No one person created modern college football, but if you were to create a Mount Rushmore of the current game’s founders, Roy Kramer’s would have to be one of the faces carved into stone. Look at it this way: when Kramer accepted the SEC commissioner job, no FBS conferences played championship games and the national title was still a theoretical concept that wasn’t officially decided until the AP and/or Coaches’ polls were printed in your local newspaper the morning after the final bowl games.
Kramer left his job as Vanderbilt’s athletics director in 1990 to become the SEC commissioner, and within two years the SEC added Arkansas and South Carolina, split into two divisions and held a championship game — an obscure concept that Kramer plucked from Division II and turned into a major television (and money-making) event. It was Kramer who spearheaded the effort to launch the Bowl Championship Series after the 1997 season, thereby fundamentally changing the sport from a series of loosely-connected nation-states to one nationwide conglomerate with a series of regional offshoots.
It’s possible and even probable that someone else would have eventually created the conference championship game and the BCS at the highest level of college football, but we’ll never know because Kramer is the man who did it.
Before he moved into administration, Kramer (pictured right, as Vanderbilt’s AD, with former Alabama football coach Ray Perkins) was the greatest head coach in Central Michigan’s history, leading the Chippewas to an 83-32-2 mark with two conference championships and a Division II national title from 1967-77.
“The game teaches so many things,” Kramer said Saturday, in comments recorded by WNML-AM in Knoxville. “The lessons of toughness, discipline, striving for excellence, teamwork, are taught far better on a football field than in any classroom at any level. In what other laboratory can one experience a Polish right guard and an Italian center opening a hole for an African-American running back, score a touchdown and achieve the ultimate goal of victory?”
He spoke to the National Football Foundation’s East Tennessee Chapter after receiving the group’s Robert R. Neyland Award.
“I’m greatly concerned about this great game,” Kramer said. “It’s under attack from all sides today. My concern is not at Neyland Stadium. It’s not in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It’s not in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s not in Norman, Oklahoma. I’m concerned that it survives on the more than 650 college campuses where their teams will never play on television, where they will play in stadiums that seat probably less than 10,000 fans. Far more importantly, I’m concerned about Friday nights, that the game survives on those dusty fields up in the hills of East Tennessee, on the muddy surfaces of our cities, on the gritty plains of the Midwest. I thoroughly understand the concerns about the health issues in the game today, but unless you’re lying in a prone position on your couch, there aren’t many places in life where you don’t have to take risks, and certainly less on a high school playing field than a 16-year-old driving a car around Knoxville, Tennessee.
“This great nation was not built on softness or avoiding risks. This nation was built on dreams.”