A Split is Coming: Head Coaches Sound Off on Future of G5 Football

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Finding a topic that Power Four and G5 head coaches agree on is a difficult chore.

They’ll all agree college football is broken in one way or another, but the remedies and the ills rarely line up because the two classes of FBS football live on different planes of existence. And that’s why common ground is easier with one specific topic: the future structure of G5 football. 

“There’s got to be a split (between P4 and G5) eventually,” TCU head coach Sonny Dykes said during our magazine visit. “There is such a big difference right now between the haves and the have nots and I think we’ll eventually split into two separate divisions. Alabama and La Tech aren’t playing the same sport.” 

Dykes would know. He led La Tech from 2010-2012, eventually leaving for the Cal job after winning a WAC title in 2011 and nine games in 2012. He credits the success in 2012 to a large group of returning players from the 2011 squad. That's a luxury coaches in the G5 can no longer enjoy.

“Those jobs are even harder now because if one of your players has a great season, he’s probably getting plucked away,” he explained. “Your only chance is to build a great culture and hope that keeps most of your roster intact.” 

The G5 coaches agree. North Texas head coach Eric Morris predicts that the Power Four will split from the NCAA soon to form their own league so that they can collectively bargain for student athletes to become employees. Schools that can’t afford a few hundred new employees earning minimum wage and benefits beyond the standard scholarship and stipend will remain.

SMU left the G5 for the ACC while leaving $100 million in television rights on the cutting room floor in part because the Ponies felt like a divide was coming and they’re betting that playing with the big boys (P4) is more valuable when, not if, the G5 is left behind. Sam Houston also left the FCS in part because of this thinking – when there is a split and the G5 becomes its own thing, FCS becomes the third tier of college football. 

“At some point, G5 has to step back and let the powers at be with money (P4) do their own thing,” Morris said. “At that point, the question becomes – how do we stay relevant to our fans and to a broader audience?” 

Rhett Lashlee is in a unique position to speak on the subject. His Mustangs won the AAC last year and were arguably the best G5 program in the nation. Liberty was awarded with the trip to the Fiesta Bowl as the automatic New Year’s Six bid, however. He’ll admit that as the head coach of SMU, he would’ve loved for his team to get that same shot. But now that he doesn’t have to fight that public battle, he agrees there is a better way forward than sending the G5 champion to be a sacrificial lamb. 

“Would you rather get beat 48-7 to Georgia in first round or play for a championship?” Lashlee asked rhetorically on a visit to SMU for the DCTF summer magazine. “Some say that makes it FCS football, but FCS football thrives for what it is. What saves G5 football is competition.”

The buzz is building for the G5 to create their own Top 25. The next step would be its own playoff. Maybe the winner gets entry into the P4 in the next year. Maybe the season starts a month earlier or a month later to avoid a conflict against the expanded College Football Playoff. Maybe it is time to admit out loud that there aren’t more than 30 or 40 programs that can compete for a national championship. This isn’t basketball or baseball. This is a violent sport won by big, bad men. And there are only so many of those between the ages of 18-22 at a time. If the Texas Longhorns struggled to develop a winning offensive line for over a decade, how can UTEP expect to do it? 

“I think the fans would’ve loved it if Liberty, SMU, Troy, and Boise State were in a four-team playoff last year,” Lashlee said. “Kids will still transfer up or down but at least each school is competing for something.” 

For too long, the G5 was forced to change because it benefitted the Power Four. Conference realignment is a perfect example. The G5 coaches want to bring back regionality – you know, the backbone of college football history. It might make sense for Michigan and USC to join forces, but does UTEP and FIU benefit each other in the same way? Is the money large enough to traverse the country for volleyball games?

If the G5 is no longer beholden to the power brokers of college football, common sense might make a comeback. 

“I know people at North Texas will be more juiced if we’re playing Rice, UTSA, Texas State, UTEP, and Sam opposed to flying to Charlotte or East Carolina,” Morris said. “Why are we flying to Charlotte this year but not playing Rice? We could be in a conference with Texas State and UTEP and the rest of the regional schools to get back to what college football is about.” 

Predicting the future of college football is a fool’s errand. No head coach was discussing NIL, transfer Portal, and collective bargaining in 2004. So, who knows what this sport looks like in 2034. We do know it’ll look different. And we do know the G5 doesn’t have a ton of control about how its shaped. 

“I’m not sure the G5 has much control over (us being saved),” Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren said. “I think that’s about the Big 10 and SEC deciding to do what is right for football.” 

If that’s the case, good luck. 

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