While college football has never been better or more popular as it is today, there are still many ways in which the game could be improved. In recent years, attendance at games has been declining while TV ratings climb. More games start at 7pm or later, no matter what time zone/conference you are in. Games are longer, not because of up tempo teams like Oregon and Baylor, but because of all the commercial breaks. The games themselves are actually shorter, there are fewer plays and less action because of rule changes after the 2005 season to shorten games to accommodate ESPN broadcasts. Teams that run 80 plays a game today would be running 90-95 plays a game prior to 2006. Bowl games have low attendances. This year, the new college football playoff struggled to sell out the Rose Bowl semi-final game and as of yesterday, the Natty still had 4,300 tickets left. Nobody is even buying face value tickets on Stubhub, so my mom sold ours for slightly less just so we don’t lose thousands of dollars. How is the Natty not sold out?! College football is awesome, but it is selling its soul and uniqueness to the rich corporatists, or shall I say fascists, at ESPN. Corporatist and fascist are two words meaning the same thing, if you know your history. Yes, FOX does college football, CBS does an SEC game each week, and NBC does Notre Dame home games, but let us not kid ourselves… ESPN owns college football. By selling its soul to ESPN, college football is alienating what makes it what it is, the fans at the games. With talk already of an eight team playoff because of the money and ratings it would draw, the real fans are being further alienated.
I have ways to make college football better for the fans like me that go to the games, while still being able to grow its popularity on TV. I’m going to discuss ways of making CFB better using the current four team playoff model, the proposed eight team playoff model, and my own idea of an eight team playoff model, as radical and unlikely of ever happening as it may be.
Current Four Team CFB Playoff Model
Obviously, we leave the playoff system alone. The playoff committee still picks the teams, as well as the other New Years Six bowl games. The playoff has had trouble selling tickets though. There’s no reason why a Rose Bowl semi-final or ‘Natty should have tickets selling for under face value. There’s clearly trouble here. It’s easy to see why. Prices are too high, fan travel fatigue, hotel and plane tickets. I have nine ideas/solutions that will fix a number of things, including attendance at regular season games. Most of these nine ideas apply to all three playoff models, as these ideas are meant to improve college football as a whole.
Idea number One
Reduce the price of playoff tickets. During the BCS era, a normal face value ticket for the ‘Natty was $375. Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl, didn’t matter, the ‘Natty was $375. Now that we have a real college football playoff, suddenly tickets are $450. Really? So suddenly, by having a real playoff, and considering fans have to travel to the semi-final games first, you’re going to make the ‘Natty worth $75 more? No wonder the ‘Natty is struggling to sell out this year. $375 is still expensive, but it’s more affordable than $450. So, my solution is, bring the ‘Natty prices back down to $375. It allows more fans to go. For the semi-finals, make the tickets sold through the schools discounted. Bring it down from $160 to $100. It encourages fans to buy through the school, and allows an opportunity for more fans to be able to go.
Idea number Two
Play the conference championship games at the home stadium of the better team, just like the Pac 12 used to do before it made the stupid decision to play at Santa Clara’s Levi Stadium. Yes, do this for all conferences. I know SEC, you have a great thing going in Atlanta, and ACC I see you doing much better in Charlotte than you did in Jacksonville. I see you B1G in Indianapolis. That doesn’t change the fact that those trips are not cheap for the fans of those schools. If conference title games were played at home stadiums, it would reduce traveling expenses for fans of both schools, allowing more fans to be able to go to their bowl games/playoff games. Sure, it’d be home field advantage for one side, but to make it more fun, allow the visiting school to get 20% of the tickets. It allows the fans who really want to go to be able to go, and creates somewhat of a bowl game like environment. Whatever they don’t sell by 5pm Monday of game week goes back to the home school to sell. Imagine 11,000 USC fans in Autzen, or 20,000 Gator fans at Alabama, or 16,000 Georgia Tech fans at Florida State. It’d be crazy intense! Who wouldn’t love that? You’re the home team, 1/5 of your stadium is visiting fans, conference title on the line, oh yea, and you’re a little extra juiced up because you want to defend your house, win the conference title at home. Nobody wants to lose the conference title at home. If you win, your fans get to rush the field. If you’re on the road, you and your fans want to conquer their stadium. Win the conference on their turf and rub it in their faces. It’s like when Oregon plays at UW, I love winning at Husky Stadium. We own Husky Stadium. So yea, conference title games at better teams stadium, with 20% for visiting fans.
