In the spirit of is this good, I'll stipulate: college football IS good. However, there are some big problems, which is what this post will focus on. Enjoy!
Being a fan of college football is kind of like going to a strip club.
The first similarity is pretending.
The way strippers act—friendly, sexy, flirty—along with the fact there’s something inherently intimate about seeing someone’s privates, we kind of pretend we have a chance with them—even though we don’t.
Same thing when we watch college football: we wear the shirts, tribalize, day drink, eat too much—basically, all the things we did in college—even though we’re not 18 anymore and hangovers are a bitch. Not to mention the fact that most of us aren't in college anymore.
Second, we develop false expectations and become jaded.
The strippers aren’t hot enough, they’re spending too much time with a certain group, this place is dead—let’s go to the next one it’ll be better.
Just like college football: the next game will be a different story, the games on next week are better, next season we’ll have eight wins instead of six.
Third, we all know how it’s going to end.
For the strip club it’s going home—alone—with regret.
If you’re married, it’s because you know you should’ve spent that time with your wife and/or kids; if you’re single, it's because you could’ve spend the time talking to people you actually had a chance to date, and the fact your drunk ass had the Lyft driver stop at Taco Bell on the way home so you could belly down three grilled stuffed burritos.
And with college football? The same inevitable regret.
We watch a bunch of shitty, meaningless bowl games and then it’s Alabama vs. some other big program playing for the championship (Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State, etc.), which Alabama wins 2/3rds of the time, followed by the empty feeling that college football’s predictable and anti-climactic post season brings with it: damn. Only a month of the NFL left and then it’s a sports graveyard until March Madness and Opening Day (which of course only applies to those of us smart enough to like baseball).
But the last comparison is the most troubling.
Because whether the fun and excitement of the pole dance or the game distracts us from thinking about it, or we consciously push it out of mind, both the strip club and college football have a deep, dark underbelly.
Let’s face it: Destiny may have a pretty face and a great body, but chances are she was abused when she was younger, or she’s been forced into stripping for the money, and her life is probably pretty rough, exploitative, and/or abusive.
You know, just like your favorite college team’s middle linebacker.
He has dreams of the NFL, but the truth is he’s not fast enough to play on Sundays, and there’s a high likelihood he won’t graduate or if he does it’ll be with a degree that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. What he will have, however, is a body riddled with injuries you’d only otherwise see in a car accident, and the specter of developing CTE for the rest of his adult life.
In sum, college football is fun and exciting, but it has some big problems too. Here’s a look at the problems and some potential fixes the NCAA and we as fans ought to consider…
Problem #1: Parity
Let’s start with parity—or in the case of college football—disparity.
At the beginning of the 2016 season, before any games had even been played, here are the teams I would’ve predicted to be in the college football playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Michigan.
As it turns out I was off by one—not sure if anyone saw Washington coming out of the Pac-12 with only one loss. I also would’ve guessed Alabama would win it all, and they came damn close; but if I couldn't take the Tide, I would’ve guessed Clemson.
What does it say about the parity and competitiveness of a sport when we can predict the winners to a large degree of accuracy before the season even starts?
(My predictions this year: Alabama vs. Ohio State—no, that’s not going out on a limb, but if you want to bet against me, I’ll take it)
The NBA has the same problem: we all knew Golden State would play Cleveland for the NBA Championship this year (and that the Warriors would likely win it). And I guess if you’re a diehard, that’s OK, but it kills it for me. I’m not the biggest basketball fan in the world, but I live in Portland, I love the Blazers, and if there was any parity in the NBA whatsoever, I’d pay a lot more attention.
But when we know almost certainly who’s going to win, what’s the point? The best thing about watching any individual sporting event is that we don’t know what the outcome will be—and unlike a book or movie, which usually follow some pretty predictable patterns—in sports, we really don’t know.
Prolonged dominance, like Alabama’s, can absolutely add to the drama—but only if there are occasional upsets—which is why Clemson’s win was a huge boon for college football.
But one season doesn’t fix a systemic problem.
