The NASCAR-ification of college sports is on the way, whether fans like it or not

The Big 12 conference might become the Allstate 12. That traditional school logo painted at the 50-yard line of your favorite stadium might become a Merrill Lynch symbol. Oh, and the stadium named after an alum may become Field.

Your university's iconic basketball jersey? Expect some patches, if not a complete redesign, featuring corporations big and small — from Chevy trucks to the local campus pizza joint.

The NASCAR-ification of college athletics is coming, quickly, as conferences and schools hunt for additional revenue to share with student athletes while maintaining competitive investment in programs, or even just keeping smaller teams alive.

“It’s a scramble for money,” one major conference commissioner said Monday. “Everything is going to be for sale.”

Well, maybe not everything. Some schools and some conferences may try to withstand the sell-out, or practice some measure of restraint — here’s guessing Michigan won’t ditch the winged helmet for a Dr. Pepper symbol. At least for now.

Others might though.

None of this is truly new in the business of sports or even in parts of college athletics, but the scale and the scope of what is to come will be dramatic and at times jarring. What may begin as something subtle will become un-ignorable.

Think about how “The Rose Bowl presented by Prudential” is one thing. The Pop-Tarts Bowl hauling out a giant toaster to lower a live mascot into it only to spit out a giant edible treat that the winning team gets to snack on is another.

Fans are about to see a whole lot more corporate logos on football fields and basketball courts. (David McNew/Getty Images)
Fans are about to see a whole lot more corporate logos on football fields and basketball courts. (David McNew/Getty Images)

College athletics has always been about the money, of course. For the first time though, it is staring at a future that will feature, thanks to a proposed settlement in several lawsuits against the NCAA, direct athlete compensation. Suddenly labor costs aren’t just tuition, room and board.

If athletic departments are going to maintain salaries and staffing, let alone the number of teams it fields, they need money. Television deals have already been signed. A playoff is coming. Donors are hit up relentlessly. There is only so high ticket prices can go.

Almost no one is confident they have enough.

So patches on uniforms and corporate logos on fields and courts have been approved by the NCAA. Again, this is common in the pros. The NBA has patches. The NHL has ads running across the ice and on the boards. The NFL plays inside Gillette Stadium and Lumen Field. The English Premier League emblazons their primary sponsor right across the front of the jersey — the club's actual historic crest is relegated to smaller status on the left chest.

Then there is NASCAR, where nearly anything goes and winning drivers rattle off a list of companies in their victory speech.

College sports has avoided much of this though. The Alabama football jersey hasn’t changed much through the years. Notre Dame Stadium’s field remains simplistic. It was once a very big deal when Nike was able to put their swoosh on the iconic Penn State uniforms, but that was relatively small and Nike did, after all, make the jersey.

How long does that last?

The biggest and most obvious deal is being pursued by the Big 12, where the 16-team conference is considering changing its entire name for the right price — perhaps $50 million per year, or $3.1 million per team. If it helps that league close the revenue gap with the Big Ten and SEC, which enjoy much larger broadcasting contacts, then everyone seems for it.

And if the Big 12 is willing to do it, how long until the ACC follows, let alone smaller conferences outside of the big-money power circles.

Is some of this unfortunate? Of course. Tradition is a big part of college sports. Corporate names are uninspiring. Then again, the Big Ten has 18 teams, including four on the West Coast. The “Atlantic Coast” Conference has two outposts in the Bay Area.

What’s the value of tradition? What is in a name anyway? Maybe the Ivy League carries too much brand power to be bought, but for everyone else, there is a price.

If the Mid-American Conference can become the F-150 Conference and it helps keep a few swim teams afloat, who is really going to complain? MACtion already plays football games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights because ESPN pays them to do it. The Waffle House Conference? The O'Reilly Auto Parts League? If you are a fan of bowl season you know there is no bottom.

Can we get Poulan Weed Eater back into the game?

The big change here is that the suits who run college athletics have mostly given up any pretense of what this is. If the players are going to be paid by some mechanism, then this is no longer a reason to hold onto decorum.

The NCAA will soon allow corporate logos to be placed at the 50-yard line and each 35 — or the equivalent on a basketball court. A certain number of patches will be allowed on team jerseys. If you want to change your team name … have at it.

The bigger the brand, the bigger the price.

Just know it’s coming.

Everything is the Duke’s Mayo Bowl now.