Idea number Three
Eliminate all regular season neutral site games except for certain rivalries like Army-Navy, Florida-Georgia and Colorado-Colorado State. The first word of college football is college! All games should be played on campus, duh! That’s what makes college football so special, the on campus experience. Neutral site games lack the college atmosphere, and are the same as bowl games in that fans have to travel to them, book hotels and all that. Neutral site games are expensive for fans. If you take them away, it means more exciting games on campus, which increases attendance, and allows more fans to travel to bowl games because they’ll have the money. Imagine Oregon-LSU at Tiger Stadium, or Alabama-Michigan at The Big House. Those games would be sold out, electric atmosphere, student sections would be full. ESPN would still be there to broadcast it, the high ratings would still be there, the money would still come in.
Idea number Four
Eliminate all games against FCS opponents except for those played against fellow in state schools. Games against FCS schools are a waste of money for fans that pay hundreds of dollars for season tickets. They barely sell out if they do, student sections are empty, nobody watches them. If the argument is that FCS schools need these paycheck games to sustain their programs, then play against your in state FCS schools so that you’re actually helping out a neighbor. Fans would understand that. I could live with my money to U of O being given to Portland State to sustain their program. I don’t give a damn about Southwestern Missouri Institute of Technology though. I don’t think that’s a real school, but you get my point.
Idea number Five
Make non-conference schedules two years in advance, not five. You don’t know where you or your opponent will be in five years, which is why a lot of matchups that look great don’t turn out to be great, causing fan interest to decrease, resulting in poor attendance. While Oregon-Ohio State looks great, its ten years away, and Urban Meyer won’t be there by then, and Oregon may not be as great as it is today by then. If you schedule every two years, teams can schedule opponents that are actually on their level of competition. Ohio State could play Baylor, instead of Cincinnati. Oregon could play Clemson, rather than Virginia. Florida State could play LSU, rather than Oklahoma State. Alabama could play Boise State, instead of UAB. Schedule immediate matchups against teams at your level. It’ll make for awesome games and great attendance, no matter who you are or what level you are at. At its current level, a team like Cal should play a top level MAC school instead of a big boy school where it’d get crushed.
Idea number Six
Go back to the pre 2006 rule where the clock stops when a player goes out of bounds. Right now, after you go out, the clock starts again once the ball is ready for play. It used to be stopped until it was snapped again. If you go back to this, teams that go up tempo no huddle can run even more plays per game, thus tiring out defenses even further and using that to their advantage. Instead of 80 plays, these teams could run between 90 and 100 plays per game. Yes, it’d make games longer, but there’d be more action, and also I plan to address how to make games shorter in my next paragraph. However, this would also allow for other schools to slow down their pace, knowing they’d still be able to get in 80 plays. Other schools would have more room to adopt bleed the clock offenses, such as three yards and a cloud of dust or going the old school route and adopting wishbone, wing t or single wing offenses. This slight rule change, or going back to an old rule, would allow for more offensive diversity. This would also be a way of taking back control of the game from ESPN, who forced the shorter game rule to fit games into a three hour broadcast window. Honestly, it’s not like ESPN would stop broadcasting games just because they go longer.
Idea number Seven
Since number six makes the games even longer than they already are today, how are we supposed to shorten games? Well, that’s easy… What do fans like me who go to games hate the most? Too many commercial breaks. My idea is to do what the NHL does. Have a TV commercial break every five minutes. The first break in the game following the 10:00 mark and the 5:00 mark of each quarter, plus commercial breaks between quarters. This would mean there’d be five TV breaks each half, which is less than half of what there currently is. This change would cut a lot of minutes off of game times, keep games flowing, and most importantly, keep the fans at the games from getting bored from sitting through so many timeouts. Take number six and number seven together, and you get more action with shorter games. That’ll make for even more exciting games, and help attendance for sure. It’s a win-win for everybody! But without all the TV breaks, what about all the ad money? Well, with less ad space, the ad space that is left would be worth even more, so it basically cancels out. So, it shouldn’t matter much. Plus, soccer has no TV breaks except for halftime, and they do just fine.