The biggest problem for parity in college football is that not only do the top tier programs get the best players and win most of their games, but even if they stumble, like Ohio State did against Penn State, they still get put into the playoff, so what should’ve been a meaningful upset turns out not to matter at all.
The same was true for Alabama. Does anyone honestly think if the Tide lost to Auburn last year they would’ve been left out of the playoff? If you do, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
So while the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s and Michigan’s and Florida State’s of the world have to lose two games in order to be left out, other teams can lose maybe once—remember, there was a lot of talk about putting a two-loss Michigan or Penn State in the playoff over one-loss Washington, a team that certainly acquitted themselves better against Alabama than did Ohio State vs. Clemson.
The Fix: Expand the Playoff Field and Allow Transfers to Play Immediately
College football should expand from a four team playoff to a twelve team tournament: the five major conference champions (SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, and ACC—and I’d do away with the conference championship games—just take the team with the best record in that conference) plus seven at-large bids.
The teams are seeded by the Playoff Committee, with the top four receiving a bye for the first round. Then 5 plays 12, 6 plays 11, etc., with the top seeds getting home games. The winners of those games then play away against the top four seeds—for example, the winner of the 8/9 matchup would play the 1 seed.
After the quarterfinals sorted themselves out, we’d have a semi-final almost exactly the same as it is now, with the remaining four teams playing at one of the traditional New Year’s Day bowls, and then a championship two weeks later.
Why 12 teams?
Well, if we simply expanded to eight, the big five conferences are going to demand that their champions be guaranteed a spot, leaving only three at-large bids, which is too few.
Consider the 2016 season: it would’ve been awesome to see a Florida State or USC or Oklahoma in the playoffs, but with an eight team field, it’s likely at least two of them are left out. Plus, this solves your fans traveling problem, because we’d have home games for the first two rounds.
Finally, is there a chance the number 12 team in the country can beat the number one team? Absolutely. Think about it this way: wouldn't we want to watch a 1 vs. 12 matchup during the regular season? Granted it’s a slippery slope to be sure, of where that cutoff lies, but for football it would be impractical to play more than four post-season games—note too that we’d be cutting back to an 11 game schedule with no conference championship games, so the total number of games played by the champion would be a maximum of 15, same as it is now. The other thing I like about a 12 team field is that you can give a bye and a guaranteed home game to the top four teams, rewarding those who have the best season.
And who knows: maybe we still end up with a lot of Championships for the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s of the world, but a larger field would give more teams a chance—and along with it, more exposure, which might help other schools catch up to the game’s premiere recruiters.
The other thing that would help is to allow student-athletes to transfer and play the same year. Right now, most transfers have to sit out a year, which prevents a lot of highly talented guys from leaving programs where they end up second or third string when they could be starting and excelling at other schools.
And let’s be clear: most players aren’t going to transfer anyway, so I don’t want to hear any slippery-slope bullshit—transferring is a pain in the ass (I know, because I did it twice) that requires a big move to new, uncomfortable surroundings.
But if they want to, let ‘em. It’s one way college football could increase parity, empower players, and democratize the process.
Problem #2: The Game—Scoring and Length
Seriously, does anyone play defense anymore? I mean, holy shit, it’s a free-for-all out there. Remember last year’s Rose Bowl featuring Penn State vs. USC? Score. Score. Score. Score.
To the point of absurdity.
In a lot of games it basically comes down to who happens to have the ball last—which is arguably why Clemson won last year (I’m sure Tide fans will agree with me). And maybe that’s exciting for those who like seeing endzone dances and a lot of points on the board, but after awhile it takes away from the basic allure that sporting events have, which again, is the fact we truly don’t know what’s going to happen. In other words, when scoring becomes inevitable, it’s boring.
The other thing is that it makes the games longer. Because every time someone scores, there’s usually two advertising breaks—one after the score and one after the kickoff. The clock is stopped, players aren’t playing, and you and I are either bored or staring at our phones to fill the time.
And to be frank, the games are already pretty damn long.
Why? Well, scoring is one problem. But they also stop the clock on every first down and review all the scoring plays—plus other plays where there’s a turnover or a catch is in question.
