Jan. 6, 2020 …
Alabama defeated Montana 35-34 tonight to win its third straight NCAA football championship.
The Crimson Tide’s experience in big games proved to be the difference against Montana, which made the NCAA playoffs for the first time after winning the Western Football League championship.
But the Grizzlies earned plenty of respect for the second-year WFL with their performance. The WFL was founded in 2017 after the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences stopped organizing football competition.
The championship pairing showed how much has changed since Northwestern University football players won the right to organize as a labor group in 2014. The cost of football became too much for many colleges. Alabama and the SEC continued, with some programs taking direct help from state legislatures willing to do whatever it took to keep beloved traditions alive.
Football and basketball, though, are the only men’s sports the SEC schools play in the wake of a court ruling that all money spent meeting new labor regulations for football players would be considered in all future Title IX proceedings. Georgia now has 22 women’s sports programs, adding teams in synchronized swimming, team handball and roller hockey in an effort to balance the ledger between men’s and women’s teams in proportion to the student body.
At other schools, many of whom were already losing money on football before the Northwestern ruling, the former nonrevenue sports have struggled to take center stage. Notre Dame’s soccer teams moved into the otherwise vacant Notre Dame stadium, never managing to fill more than half of the cavernous structure.
Fearful of other labor movements and a possible downswing in alumni interest, many athletic departments continued wholesale cuts in their sports programs. Only 14 schools competed in Division I wrestling last season.
Many schools attempted to continue in other Division I sports while fielding a Division III football team. The NCAA refused to allow this move for reasons that are still unclear.
Meanwhile, Montana and a handful of other colleges saw an opportunity to make a name for themselves as the rest of the college football structure collapsed. They invested heavily in football, cutting all other men’s sports, even basketball.
The NCAA’s response to the crisis was hindered by its inability to find a new president. The job was offered to Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, but he was critically injured laughing at the news.