Seven Modest Proposals: Ideas for how college football can increase entropy and pressure the bluebloods
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The past few days of college football have been an exercise in futility—and no, I'm not just talking about the Big 12's decision Monday to remain at 10 teams after months of expansion talk. For me, the futility came Saturday, when the country's best two teams faced perhaps the toughest tests on their schedules. In fact, it was the first time the No. 1 and No. 2 teams played on the road vs. top-10 teams since 1985, but in neither case did the home team win. Alabama throttled Tennessee, 49–10, and Ohio State eked out a 30–23 victory over a Wisconsin team that kept pace well for four quarters. Still, the outcome of the weekend remains: The No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the AP Poll remained as such, and the odds seem strong that they'll keep those rankings into December.
I'll qualify what comes next by saying that I was at a baseball game as I mulled this over, and one reason I love baseball is its postseason randomness. Wild-cards play one-game playoffs to get in—and plenty of times go on to win it all. This weekend, I watched the game's best team throttle a slightly lesser opponent and then fall to said lesser opponent's ace, who also happened to be the best player in the building. On television, two small-market American League teams duked it out, one a Wild Card, the other a team that (apart from losing the Wild Card play-in in 2013) hadn't made the postseason since 2007.
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I want more of that randomness in college football, and I want it to matter.
How exactly to achieve that—well, that's the hard part. Here are my suggestions, in no particular order. Yes, I know these ideas in some cases would impose unwanted controls on conferences and make scheduling a pain. But they'd be fun!
1. Give us the eight-team playoff. This is in no way shocking or innovative, but I had to include it. Right now, substituting the AP Poll for the not-yet-released CFP rankings, we'd get five teams—Washington, Texas A&M, Louisville, Michigan and Nebraska—that have yet to appear in a playoff game and two—Texas A&M and Washington—that appeared in just one BCS bowl over the selection system's 15 years in place. That in and of itself is enough to capture more interest, and to make the eventual champion play in three playoff games certainly increases the odds of chaos. It's also fun to see those teams that pop up in the top 10 every few years after a great run get a shot at a legitimate postseason. Teams No. 3–15 I often find are the most interesting and fluid, year to year.
2. Also, mandate a spot for a Group of Five team in this eight-team shebang. Houston having one bad Saturday shouldn't doom it.
3. Mandate some nonconference games. I love that in recent years, Power Five conference commissioners have spoken out against their schools lining up September as a parade of bunny opponents. But let's take it one step further: Why not mandate one nonconference game a year in the same vein as the NFL does in its scheduling? Each year, every NFL team plays two games against teams from other divisions of their same conference that finished the previous year at the same spot in their division's standings. This would take some reorganizing—either turning the Power Five into the Power Four or Power Six—but it would be great to force, say, the top five teams in each conference to schedule one of their nonconference games against a team from an assigned other conference that finished in the same place the year before. I say five teams because to make everyone do this we'd have to standardize the size of each conference. For example: Ole Miss finished third in the SEC (ranking teams irrespective of division) in 2015. Under this system, it'd have been mandated to play Ohio State, which finished third in the Big Ten, this year.
4. Schedule inter-division conference games by record. Let's take my second suggestion a step further and mandate the No. 2 team, say, in the SEC West, have to play the No. 2 team in the SEC East the following year. That'd force the SEC to have more than one intra-division game a year in order to ensure all of its teams actually played one another, but let them handle that. Why shouldn't the best two teams in a conference play not only in a championship game, but also the following year?
5. And in that same vein, mandate conference championship games. This seems so obvious it's almost an afterthought, but yeah. The best two teams in a conference should play each other, and I'm not sure what argument there is against that.
6. Put a cap on coaching salaries. College football is all about the coach. Urban Meyer and Nick Saban are the best in the business, and it's no surprise their teams are also at the top of the game. Alabama and Ohio State would do anything to keep these guys, but as much as the idea of the coach as an institution is adorable, it's also—sorry—boring. Not that capping salaries would encourage movement, but it would at least incentivize some coaches to listen to other offers if they felt restless or up for a new challenge—and it would also make those of us who feel a little nauseated when we see that a coach is a state's highest-paid employee feel a bit better, as a bonus.
7. Did I mention an eight-team playoff? I know, I know. I've just imposed communism upon your favorite sport. But these controls from above are, unlike Marx's system, promoted to encourage chaos rather than order. I don't want utopia; I want crying Crimson Tide fans when their team is upset by Houston or in a forced regular-season game against Michigan.
Don't take it personally, Alabama. You'll probably still win anyways.