But seriously, four and a half fucking hours to watch a college football game? Are you kidding me? It’s especially brutal for fans of teams with late games—I’m an Oregon State fan, so trust me, I know. The game doesn’t end until midnight, and with traffic you don’t get home until 2 am. It’s brutal. And it kinda ruins your weekend.
The Fix: Don’t Stop the Clock on First Downs and Fix Challenges
The first thing that addresses both scoring and game length is to just let the clock run. Guy goes out of bounds, fine, but stopping the clock on first down is silly and totally unnecessary. There’s no good reason to do it, it adds a lot of time to the game and leads to more scoring, which causes games to last even longer.
Second, don’t review every scoring play. Let the plays stand as they’re called on the field, give coaches flags like they have in the NFL, and let them be responsible for deciding when to challenge. If it’s a crucial spot in the game, they will. If not, the clock continues running and the game goes on.
Problem #3: Player Compensation
College football is an industry worth billions and billions of dollars a year—and nearly all of those profits go to media executives, school administrators, the NCAA, and coaches.
In other words, everyone gets in on the action EXCEPT the players themselves, the very people without whom the game wouldn’t be possible.
Yes, many of them get scholarships, and there’s benefits like stipends and free meals and getting laid by beautiful girls who wouldn’t know your name if you weren’t on the football team, which is all well and good, but it’s still a pittance compared to the value they are providing our economy and their universities.
Sorry, but that’s the truth. College coaches make nearly as much as coaches in the NFL and the TV deals for individual leagues are worth billions, but none of that’s possible without players on the field. And generally speaking, if those players ever want to get paid playing on Sunday, they HAVE to play college football for at least three years. Not quite slavery, but there’s nothing democratic or capitalist about it either.
That’s bad. Especially in a sport where your career could end on any one play, and merely playing at all risks life-long health consequences years later.
The Fix: Allow Players to Sell Likenesses and Introduce Profit Sharing
So players need to get paid, but the question is how? More in scholarships or stipends? More girls? Kidding. No, in all seriousness what college football should do are two things:
1) Allow players to profit off their names and likenesses.
2) Introduce profit sharing for each and every game they play in—at least 10-15% of the profits.
The first idea is simple: if you’re Deshaun Watson, or Leonard Fournette, or Christian McCaffrey, you ought to be able to sell Jerseys, autographs, or profit off of your likeness in a video game. And this would solve one problem, which is that big time players should probably get more benefit than guys who won’t be playing at the next level. They provide more value, right? So they should reap more of the profits. It’s called capitalism.
The second part is where the team comes in, and it’s also a pretty basic concept: whatever the profits are for each game—namely stadium and TV profits—players should get a cut (10-15%) that’s evenly divided between both teams, and every player should get an equal share. Maybe you even structure it so that the home team gets a bigger cut.
The concept makes sense, right? The players are directly generating these profits. Therefore, it seems reasonable they ought to get something for every game they play. And this solves the problem of trying to figure out a stipend or salary system that would force colleges to decide which players should be paid what—instead, it’s simple: players get a small portion of profits for each game, and the more/bigger games they play in, the more money they make.
Sure, I guess one could argue this might send more players to the big boys, but anyone who strictly wants a payday is already headed to the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s of the world as it is now. And actually, this system could actually offer a strong counter to the Big Boys. Think about it—if you can sell your name/likeness, what’s better: being another five-star recruit on Ohio State, or being the only five-star recruit on Oregon State and the most valuable player on the team? My guess is the latter sells more jerseys, autographs, etc.
An additional bonus here is that it would behoove schools to play decent teams out of conference rather than Directional State, because those games are more likely to draw fans and television coverage, which means more money for the players.
And shit I don’t know. Maybe this doesn’t work. Maybe these are crazy, no-good ideas that aren’t practical for any number of reasons…
But we can’t go on like this. College football players deserve to get paid more for what they do. What we’re seeing right now is downright immoral. They ARE NOT amateur athletes in any sense of the word: the risks they take are greater, the time and dedication they commit are profound, and let’s face it—they make a lot of people, including their own coaches, fantastically rich.
It’s about time players made some of that money too.
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