Idea number Eight
Break up ESPN’s control over the sport. Every conference right now has a huge TV deal with ESPN, meaning ESPN televises most of their games, and thus has control over the start times of games. Because every conference is with ESPN, it means most of the games are all on one network. ESPN puts games on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. Since there’s only one network, not everyone can play at the same time. This results in a lot of Pac 12 games starting at 7pm or 730pm. Fans don’t get home till midnight or later. This is also the reason for Thursday night games, because you get an exclusive broadcast window that you wouldn’t get on a crammed Saturday. A lot of fans can’t go to weekday games or late starts because of work, baby sitting, homework and other more important things than football. In November, it gets really cold at night. These factors have been playing a big part in decreasing attendance all across college football. Even a 5pm pacific start time for a game on the east coast is an 8pm start for them and a 7pm central start time for games in the central time zones. Just like us out here on the west coast, that’s a late start for them too. Yet, 5pm pacific/8pm eastern is ESPN’s primetime slot. The biggest games get late starts. This is why CBS has their SEC game of the week start at 1230 pacific/330 eastern time zone, so that fans can actually go. It’s a late afternoon start, sun is still up. Heck, FOX had the Oregon-Michigan State game this year start at 330pm pacific time. That’s a perfect primetime hour. Breaking up ESPN’s control over the sport would mean better start times for games, as there are other companies that would love to have greater coverage of college football. FOX, along with FS1 and FX could do Pac 12 football. With six games each week at most, each channel could do a 1230 game and a 430 game. That’d eliminate late starts out here and increase attendance, as well as eliminating weekday games. The B1G (Big Ten) could work with NBC, along with NBCSN and CNBC. Yes, CNBC does Stanley Cup playoff games, because they are an affiliate of NBC, so they could do college football. The SEC could work with CBS and its affiliates TNT, TBS and TruTV. That would leave ESPN with the ACC and Big 12. All of the channels would fill in their extra time slots with mid-major games. The MAC loves their midweek games, as do all of us because who doesn’t love #MACtion? The Mountain West would be our late night snack, and the other mid majors would get the morning games. They wouldn’t be stuck on ESPNU anymore. Spreading college football out over all the sports channels is a win for everyone except ESPN, who loses its power grip. Although they can keep the broadcast rights to the playoffs, no matter what model we use, I don’t care.
Idea number Nine
Improve the bowl system by changing the location of some of the games. While many bowl games struggle with attendance, they still draw good TV ratings. It’s not that some bowl games don’t draw well or have bad matchups, it’s just that they are played in stadiums too big. Not every bowl game can sell out a 60,000 seat stadium, and that’s okay actually. There’s nothing wrong with moving them to smaller stadiums. A sold out 30,000 seat bowl game is more fun to watch on TV than a half empty 60,000 seat bowl game. Here are the games I would move and where I’d move them to.
The New Orleans Bowl from the Superdome to the new Tulane stadium
The Poinsettia Bowl from Qualcom Stadium in San Diego to the LA Galaxy’s Stubhub Stadium
The Miami Beach Bowl from the Marlins stadium to Florida International’s stadium
Idaho Potato Bowl from Boise to Geldwen Field in Portland, Oregon. 23,000 average sells out Portland, where as in Boise it leaves 10,000 empty seats.
Heart of Dallas Bowl from the Cotton Bowl Stadium to the Houston Cougars stadium
The Texas Bowl at the Houston Texans stadium actually draws really well, so I’d move it to the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas so it can be played in a true college stadium.
St. Petersberg Bowl from Tampa Bay Rays stadium to the UCF stadium in Orlando.
Foster Farms Bowl from Levi Stadium in Santa Clara to Stanford Stadium
Armed Forces Bowl from TCU’s stadium to Army’s stadium in New York. It’s a better capacity fit, and Armed Forces Bowl, just like the Military Bowl, should be played at one of the academy schools.
Quick Lane Bowl from Detroit Lions stadium to Fenway Park in Boston. Just like the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium, it wouldn’t matter who’s playing in the Fenway Park bowl game, it’d sell out every time just because who wouldn’t go see a bowl game played at Fenway?
Also, the four mid-major conference champions not in the New Years Six would play each other in the Hawaii and Bahamas Bowl. These bowls would be played on January 2nd. This way, those schools are rewarded for winning their conference by getting to go play somewhere nice, and play another conference champion in a January bowl. Best mid majors against each other, making January bowls mean something again. This would draw good attendance to those games, as the fan bases would be excited from winning their conference.
