” said LSU linebacker Mike Jones, formerly of Clemson. “I like this kind of competition (NIL).”
Sankey said NIL clarification should ideally come, if not from the US Congress, from common laws within states that house SEC schools.
One of the best College Football Hall of Fame exhibits features HBCU programs. Jerseys, photo boards, equipment, video.
Highlights include elements of SC State’s upset Celebration Bowl victory last season against Jackson State, led by Deion Sanders.
But Power Five conferences moving to play more conference games threaten traditionally critical “money games” between Power Five teams and HBCU schools and other FCS schools.
Regional differences resonate throughout the museum. Rich rivalries galore. The food culture in the tailgating area.
And then the Big Ten goes and adds Southern Cal and UCLA.
Sankey approached the expansion in different ways. He pointed out that the additions in Texas and Oklahoma were about “reasonable geography.” He accused the SEC of not actively seeking to expand beyond 16 schools, but stressed the need to “be thoughtful but be nimble.”
Sankey had been a leading defender in a 12-team college football playoff, including six general offers. But on Monday, he said it was time to “rethink the approach, the number of teams, if there should be a guarantee for conference champions. Just earn your place.
It’s a major blow to the ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12, not to mention the tradition of conference titles meaning something big.
The shiniest room in the College Football Hall of Fame is the one that contains samples of nearly every individual and team trophy available to claim throughout the sport’s long history.
It’s not so much that in the future there will be fewer schools competing for the most coveted material; the richest have always swallowed up the glory.
But far fewer programs depicted on the wall of more than 760 helmets are likely to share the richness of a suddenly altered college football musical chair world.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff