We’re three-ish weeks through the final season of college football as we’ve known it. In 2024, the Pac 12 disappears, the Big Ten spans coast-to-coast, and the SEC adds the best of the Big 12. How did we get here, who is to blame, and what happens next?
All of us.
I have a guess.
Money is the root of all evil. Not everyone reads the Bible and even less believe its relevance in today’s culture, but it’s hard to ignore the accuracy of the principle. Is it necessarily “evil” for athletic departments to chase the best deal available? No, but it’s also impossible to argue that chasing the most money is what is best for the student athlete. College sports sold its soul for the best TV deals and the most exposure over the well being of the sport and especially the student athletes. It’s that simple.
Yes, “student-athlete” is a complicated classification nowadays with NIL, but the truth is, 98% (not an official stat) of student athletes don’t have NIL deals. They are, in fact, student athletes. They’re the ones losing the most in the new conference realignments. They’re losing “local” games where their family can come and watch. Instead of Iowa soccer/lacrosse/volleyball etc… traveling around the Midwest, they’ll be flying across the country to play in Washington, Oregon and California. Those events aren’t broadcasted like college football. Those teams won’t be traveling like the football or basketball teams. I highly doubt they’ll be afforded the same leniency to deal with such schedules as football or basketball players. It’s the student athletes that will suffer most from a deal predicated on the hard work and skill of… you guessed it… student athletes.
This is our fault. I can’t imagine athletic directors tolerating this extreme conference realignment without playoff expansion. I wanted playoff expansion because I wanted more teams (especially my team) to have a better shot of contending for a National Championship. I know I was part of the majority. I know I’m to blame for this mess.
Think it about it for a moment. If the playoff remained at four teams, why would a conference like the Big Ten willingly add two to three more legitimate playoff contenders to a conference with three already. Sure, that TV money would soften the blow, but would the Big Ten remain as relevant as the SEC if it rarely sent a team to College Football Playoff? It’s hard to imagine a team surviving such a stacked conference without accumulating two to three losses every season. And a two to three loss team is never getting into a four team playoff.
The playoff is the goal for college football now. Not bowl games. I just don’t see schools and, ultimately a conference, making that uphill climb steeper if not for playoff explansion. With 12 teams, that issue is now off the table, and in fact, it flips the other way. The deeper, more talented conference will absolutely get more benefit of the doubt and consideration when it comes to losses and playoff berths. A two or three loss team from the ACC in a normal year would not compare to two or three losses in a conference featuring Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, USC, Oregon and Washington. As it stands today, all six of those schools are ranked within the top 10.
How does this end? Obviously, I don’t know, but count me among the few who think we will see most of this undone once the next TV contracts come up. College football has more fans than NFL football but it isn’t as popular from a national perspective. Fans from all over the country gather around their screens to see Patrick Mahomes, Justin Jefferson or Aaron Rodgers take the field. College football isn’t like that. Caleb Williams is the best prospect since Andrew Luck and I don’t know a single non-USC fan that will make it a point to watch him play on Saturdays. Purdue cares about Purdue. Wisconsin doesn’t concern itself with what’s happening at LSU. College football is very regional. It’s built on rivalries that have evolved for decades and in some cases, centuries. Throwing all that away for TV money doesn’t make the sport stronger; it weakens it.
The new realignment diminishes what we already love about college football and replaces it with what we don’t even want. As a Penn Stater, I want to play Michigan and Ohio State every season. I’ve never once thought, “hmm, wish we could line up with UCLA and see what we’re made of!” Now, with realignment, instead of seeing Michigan and Ohio State every year, I only get them some years because we have to play Washington, Oregon, USC or UCLA? I don’t want that at all.
There’s enough money to go around in college football. The PAC 12 was poorly managed and ended up here as a result, but that doesn’t mean the conference can’t stand-alone again one day. Conference realignment weakened the sport by strengthening conferences. It will be good for bank accounts but not for college football. Hopefully this is only temporary.
Thursday Night Pick; Giants +10.5