The college football season is almost underway, and we are all excited to see some new faces on the field. But before you get too wrapped up in preseason match-ups, it’s time to take a step back and look at what this year has in store for us as fans of college football.
The “college football scores” is a roundtable discussion on the current college football season.
7 a.m. ET
The NCAA football season has finally come to a close with the national championship game between Alabama and Georgia on Monday.
With the 2021 season approaching, it’s time to consider the issues that face college football’s playoffs as we look forward to its future.
In five years, how will the playoff field look? What is the greatest strategy to guarantee that the best players are available for the bowl games? What additional concerns should fans be thinking about as the playoffs approaches?
Before the national championship game, the ESPN college football team tries to address all of these questions.
What is your favourite playoff system, and why, after another year of semifinal blowouts?
David Hale (David Hale) The fact that the same teams are continually competing in these games is considerably more of a big-picture concern for college football and its TV partners than the blowouts. Expansion is required, both for competitive reasons and, more importantly, to provide more meaningful games throughout the season. However, since the existing structure promotes a “rich become richer” situation, expansion might reduce the number of competitive games by allowing more teams to compete on larger platforms. For example, a playoff game between Notre Dame and Oklahoma State would have been terrific this year, and the income and prestige generated would have only benefited the Irish and Cowboys in the long run. I’m in favor of 12 — maybe even 16. To make it work, though, a sacrifice must be made, beginning with the elimination of the cupcake regular-season games and the inclusion of extra cash incentives for the players.
Uggetti, Paolo: Despite the fact that the conference commissioners seem to disagree on this, I believe we can all agree that 12 is the best amount. Personally, I’d love it if there was a method to make eight work, but we all know it would only re-ignite the debate and end up at 12 in the end. But it’s not a zero-sum game. Twelve would increase the importance of bowl games while also increasing the number of games on a player’s calendar. The trickle-down impact must be taken into consideration, whether by altering timetables or equitably rewarding players who are being asked to labor more. But please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please,
Adam Rittenberg (Adam Rittenberg): I’ve always favoured eight teams to twelve, but now I see a case for a larger playoffs, or at the very least something that would give players more important postseason games. Will this put an end to opt-outs? Not totally, at least. Will it put an end to All-SEC national championship games? Definitely not. However, a playoff that is more national in scope than the existing one is required. Every good playoff system strives for regional balance, even if it means sacrificing actual competitiveness. Because of the general flaws with college football’s playoffs, eight teams (six conference champions, two at-larges) might work, but I’m more open than ever to 12-, 16-, or 24-team models.
Kyle Bonagura: If only college football had an NCAA-sanctioned playoff system that had been effective for years. But wait, there’s more. This isn’t a difficult task. College football is too focused on maintaining tradition, which sounds fine in principle until you consider the fact that the existing playoff structure has never worked well. It wasn’t the framework that drew spectators, players, or anybody else in; it was the fact that football is enjoyable to watch whenever and wherever it is played. Consider the reaction if any other sport in the nation opted to abandon a true playoff system in favor of the one used in college football. For even a fraction of a second, it would not be taken seriously.
Connelly, Bill: Even if we still end up with some lopsided scores and predictable champions (something that isn’t guaranteed in a larger format), the smaller-school playoffs are still a lot of fun because of the high levels of engagement and the simple fact that we’ll end up with a lot of super-engaging, high-intensity battles. I usually emphasize that the trip is more important than the destination, and the journey will be more enjoyable if there are more enjoyable teams engaged. Baby, expand your horizons.
Opt-outs and transfers: Are they putting a damper on bowl season, or are they just a blip in what is still a wonderful series of games?
Low, Chris: Don’t hold the players to a higher standard than the coaches, who are paid millions of dollars to go. That said, I’m in favor of doing whatever it takes to watch as many of college football’s finest players as possible during the sport’s biggest celebration: the playoffs. So, certainly, seeing Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker III perform one more on New Year’s Day would have been a blast. I understand why they didn’t play, but as a college football fan, I’m disappointed I won’t be able to watch them play again. But, on the other hand, I recall Michael Jordan playing three years of collegiate basketball. Maybe I’m just old and spoilt.
Connelly: Michigan State-Pitt was nonetheless exciting, featured strong crowd participation, and had a fun/heartbreaking finale despite the absence of Kenneth Walker III and Kenny Pickett. It will be entertaining to watch if the players on the field are involved and care about the outcome. Of course, I’d want to see all of the sport’s stars one more time before they go to the NFL, but we’re putting more in the hands of the athletes, and the sport will be better off in the long run as a result, even if the bowls themselves have a little less star power.
David Wilson: It’s simply reality, more than anything else. The stakes are too high for participants to take a chance.