In the model of the current four team college football playoff, these nine improvements would help the game to become even more popular, but would make fan attendance go back up, both at regular season games and bowl games. The games would be even more exciting, and college football would be as close to perfect as you can get. Anyways, on to the next model now!
Proposed eight team playoff model
The proposed eight team playoff everyone talks about, the one that would likely be implemented if one were to be. Judging by all the sports analyst talk, it’ll be here within 10 years, because the ratings from the semi-finals this year say an eight team playoff will have too much money for the conferences to pass up. Anyways, the model would be the five power conference champions, the top ranked group of five (mid major) conference champion, and two at large teams, in other words, the top two highest ranked teams remaining after the first six are chosen. A playoff committee like the one now would seed the teams one through eight.
For the eight team playoff to work, the quarterfinals have to be played at the higher seeds home stadium. There’s just no other choice. You can’t ask the fans of the two schools who end up in the ‘Natty to travel to three straight neutral site games. Not even Nebraska’s fans could pull that off. The semi-finals would be played at neutral site bowl venues. However, even then, there’d only be a week and a half between quarter finals and semi finals, and same for semi finals to ‘Natty. It’s harder to make travel plans on that time scale compared to the three and a half weeks that fans of teams in January bowl games get today. So for it to work for the fans, you have to implement ideas one, two and three I showed earlier. Conference title games at home stadiums, eliminate regular season neutral site games, and lower the playoff ticket prices. Throw in number nine as well, so that the other bowl games can still do well. No matter what though, the eight team playoff gets rid of two bowl games. At that point, you might as well get rid of a few more by making the bowl requirement seven wins rather than six. This gets rid of all the 6-6 teams in bowl games, gives added meaning to the remaining bowl games, and provides for more exciting matchups. While ideas one through three are all that’s really needed to make the eight team playoff succeed in terms of fan attendance, you’d still want ideas four through eight to make the regular season better, so that college football can maintain its awesome regular season as well as having an eight team playoff.
Now, like I said, I have my own model for an eight team playoff. This is because even with ideas one through three, there are flaws with the current proposal everyone talks about. The five power conference champions get in no matter what, that is the flaw. Yes, it’d be fixed if we just went with the eight highest ranked teams, but that model will never happen because there will be years where power conference champions aren’t ranked in the top eight. In those years, a power conference champion gets left out. The power conferences would never let that happen, so the best eight model will never happen. That model also leaves out a guaranteed spot for the best mid major conference champion, as they’d have to go unbeaten and finished ranked in the top eight, so they would never approve of this model too. So the 5+1+2 model is what they’ll go with.
About the power five conferences. There will be years where a conference produces a champion that has no business being in a playoff to determine college football’s national champion. What?! In the last 12 years, the Big 12, B1G and ACC have combined to produce five conference champions that entered their BCS bowl games with three or more losses. The Pac 12 and SEC have zero combined three loss or more champions in the past 12 years. If we went with the eight best teams, those five teams would’ve been left out. Like I said, the power conferences will never let that happen. So it’ll be 5+1+2, with its flaws.
This is why I have my own eight team model. It’s crazy, it’s radical, it takes a page out of soccer’s promotion/relegation system, it requires more conference realignment, it’ll never happen, but I promise, it’s the best idea out there if our plan is to have an eight team college football playoff.
My eight team playoff model
My model would have eight super conferences of 16 teams. Four power conferences, and four mid major conferences. The conference title games of the power conferences would be the quarterfinals. Four champions meet in the semifinals, and those winners play in the Natty. What about the mid majors though? They would each have a promotion/relegation contract with the power conferences. The last place finishers in each division of the power conferences would play each other in a relegation game. The loser gets relegated to the mid major conference that the power conference has a contract with. The winners of each of the mid major conferences get promoted to the power conference and replace the relegated school. After their conference title games, the four mid major champions play each other, once again, in Hawaii and the Bahamas in January. They don’t need their own playoff, their reward is promotion. By getting promoted, they now have a chance to compete to be in the playoffs.
This will take me a while to explain how it’d work, so let me. All non conference games will happen on the same weeks. The promoted schools simply switch conference schedules with the relegated school they replace. The relegated school has to split its conference contract money with the promoted school. If the promoted school avoids relegation for three years, its contract money goes up 10% each year it remains in the power conference. To balance it out, if the relegated power school fails to get promoted back up within three years, its contract money will decline 10% each year it doesn’t rejoin its power conference via promotion.
