It’s time to call a spade a spade. It’s time to recognize college football as the powerhouse money maker that it is, and it’s time to treat it as such. To call the modern landscape of mainstream collegiate football, with teams like Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and the other major players of the sport, a path toward a higher education is just naive and irresponsible. How many of these kids are picking Alabama because they want to be an educator? It’s the athletes’ shot at glory; plain and simple. If it were about an education, you’d see far fewer athletes forego their senior year to continue their degree plan.
So, what am I talking about; exactly? In as few words as possible, I’m saying that we need to lay down and solidify a structure that is built to provide the best product possible.
In its current state, the Football Bowl Subdivision, FBS, is, in my opinion, lacking for purity. While you will always have a team rise above the rest due to the quality of the coach, or an athlete that plays above the norm, we have a lopsided product. We have a game that is ran by perennial powerhouse programs simply because they have more money to throw around.
Let’s look at recruiting budgets.
According to this article, Georgia spent more than $3.5 million in the 2019 fiscal year just for recruiting. That led the nation, and was more than $1 million more than in 2018; a year they also led in spending.
What does this figure mean? What is the money being spent on? I’ll let the article already linked provide that answer, “input transportation, lodging and meals for prospective student-athletes and institutional personnel on official and unofficial visits, telephone call charges, postage and such. Include value of use of institution’s own vehicles or airplanes as well as in-kind value of loaned or contributed transportation.”
The second program listed is Alabama at $2.6 million.
The top 10, in order, are:
Georgia | $3.67 million
Alabama | $2.66
Tennessee | $2.24
Clemson | $2.23
Arkansas | $1.93
Texas A&M | $1.67
LSU | $1.60
Penn State | $1.52
Florida State | $1.50
Michigan | $1.41
Do we notice a trend yet? 60% of the top 10 are from the Southeastern Conference, with the lowest of them coming in at #7 in LSU. We only have three conferences represented in that list; the SEC, ACC, and Big 10. Wait a second, which conferences were represented in the College Football Playoff for the 2019 season? Oh, those three and the Big XII? So, where does that Big XII program fall on this list? They sit at 12th with a budget of $1.27 million. That’s nearly $2.5 million less than the biggest spender from 2019. So, how did Oklahoma fair in the playoff? They lost in the semi-finals; again. And, looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why.
I, personally, consider this to be a very flawed system. The bottom side of that list has several teams spending less than $600,000 in recruiting. Outside of Wisconsin, who should be considered an outlier, anomaly, or however you want to classify them, you see teams that are generally not at the upper tier of their conferences other than a good year or two. Teams like Oklahoma State, who spent $583,911 in 2019, is a far cry from the perennial power schools of the Big XII like Oklahoma (12th) and Texas (13th).
The game is, quite literally, stacked against these programs in terms of ability to wine and dine the top recruits of the game. That’s why, until it is corrected, you’ll continue to see Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, and these other teams continue to dominate the field.
What is the solution? It’s quite simple. The NCAA needs to step in, and a serious restructuring needs to happen. And if you know me personally, saying that the NCAA needs to step in is something you’d probably never expect to see me write in plain English. However, if you’ll just follow along, it will make sense, I hope, in the end.
According to a simple Google search, I found that there are currently 130 FBS level football programs in the nation. 130 is a hard number to deal with, so for this to work, we have to trim the fat, and get that number to 128. Who loses out? That’s not for me decide in the end.
With 128 teams, we can divide those up evenly into four regions of 32 teams. Of those regions, we’ll loosely copy the structure provided by the NFL, and divide those up into 2 conferences of 16 teams each. We, divide those conferences into 8 team divisions. So, it’d look something like this:
The schedules would be simple. Each team will play an eleven game regular season.
Schedule for Team A:
Non-Regional Team Z
Non-Regional Team Y
Inter-Division Team X
Inter-Division Team W
Division Team B
Division Team C
Division Team D
Division Team E
Division Team F
Division Team G
Division Team H
Every two years, the Inter-Division Teams will rotate until you play each team in that division in a home and away, and the schedule then returns back to the beginning.
At the end of the regular season, the best teams from each division will play for their Conference Title (Game 12), and this marks the beginning of a true playoff. Conference Champions then play for their regional title (Game 13). Regional Champs are now playing your semi-finals (Game 14), and a true National Title is earned at the conclusion (Game 15). This is the equivalent to the current amount of games played by today’s national champion game participants.
No more rankings. No more humans judging teams with an Eye Test. It’s earned on the field.
Surely, by now, you might be silently arguing with me about Bowl Games, and how money is being lost by not playing them. Well, to counter you, I say, “Who the hell said we’d get rid of the bowls?” We already have conference championship games that aren’t bowl games, and the loser of those still gets to play in a bowl. I never said anything about Win or Go Home.
In this structure, we have a 16 team playoff that begins with the conference championship games. Teams that lose their conference title will still have just 12 games under their belt for that season, and to exclude them from bowls would make this type of structure unworthy of consideration. The current bowl structure could still be in play. Playoff games are played at Bowl Sites, and still considered Bowl Games. Don’t just thrust a knife into the heart of bowls. That’s a tradition that I would not dare dream of dismantling. But, with this, we have a true playoff.
This alone does not fix the flaw of big money programs running the show. It’s simply a catalyst to provide the little guy their shot at earning their chance. To truly make this work, as stated before, the NCAA will need to put restrictions on spending during the recruiting process. Buffalo couldn’t even begin to compete with Georgia in recruiting for various reasons, not just budget spending.
Think of it like this. How does the NFL even the playing field, or at least provide an attempt? Salary cap. Teams are only allowed to spend a limited amount of money on players. Why should the collegiate game be different? Cap the recruiting budgets, create a revenue sharing program to aid the smaller programs, and let’s get things as close to an even playing field as we can. Let’s have tactics and schemes factor more into the game than a 5-Star QB lighting up a secondary with three 3-stars and a 2-star.
For an institution like the NCAA, who supposedly prides itself on sportsmanship and integrity, to continue to let these inflated budgets win games before a season is ever played is shameful.