Last week, ESPN's Adam Rittenberg authored a piece arguing college football's need to designate a commissioner -- and he's right. Name another multi-billion dollar business that answers to no one. The closest thing the sport has to a power structure is a Greek-style oligarchy, with commissioners begging, borrowing and stealing in the self-serving interests of their own autonomous city-states. See the current state of affairs in the Big 12 for the detrimental effect this practice can have on the sport as a whole.
Rittenberg forwards a handful of names he'd like to see considered for this hypothetical role, and they're the types of names you'd expect to see: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione, Stanford head coach David Shaw, and a few more. Fine men, all. But the wrong choice for commissioner.
No, I have the perfect name to serve as college football's first commissioner: National Football Foundation COO Matthew Sign. (Full disclosure: I worked for Sign at the NFF prior to coming to FootballScoop. He did not seek my endorsement.)
If you're wondering who, exactly, that is, that's fine. Roger Goodell, Adam Silver and Rob Manfred were not household names in their own sports until they became commissioners. Each rose from their respective league offices to the top job in the game, and there's a reason for that: each knew the sport in an intimate, exhaustive way from dealing with the needs and personalities of managing an entire league while also arriving to the top job free of any perceived biases.
In the factioned, regionalized world of college football, choosing an athletics director or commissioner from a certain conference to lead the entire sport hangs a millstone around the new commissioner's neck. Maybe it wouldn't be impossible for Commissioner Jeff Long to shed the accusations that every decision he makes somehow benefits the SEC, but it would be difficult, and a hurdle the game's first commissioner would need to already have cleared before his first day in a highly-politicized office.
When the Allies and the Axis Powers stage their coming battles over realignment, early signing days, scheduling requirements, expanding the College Football Playoff and whatever the future equivalent to the Great Satellite War of 2016 is, the new commissioner has to be Switzerland.
And that's where Sign comes in.
A former Rice football player (that he could start in a major conference as a 5-foot-9 nose guard should tell you something about the man), Sign broke into college football at CBS, then moved into the bowl business before his current role at the National Football Foundation, the philanthropic arm of college football. On a daily basis, Sign interacts with a cross-section of college football movers and shakers rivaled by only a few in the sport -- everything from athletics directors, to executives at ESPN and Under Armour, to bowl barons, to the College Football Officiating organiztion,to Ivy League law school deans that will eventually become SEC and Big Ten university presidents.
In his mid-40's, Sign would stay on the job long enough to make it his, allowing him the leg stretching necessary during what would surely be a feeling out process for all involved and the chance to set the precedent for what the college football commissionership should be. His relationships inside the game coupled with his lack of public profile would allow Sign to be defined by his performance, not where he comes from and who he supposedly represents.
Sign is also close with Chuck Neinas, the former head of the College Football Association, making him the only person to hold a position approximating what a college football commissioner could be.
"Somebody could finally say, 'Well, I listened to everybody, but here's what we need,'" TCU head coach Gary Patterson told ESPN. "When you have one voice, it just helps you. Instead of, 'The Big 12 says they want this, and then the SEC, nah, we hate that. And the Pac-12 says this.'
"We don't make ourselves look too intelligent, to be honest with you, because we don't have one common message coming out."
College football won't have one voice any time soon, but it should, and perhaps someday it will. If and when that day comes, the best person to serve at that voice is Sign.