Now that I’ve explained promotion/relegation, let me go over how the regular season would change in this model because of the 16 team super conferences. CFB always starts on Labor Day weekend, but sometimes that’s the 35th week of the year, sometimes it’s the 36th week. Whenever it’s the 35th week, everyone has had two bye weeks, like this year. When it’s been the 36th week, like next season, everyone only gets one bye week. With my model, the season will always start on the weekend of the 35th week, so everyone will play 13 games over 15 weeks, resulting in two bye weeks. 11 conference games, two non conference games. Seven games against your division, four against the other division in your conference. After every two years, the four teams in the other division you play switches to the other four teams. That means every four year player gets to play every team in the conference home and away. It’d be good for recruiting. Everybody plays their two non conference games the first two weeks of the season, and then hit conference play. Nobody would have a bye week until after their first conference game. This way, everybody gets their two bye weeks mid season and late season, when they actually need them. Seven wins, in other words, a winning record gets you into a bowl game. After week 15 of the season, all the schools with seven or more wins not in their conference title games get put into their bowl games.
Week 16 is the week that schools on the quarter system have their finals, so the conference title games/quarterfinals/relegation games would be played Saturday of week 17. Week 16 is award ceremony week, but in my model, the awards ceremonies would happen after the ‘Natty, including the Heisman.
The relegation games… the worst teams in each division of the power conferences would play each other at the better teams home stadium. The loser gets relegated.
The playoffs: The four power conferences would be the Pac 12+4, B1G (Big Ten + 6), Big 12 +4 and the SEC. Since the four conferences get four spots in the semi-finals, it doesn’t matter the seeding or rankings. Pac 12 and B1G champions meet in the Rose Bowl semi-final every year, while Big 12 and SEC champions meet in the Sugar Bowl semi-final every year. Both would be on New Years Day. The quarterfinals/power conference title games would be week 17, played at the better teams home stadium, 20-25% visiting fans. Week 17 of college football is always the 51st week of the year. That Saturday is always a week and a half or so before New Years. The quarterfinal losers would play each other in bowl games on the morning of New Years, before the semi-final games. The promotion game winners play each other the day after New Years. The promotion game losers play each other in bowl games on New Years Eve.
All of the other bowl games would take place between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. There will only be seven games in January. The two semi-final games, the two quarterfinal consolation games, the two promotional winner games, and the ‘Natty. Playing in a January bowl game will mean something again in college football.
As for the regular season, more conference games means better attendance, especially with ideas four through eight. Ideas one through nine will all apply to my eight team playoff model. Also, winning your conference will have more meaning than it does today, because of semi-final berth and getting promoted. As for the players, whether with my model or the proposed model, teams that play in the ‘Natty will be playing 16 games, so it doesn’t make a difference. With my model, you play 13 games in 15 weeks, getting two bye weeks. If you’re in the conference title games or in a relegation game, you get another bye week before your next game. Then, you get a part bye week before the semi-finals/New Years bowl games, and then another part bye week before the ‘Natty. On top of that, it doesn’t cut any further into winter term for school. For those not in conference title games, you get 13 games in 15 weeks with two bye weeks, and then roughly three weeks until your bowl game.
Taking this year for example, week 15 would be Saturday, December 6th. Same day the conference title games were played this year. Those teams were playing in their 13th game, having had two bye weeks. Then, the quarterfinal/conference title/relegation games would be week 17, which would be Saturday December 20th. After that, the semi-finals/New Years bowls from New Years Eve through January 2nd. The ‘Natty would still be on Monday January 12th like it is this year.
Speaking of week 17, who wouldn’t love that?! TV ratings would be insane, twitter would explode. Stadiums would be packed. You’d have 12 games that Saturday. Quarterfinals, promotion games and relegation games all in one day.
The main thing is, no matter what playoff model we go with, we should adopt my main nine ideas. It’ll enhance the regular season no matter what model is chosen, and make it better and easier for fans like me to go games. The TV money will keep growing, as will the ratings, no matter what type of playoff we have. So focus on what’s best for your loyal fans and the players too. I’m a bit biased, but if eight teams is the way of the future, I want my model. It makes the regular season better, and creates the greatest sports day ever with quarterfinals, promotion and relegation all in one day on Saturday of week 17. Big boys get their playoffs, and the little guys get to compete with them if they earn it. Players get more bye weeks. What’s not to love about it?