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Today’s NCAA Football Set Up Sucks – Here’s How to Fix It

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The rich get richer, everyone else is irrelevant: Everything should be on the table if the NCAA wants to maintain the illusion of amateurism in college sports.

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The NCAA Football system, as it exists today, is a mishmash of bullshit pseudo rules, exemptions and elitism. It needs to undergo a radical change, for it to be truly “student-athletes” and not some half-assed, unpaid NFL marketing internship.

I posed this to my fellow Writers here at Off Tackle Empire:

Is the current college football system ruining the game?

Here’s my thesis: Too many elite players are opting out of bowl games to prepare for the NFL. If you look at University of Florida’s team in their bowl game, they were down to a skeleton crew. It really wasn’t interesting. If many of the “great” players opt out of bowls, won’t that reduce interest in the games? That UF game sucked to watch. It wasn’t fun and I turned it off in the third quarter. So, if you ran an advert late in the game, I sure didn’t see it.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Florida v Oklahoma Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Damn near all of University of Florida’s star players opted out to prepare for the draft, because the bowl game didn’t matter to them. They weren’t going to win the National Championship, so they bailed on their team.

Can we blame it on coaching? Maybe. But we saw elite players sit this whole season. I’m particularly salty, because Penn State’s Micah Parsons opted out.

He was advised to do so because he’s going to make a fortune in the NFL. He didn’t want to scuff his draft status by playing football during a pandemic. It was a business decision, and many other players made the same one...

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Cotton Bowl Classic - Memphis v Penn State Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In total, 50-star players around the league skipped playing this season. And more skipped playing in their bowl games. That’s not isolated to this season. Last year fifteen star-players bailed on bowls. The one exception is when their teams are in contention for a national championship.

That sucks for fans. And it puts the lie to the whole “student athlete” nonsense. It’s business, baby.


But before I get into my hot take, here’s what my fellow Writers said:

MNW:

The current system is ruining the game, I guess, if all you care about is Florida and Oklahoma having full teams in a meaningless bowl game.

Look — Northwestern is missing CB Greg Newsome II for the Citrus Bowl; Auburn will be down...one player? No one from Wisconsin sat out the Mayo Bowl, no one from Cincinnati is missing the Peach Bowl, no one from Indiana missed the Outback Bowl. You can see a full list here.

The biggest opt-outs appear to be in the NY6 games — so what’s the issue?

If it’s an indictment of anything, it’s of the institutional rot in college football — the College Football Playoff is all that matters, and the first-out games are just the first-loser games. “Playing for pride” doesn’t mean shit when the stakes and the money at the next level are higher. I don’t blame a single player sitting out, and I don’t think having full bowl games is in some way necessary for the sport. If the CFP is all that matters, then you’d better expect opt-outs when players stand to make money.

PKLOA:

I have been steadfast on this opinion for years: The NFL is ruining college football. More specifically, NFL’s lack of a true minor league causes the wrong players to play college football.

I get the mutual financial benefit that exists with the NCAA acting as a minor league. It is also easy to understand why fans want the best of the best to come play for Ohio State, Penn State, or Michigan. Scholarships are an amazing opportunity for an athlete to get their degree, or even to escape a bad situation. Giving opportunities is great, giving scholarships, money, recruit welcoming committees, and extremely lax academic oversight to kids who have zero desire to even attend classes is bad. Building an entire conference around those players, in the southeastern United States, is ruining college football.

Having a viable minor league would cause many of the best players to opt out of college, and that’s okay. Hell, the NFL product would improve because their players wouldn’t have to unlearn bad techniques taught to them by inferior coaching. The best players who chose to play for your school would become legends. And there would be more assurance those student athletes are doing things the right way.

Thumpasaurus:

I had a similar discussion with my brother in law, who’s a Texas fan. different perspective, because I root for a college football NPC in Illinois that will never be a part of any national championship system.

Would I rather see all the talent go to an NFL minor league? (this NFL minor league is my proposed College Football Championship League featuring the 16-20 schools that have the resources to compete for national titles regularly). Yes I would! My team will never get that level of talent. It already goes there anyway! If I were that concerned with the quality of play, I would have stopped watching the Big Ten West a long time ago. Look how many people still tune in to watch Iowa play Northwestern annually.

The stratification of talent, the dilution of every traditional game’s meaning, watching with one eye on the NFL...these are all problems that are only going to get worse, and if anything, they’ll keep accelerating.


Now What?

I want to pick out something from each of my colleagues, because they are the keys to making meaningful change to college football. I agree with MNW that, for many players, it’s the lure of possibly winning the natty that keeps the fires burning. Without that, they would rather get in shape for the NFL Combine and the hell with the Diabetus Bowl or wherever their team is playing. They want to get paid, and they better they perform at the combine, the higher the draft…and the more money they get.

Pkloa makes an excellent point that scholarships are the key to getting kids to attend your school. They allow gifted athletes to attend schools that they couldn’t afford (or if you are UNC…couldn’t possibly qualify for, academically!).

And finally, Thump makes the point that there is an unfair stratification in talent. The Illinois’ of the world struggle to have more than a glimpse of success, while the Alabama’s, Ohio States, and Clemson’s of the world show up year in and year out. They always get the best recruits because they always play for a natty, so they have the most talent, so they beat the hell out of everybody. It’s a closed loop that doesn’t change.

So how do we achieve change? In several ways…

Warning: You aren’t going to like this next bit

We need to move toward parity, just like the NFL did. We need to make the Illinois of the world have a chance to win a national championship.

The first thing we need to do is expand the playoff and make it more success driven. Let’s face it, today it’s a popularity contest. Because there is no other way that Notre Dame makes the final four. None. Zero. Zip. The domers sucked. We ALL knew it…hell their fans knew it.

Put that team in a round of sixteen against Coastal Carolina and let us all have a laugh as they get hamblasted by the Chanticleers!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 26 Cure Bowl - Liberty v Coastal Carolina Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There is no future for NCAA football without a major expansion of the playoff – a la college basketball.

The second thing we need to do to level the playing field is to find a way to make dynasties tougher to maintain. If you have the best coach and the best players, you are going to attract the best recruits. It’s a never-ending cycle that we’ve seen for twenty years. Here’s a list of the number of times these teams that played for the national championship since 2000:

Fifteen teams from four conferences occupied the potential 44 spots in those games. That’s bullshit, because the committee hand picks teams. These teams are all from four conferences. They “passed the eye test” or they had some other cachet that swayed votes. It’s a nonsensical way to choose who is the best team, as UCF fans will tell you in nauseating detail.

Beyond expanding the field, we need to have a “penalty” for winning. If your team wins the natty this year, how do we make it harder for you to do it next year?

By taking away scholarships.

If you make the final four, you should face a scholarship reduction, ramping up to the winner. Maybe its 2 each for the three runners up and five for the winner. I don’t know the math. But by reducing the available scholarships to the best teams, we allow for a more equal distribution of talent.

And by expanding the field to sixteen teams, we entice talented athletes to play the full slate. We give every conference a chance to put teams into the final. And we allow teams like Illinois to both measure and (hopefully) capitalize on success to improve recruiting.

NCAA Football, as it exists today, is broken. It is rigged so the rich get richer and the rest of the teams are irrelevant.

This is one way to fix it and keep us all entertained.