The year is 2000, and the leaders of college football are holding their third season of playoffs to determine a true national champion, not one decided by uninformed coaches, partial sportswriters, and moronic sports announcers.
Thanks to a new cable channel on Mars, what has started as a two-team playoff quickly develops into a 64-team affair. Until the semifinals, each round is best of three, then best of seven to determine that true national champion.
Before the final series, NCAA Executive Director Dick Schultz will issue a statement: "We need a three-day break for midsemester exams. Remember, these are students first and athletes second." Because of careful planning by Schultz, the final game will be played no later than July 4, one week before the NBA Finals begin.
Welcome to college football of the future, and if all this seems to strain credulity, consider the reaction if someone had said a year ago that Arkansas would join the Southeastern Conference and Penn State would become a member of the pious Big Ten. When Penn State became the Big Ten's 11th team, conference officials considered the possibility of hiring a consulting firm to come up with a new name, a notion that rivals the breakup of the phone company for sheer stupidity.
Before the decade ends, look for the following: a new stadium at Notre Dame; BYU and San Diego State joining the Pac-10, making it the Pac-12 unless the Pac-10 decides to hire a consulting firm too. However, Oregon State and Washington State will join the Western Athletic Conference, a conference with lots of land and lots of buffalo but no people. In other words, no television revenue.
As the money continues to pour in, college football and basketball players will finally receive money for their hard work, sweat and dedication. The colleges, even with big dollars from television and gate receipts, still will find a way to spend it, forgetting the warning of the late Art Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers who once said, "You always live up to your means." Translated, that means you spend what you get. Just ask the Pentagon.
Notre Dame will continue to have its own television network, something that became a reality the day a judge rule several years ago in favor of Oklahoma and Georgia cutting their own TV deals. The judge called the NCAA's hold on the television rights to college games a "cartel." At that moment it became apparent that the Fighting Irish would appear on television almost as much as reruns of Hawaii Five-O.
At one time in the 1970s, Notre Dame had played in 14 of the 15 highest-rated regular season games on television. The first time the Rose Bowl lost a ratings war came when the Fighting Irish decided to join the rat race and play in a bowl game.
But let's get back to the future. On Jan. 1, 2000, America will wake up and have its choice of 45 games.
Immediately following the bowl games, the four teams not playing in the tournament will return to the weight room to bulk up to 400 pounds apiece. In 2000, offensive and defensive lines will average between 375 and 425 pounds. The smaller linemen, under 350, will be encouraged by their position coaches to bulk up.
(Question: How come the colleges complain when their seniors spend so much time at pro camps in preparation for the draft but see nothing wrong in making the returning players spend every free moment pumping iron and running the stadium steps?)
The SEC will expand and extend invitations to the Miami Dolphins (the Hurricanes are too tough), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (a growing TV market), and maybe the New Orleans Saints. One SEC athletic director will say, "We want to be the Germany of the 21st century."
The radical changes and the greed that will continue to take place cannot totally be blamed on television, but television's money, which makes so many college administrators act like Faust. And everything remains relative. In 1962 Pitt's recruiting budget for football was $14,000. Now the coaches spend that much on team brunches.
When talk emerges out of Texas that the Longhorns and Aggies might become members of the Pac-10, it makes no sense. To some of us, college football remains America's greatest sport, despite what all those bow-tied pundits say about the boring and inferior game of baseball.
If Texas and Arkansas discontinue their series, college football loses. Athletic directors talk about the 1990s as a decade of change and when 2000 arrives, the entire structure of college football will be different. This doesn't make it better necessarily, only different.
If the Big Eight loses Oklahoma to the Southwest Conference and Nebraska to the Big Ten, Kansas and Kansas State will be forced to drop football. Northwestern will eventually ask the Big Ten or whatever name is in vogue at the time to drop out for football but remain for all other sports.
As for the year 2100, Penn State's Joe Paterno will decide to change to blue socks. However, the 21st century will end as it began, with Maryland still looking for a win over Penn State.
Beano Cook is a commentator for ESPN specializing in college football.