College football memo: Get well.


In early 2022, 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 focus would be on say nothing at all.

It was difficult because deep down, I much prefer the thought of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s daughter, who said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say. . . come and sit next to 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 means I haven’t talked much about college football in over four months. Which is way better than what I usually do in the resolution service.

But when I look around me, I can no longer be silent.

That’s especially true because I’m about to seriously curtail my interest in college football.

The game has always been heavily weighted – rigged, in fact – towards a select group of schools. And now it’s destined to be even more of an elite-only club.

If you don’t believe it, 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, which are among the handful of other schools in the country that have a chance of succeeding.

Texas and Oklahoma, which have embraced the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy, are also among the outliers.

At the conference level, when Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma don’t win their leagues, that’s shocking news.

If you think a 12- or 16-team playoff will fix the inequity, think again. If half of the playoff teams are from a conference, that just means the sport will be relegated to regional rather than national championship status.

I’ve argued for an eight-team playoff for decades. I always assumed a playoff series where league champions, complete with a few wildcard starters, were a given. ‘Cause in my world a runner up is a runner up and a champ is a champ,

But a playoff with 12 or 16 teams? Where is a third or fourth place team a playoff team? Where there are way 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’d have a slew of fun bowling games — not a slew of playoff games clashing with December weather, December vacations, and final exams that “student-athletes” have to focus on.

I never agreed with the skeptics who said a playoff would ruin the bowl system. But with a mega-playoff, I concede they were right.

The expansion of the conference and the playoffs will only serve to enrich the rich.

And then there’s all the other chaos. . .

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SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff traveled to Washington to ask the government for legislation that will solve the NIL chaos. As if Washington didn’t have enough on its plate. . .

For the record, I have long advocated for college players (aka “student-athletes”) to receive more compensation (beyond their scholarships). And I think it’s right that players are allowed to change schools, just like coaches.

The devil is in the details, however. If NIL payments and the transfer gate mean the rich will get richer – and I believe they are – then what a mess college football will be.

The heart of the issues in college football, from where I’m sitting, is competitive balance. One of the biggest reasons to watch sports is to compete. If the games become incompatible because a few schools have more money and bring together all 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 a long time ago. By sharing TV revenue and having a project, he increased his business and popularity by promoting competition.

Ironic, isn’t it, that so many people who bemoan socialism in general are professional football fans, who embrace elements of socialism when it comes to keeping games competitive?

I can’t blame college players who want to go to schools where they’ll be paid more, where they’ll have the best chance of winning and impressing NFL teams, which will prepare them for even more lucrative professional careers.

What I can do is lament the lack of competitive balance. And mourn the loss of an exciting sport that is now limited to a handful of big 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’ve all lamented the often arbitrary, ineffective, and flawed decisions made by the NCAA, what we have now — every school, every conference, every coach and player, for its own sake — is not the answer.

Instead of waiting for the courts and legislation to fix the problems, college football needs a new way to govern itself.

Instead of going to Washington, college football leaders must form a new governing body. At this point, it should be limited to schools that want to play high-profile 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 shouldn’t prevent entry.

I tend to think 64 is a good number, for symmetry as well as for the practical reality of how many universities are willing to go all out. But it could be 100 schools. Or maybe 40.

The perfect guy to lead this would be Greg Sankey. He’s a magician in determining what’s best for the SEC. His next mission should be to figure out what’s best for college football.

That said, I’m not holding my breath.

Even though elite college football programs profess to love the concept of on-field competition, they show no signs of wanting to keep the playing field level.


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