Kirk Herbstreit opened a HUGE can of College Football worms this week and he's got a point
It started as a random comment/insult on ESPN's laughable College Football Playoff poll show and from there it escalated.
Yes, that's right, ESPN's main College Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit kind of stuck his foot in his mouth when he said on TV that he believed Michigan would forfeit their 2020 game vs. Ohio State in large part to keep the Buckeyes out of the playoff.
I should add, the game already hinges on Michigan getting their current COVID-19 outbreak under control.
Herbstreit would sincerely apologize the next morning for the implication, and rightfully so.
Unfortunately he may have let the bitter and often silly/stupid rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan cloud his better judgement.
In the midst of all of this--Herbstreit also touched on a topic I believe we all should get behind--The College Football Playoff needs to go because the game has become "Playoff or Bust". And unless you are one of only a handful of teams, you have no chance in playing the game. The ESPN announcer also implied its slowly killing College Football. He's right.
Allow me to explain (as I have many times):
Right now there are only a few teams who will ever play in the playoff. EVER. The list includes---Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State as virtual locks. Add in Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, LSU and Notre Dame and we're done here.
Which largely makes the regular season pointless.
Yeah, sure there was a time where teams all played for a "Bowl" game, but those games not in the playoff have become mostly "Made for TV" filler programming for the holidays. The games don't really mean anything--not that they ever did, but they now hold even less meaning.
If you are asking why this matters or how is this different than College Basketball or Baseball...or for that matter every level OTHER than the FBS in College Football, well, those sports play meaningful games in the postseason. They all have a full on playoff.
I'm sorry traditionalists, the idea of going to a bowl game in a far off city, getting a gift bag full of Best Buy stuff and going to local amusement parks is a trite tradition from the 1970's and 80's that long since passed its time of relevance.
Players have wised up and anyone who's team is in one of these games and has NFL aspirations now sits out rather than risk an injury or hurting their draft stock. Something they should do even if it bucks decades of tradition.
What's weird to me is there are still fans and alumni at the lower levels of the Football Bowl Subdivision who don't understand why their team can't compete for the big title.
I routinely quote my alma mater, Georgia Southern who was a major power in the FCS (old I-AA) but has struggled to do better than 9-3 or so and a berth in an early December bowl game.
Anything less and the fan base starts whining and clamoring for better. They can't understand an 8-4 season should be considered a MAJOR success. There is no better. If you are a team in the Sun Belt, even IF you win your conference, you are going to the New Orleans Bowl or Camilla Bowl or someplace like that. You might make the Top 20 or 25 and well, you're done.
It's hard for me to get excited about a football season as currently structured knowing we can't win a National Title. We can't even compete for one. There is no universe as currently structured where that will happen.
And when Kirk Herbstreit tells a radio station this in an interview: "I’m worried about the sport overall," he said. "I’m worried about the focus strictly on the playoff, that if you’re not one of the playoff teams, 'Why does it even matter, who cares?’" he's 1000% right.
Not that 2020 is anything resembling normal, but we already know who the playoff teams will be this season. Some combination of Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Notre Dame and/or Ohio State. Ironically, due to the COVID rules put in pace by the Big 10, the Buckeyes may get in despite not playing for their conference title due to a lack of games.
Which is really the crux of the problem. Notre Dame and Clemson are virtual locks this year yet they've played once (ND won) and will play again for the ACC title. The idea Clemson could get in with 2 losses to the Irish is kind of laughable yet on brand.
However, the Big 12 champ will have a minimum of two losses. The Pac 12 winner will have a loss and only 5 or less games. Cincinnati from the AAC is worthy, but there's no universe where they'd get picked to play in the playoff. None.
Sure, you can blame it on ESPN for buying the game and you wouldn't be totally wrong. But you'd also only be addressing PART of the problem.
College Football for all its glory has been largely a popularity contest for decades. Polls based on teams playing games but rarely if ever each other is a speculative endeavor at its best. Not even the best observers can sit there and tell you on September 1st who the best team in College Football is, yet we routinely get polls telling us just that.
Truly the game at its elite level is about "Brand Recognition" and it's pretty obvious. If you have a national scale brand name, you have a shot at the title. No name brand, no title for you.
It's automatically assumed the ACC, SEC or Big 10 Champ is the best team in the game and yeah, these days they probably are. Because of the current system, the rich teams only get richer and the separation--even within the same conference only grows.
Think about it--has anyone besides Alabama, Florida, Georgia or LSU won the SEC in the past 10-years? Or longer? Same for the ACC, Big 10 or Big 12---Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma win almost every time.
Because of the money generated from ESPN for Conference title games and the playoff, those teams always get richer. They have more money and can build $75 million team facilities with giant fish tanks (Clemson) or lazy rivers (LSU).
The polls--they're a joke. Sure, there are fanbases who go bananas because they're in the Top 10 of someone's "Power Rankings" at the end of September. But what does that really mean at the end of the day? Nothing. It's just some random writer's opinion (yes, I'm a random writer too).
Now---I'm not going to rail on the game without offering solutions. One of which we're seeing in some ways this year.
Yup, that's right. Start by playing a conference only schedule with one "Rivarly" game if your rival isn't in conference. No, you don't get "cupcake" games but you likely will get 12 game schedule that shows the stronger teams. These conferences (except the Big 12) all have 12 or more games, this should be easy.
Break the Power 5 off from the others. Yeah, most of you won't stand for that, but its happening whether you like it or not.
Let the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC play i their own league. Let the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt play in their own league. From each of them, take your conference champs and three wild cards and hold a playoff. And eliminate "Bowl Season".
If College Football wants to be more like the NFL, this is the way. If you do this, we aren't subjected to an Alabama vs. Louisiana-Monroe type of game.
Yeah, it will change the financial structure of the game, but let's be honest. It should have been changed decades ago. Why not use the 2020 pandemic and losses accrued by so many schools as a chance to reboot the warped financial structure of the game.
Let ESPN pay $5 billion or whatever they pay for the Power 5 playoff. Why not have a FOX or Amazon or YouTube pony up 9 figures for the Group of 5 playoff? That way everyone gets their share and the have's don't have to try and compete with the have nots.
Listen, I get it, doing something like this requires thinking differently. It requires wholesale change and change is not something we're good at. It's not something we like or embrace. At all.
But change is sometimes necessary. So many people refuse these days to acknowledge we aren't living in the world they grew up in. So many people my age struggle to comprehend why things aren't the way they used to be. That includes College Football.
It's time to make the game what modern and current society needs it to be. Yes, it is a sport played by College students. But we all know the student part went out the window a long, long time ago. The idea of some of these kids getting an education and degree is awesome and at even at the highest levels, many of them do.
But the game is largely a business now. It's about money and lining the pockets of coaches making eight-figures a season. It's about building bigger and shinier facilities than the next team.
And that has never been what the game was supposed to be about. Yet here we are....