When 2022 began, I made a New Year’s resolution to follow the adage, ``If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’’ about college football. . . Even though I knew that would probably mean the emphasis would be on not saying anything at all.
That was difficult because deep down, I much prefer the thinking of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s daughter, who said, ``If you don’t have anything nice to say. . . come sit by me.’’
Here’s the thing: College football, like the rest of the world, is in a very troubled state from where I sit.
Keeping my New Year’s resolution has meant I haven’t said much about college football for more than four months. Which is far better than I usually do in the resolution department.
But when I look around, I can remain silent no longer.
That’s especially true because I am close to seriously downsizing my interest in college football.
The game has always been heavily weighted—rigged, actually—toward a select group of schools. And now, it’s destined to be even more of a club for elites-only.
If you don’t believe that, explain how 14 of the last 16 national championships have been won by teams from the SEC and their Soviet satellite, Clemson. And the two ``outliers’’ were Florida State and Ohio State, who are among the handful of other schools in the nation that have a chance to succeed.
Also among the outliers, for the time being, are Texas and Oklahoma, which have adopted the philosophy of ``if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’’
At the conference level, when Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma don't win their leagues, it's shocking news.
If you think a 12- or 16-team playoff will correct the inequity, think again. If half the playoff teams come from one conference, it just means the sport will be relegated to regional, rather than national, championship status.
I have advocated for an eight-team playoff for decades. I always assumed a playoff where league champions, supplemented by a few wild-card entries, was a given. Because in my world, a runner-up is a runner-up and a champion is a champion,
But a playoff with 12 or 16 teams? Where a third- or fourth-place team is a playoff team? Where there are far too many playoff games? Where some of the games are played on frozen campuses?
Let’s just go back to picking two teams and letting them play for the national championship. That way, at least we would have a slew of fun bowl games—not a slew of playoff games bumping up against December weather, December holidays and the final exams that ``student-athletes’’ supposedly need to concentrate on.
I never agreed with the doubters who said a playoff would be the doom of the bowl system. But with a mega-playoff, I concede that they were right.
Conference and playoff expansion both will only serve to make the rich richer.
And then there’s all the other chaos. . .
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff went to Washington to ask the government for legislation that will resolve the NIL chaos. As if Washington doesn’t have enough on its plate. . .
For the record, I have advocated for college players (aka ``student-athletes’’) to receive more compensation (beyond their scholarships) for a long time. And I think it’s only right that players be allowed to change schools, just like coaches.
The devil is in the details, though. If NIL payments and the Transfer Portal mean that the rich will get richer—and I believe they do—then, what a mess college football will be.
The heart of college football’s problems, from where I sit, is Competitive Balance. One of the big reasons to watch sports is competition. If the games become mismatches because a few schools have more money and corral all of the best players, it’s not competitive. It’s more like a monopoly.
The NFL, which is arguably the most successful team sport, figured this out long ago. By sharing TV revenue and having a draft, it grew its business and its popularity by fostering competition.
Ironic, isn’t it, that so many people who deplore socialism in general are fans of pro football, which embraces elements of socialism when it comes to keeping games competitive?
I can’t blame college players who want to go to schools where they will be paid the most, where they will have the best opportunity to win—and impress NFL teams, which will set them up for even more lucrative pro careers.
What I can do is lament the absence of Competitive Balance. And mourn the loss of an exciting sport that is now limited to a handful of big-time athletic machines.
How to fix this?
The steady decline of the NCAA has left college football in desperate need of leadership and regulation. While we all deplored the often arbitrary, ineffective and wrong decisions made by the NCAA, what we have now—every school, every conference, every coach and player, for himself—is not the answer.
Instead of waiting for courts and legislation to solve the problems, college football needs a new way to govern itself.
Instead of going to Washington, college-football leaders need to form a new governing body. At this point, it should be limited to schools that want to play big time football.
I don’t know how many schools that would be. Merely being a so-called Power 5 school should not guarantee entry. Being outside the Power 5 should not bar entry.
I tend to think 64 is a nice number, for symmetry as well as for the practical reality of how many universities will be willing to go all in. But it could be 100 schools. Or it could be 40.
The perfect guy to run this would be Greg Sankey. He’s a wizard at figuring out what’s best for the SEC. His next assignment should be to figure out what’s best for college football.
That said, I am not holding my breath.
Even though college football’s elite programs profess to like the concept of competition on the field, they are showing no signs of wanting to keeping the playing field level.