What’s the best trend that has emerged from the first few weeks of the college football season?
Really meaningful nonconference games.
From Clemson-Georgia to Oregon-Ohio State to LSU-UCLA to Texas-Arkansas to Auburn-Penn State, the non-league games have lived up to their hype. This is what makes the sport so entertaining. And let’s include games like Cincinnati-Indiana, which give the so-called Group of 5 teams moments to make statements in the spotlight.
Yes, these matchups also provide excellent data for measuring teams for playoff consideration.
And yet, there’s another trend that threatens to translate info fewer quality nonconference games.
The made-for-TV-dollars arms race between the SEC and the Big Ten/ACC/Pac-12 alliance is a troubling development.
Yes, the SEC’s annexation of Oklahoma and Texas is a great move for the parties involved. And yes, the three-conference alliance is a lame response, deserving of all the barbs it has received.
But if you root for the sport of college football, you should root for an alliance of all the conferences. That’s the path to compelling nonconference matchups. And a more equitable championship race.
That is not the way things are going. Bolstered by the Longhorns and Sooners, the SEC super-conference will have less incentive to play outside its league. And because the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 will be playing each other, they will be less likely to want to play games like Auburn-Penn State, which are rare enough already.
Having two camps competing with each other, rather than coordinating with each other, is sort of like having a United Nations without Russia or China or the United States. Everybody needs to be at the same table, not plotting underneath it.
If the New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys and L.A. Rams could go out and cut their own TV deal, that would be great for them. But not for pro football. The NFL realized that a long time ago.
Getting all of the major conferences on the same page would be a step toward arranging games similar to the nonconference battles that work so well in basketball between the ACC and the Big Ten, and the SEC and the Big 12.
Rotate the conference matchups annually, or split them up in pieces so that leagues see more than one league in a season. One Big Ten division plays counterparts from the Pac-12, the other plays against the SEC.
Rank your teams. No. 1 vs. No. 1 right on down the line. This would provide great matchups and go a long way toward to determining the teams most worthy of playoff status.
All of that said, I am not holding my breath waiting for this idea to become a reality.
When it comes to taking care of themselves first, no college football programs are immune.
Long ago, Notre Dame tried to corner a market by securing its own television contract. Years later, Texas created its own TV network, which started the unraveling of the Big 12.
The Big Ten annexed Penn State, which had been rebuffed by the basketball-driven Big East. The ACC pirated the Big East into oblivion.
The Big Ten then went on to start to the mega-dollars conference network trend, and justified annexing some illogical teams (Nebraska, Maryland, Rutgers) because they added television sets for its network.
The SEC followed with Missouri and Texas A&M—and now Texas and Oklahoma.
In other words, what would be best for the sport is highly unlikely to happen. Because it’s not best for individual schools and their conferences.
That’s reality. It’s also a shame.