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With ratings numbers in decline and concussions on the rise, many wonder if football is losing its spot as the number one sport in America. Former University of Texas head coach and ESPN Analyst Mack Brown thinks otherwise, but that doesn’t mean the coaching legend has no concerns about the future of the sport.
“There are some real issues right now that are out there,” Brown told NBC News’ Chuck Todd Tuesday in a live interview at the SXSW conference for “1947: The Meet the Press Podcast” as part of the Meet the Press 70th Anniversary kickoff event. “There’s no question that the perception of the game with concussions right now is not good”
In a conversation on the politics of sport, Brown said that in order to reform football and reduce concussions, certain rules must be examined. “What we need to do is continue to learn to tackle better, continue to change the rules so we make it safer,” Brown said. Chief among the changes that he advocated for is the elimination of the kickoff.
For Brown, there are also some changes that could be made to the College Football Playoff. While the current system, which debuted in 2014, calls for four teams to compete for the National Championship, Brown suggests expanding the field to six and instituting a first-round bye for the top two teams.
“I think we’d have to tweak the regular season,” Brown said. “Every sport has a playoff that works with numbers except college football.” In the current playoff scheme, “every year we’re gonna go back and look at two more that should’ve been in. This year is a great example. Should [University of Southern California] have been in because they finished so strong and should Penn State have been in because that might have been the best game till the National Championship Game.”
Brown also weighed in on the state of Baylor University athletics. The program has been involved in a years-long sexual abuse scandal that is still under investigation by state and federal authorities, and also saw one of its basketball players, Patrick Dennehy, murdered by a teammate in 2003.
When asked what penalties the university should face, Brown referred to the Southern Methodist University scandal from the 1970s. According to Brown, the issues surrounding Baylor are more ethics-based and do not merit the NCAA death penalty, or suspension of competition for a sport for at least a year.
“You go back to the death penalty, the only one we’ve ever had was SMU and it didn’t work,” Brown said. He notes that SMU is still feeling the repercussions of that ruling today.
“Still, they’re hoping for five-six wins,” Brown said. “They’re still trying to get back to some credibility in football and without football it’s really hard to raise money and it’s just a trickle-down. It really affects your entire athletic program and your money.”
Brown would know, having spent 40 years coaching in the NCAA. Following a 10-year stint at the University of North Carolina, he settled in with the Longhorns, winning a national championship for the 2005 season. It wasn’t easy, though, as Brown referenced struggles with the relentless scrutiny and media coverage, especially in Texas - a place where football reigns supreme.
Brown points to a conversation with the late Darrell Royal, who won three national titles during his Texas coaching career. Royal told Brown that though there are 27 million people in the state of Texas, “there’s 27 million people that will care about what you do with Texas football every minute of every day.”