Uggetti: Let the first stone be thrown by someone who would not do the same if he had millions waiting for him in the NFL.
Hale: The whole college football schedule has to be overhauled, and thinking outside the box might assist in solving these issues. In order to facilitate transfers, the sport urgently needs to establish a “transfer window” similar to that used in international soccer. Players leaving in the middle of the season is awful for everyone involved, but it’s especially difficult during bowl season (not to mention the recruiting woes it creates for coaches). But here’s the overall picture: Place the bowls at the start of the season. Allow all teams to compete. Because the weather will be better throughout the country, more locations will become available. There are no opt-outs this week since it is Week 1. We can generate fascinating nonconference matches that don’t have to be planned until 2043 since games are scheduled less than a year before they are played. Then schedule “bowl week(s)” similar to the first round of college basketball playoffs, with non-stop action that will not conflict with the NFL. And, most crucially, if the bowl games are held in Week 1, they have real significance! And, if the playoff is expanded (as it should be), the bigger field will help replace the vacuum left by missed bowl games in December.
Rittenberg: They’re a pain, particularly for classic bowl games like the Rose and Peach. However, as others have pointed out, both games were fantastic, and the Rose was historic in terms of offensive statistics. To reduce the number of large opt-outs, we simply need additional bowl games to be included in the CFP. Hale is clearly wiser than me, but I’m not certain that bowl games at the start of the season make sense. There has to be a universal understanding that these games are more about the future and younger players than they are about the teams who have just finished their seasons.
Although Kenneth Walker and Kenny Pickett did not participate in the Peach Bowl, it was one of the finest games of the season. USA TODAY Sports/Raj Mehta
What is the most effective strategy to prevent opt-outs?
Wilson: Allow non-CFP bowl games to serve as sneak peeks into the next season. Any eligibility difficulties should be resolved, and athletes should not be penalized as a result. Backups or rookies might play without burning a redshirt if players opt out. Fans will have a new club to cheer for, and coaches will be able to try new things. That would be interesting to see.
Mark Schlabach: I agree with Wilson that everyone should play and that redshirt years should not be wasted. Allow the early registrants to play. Allow coaches a sneak glimpse at the young guys behind him if a quarterback or tailback opts out. If we’ve arrived to a stage where paying players is universally acceptable, then go ahead and do it. Bowl games should include appearance fees and incentives. Provide a $5,000 incentive to the winning team’s players as a result of a brand sponsorship. Give a guy $5,000 if he sprints for 200 yards. Another $5,000 is awarded if a player passes for 300 yards. In the new world, everyone becomes wealthy.
Rittenberg: Every non-CFP game should do a comprehensive examination of NIL possibilities, as well as what is practical and, ultimately, what may succeed. Schlabach is correct (I just puked a bit in my mouth), as bowls should provide financial incentives for bowl participation and victory. Would every player want the same contract, or could bowlers tailor NIL deals solely for the best draftable players who would seriously consider opting out? I’m also curious as to what monetary or incentive would be sufficient to entice a predicted third-round pick to play in a non-CFP bowl. However, unless they can accept the opt-outs and the fact that certain games will feature younger teams than those who competed during the regular season, the legwork should be done for all bowl games.
Bonagura: If the aim is to reduce opt-outs, the most apparent method to do so is to compensate players for bowl participation. For some, moving the calendar ahead could make a difference, but if athletes are concerned about suffering a catastrophic injury, a few weeks won’t make a difference.
Uggetti: In principle, the concept of converting bowl games into August kickoff games is fascinating. Bowl season, on the other hand, is enjoyable because it seems like a culmination of teams’ season-long narrative. Players should be compensated, particularly now that sponsors may utilize NIL to do so, but there will always be players who see the value in remaining fit for the NFL draft and choose that option instead. It’s simply the way it is and will be in a sport that is now more player-focused than it has ever been. Don’t fool yourself, though: we’re all still watching the games.
What is the most serious problem that college football and its postseason face?
Hale: College football’s postseason issues aren’t truly issues; they’re symptoms. The issue of player remuneration in college football must be addressed. It must find out how to form a fair relationship with players that allows them to move but does not encourage them to do so in the middle of the season. It also has to figure out a method to do the same with coaches. It must appeal to supporters outside of the same five or six institutions. It needs to broaden the scope of its high-quality programs (an issue that begins with where the best recruits are found). Instead of a model where we’re likely to see SEC championship game rematches every few years, it has to find better methods for conferences to work together for the betterment of the sport (or perhaps more frequently than that). College football has to start addressing its long-term difficulties, and if it does, the postseason troubles will follow.
Low: Finding a solution to NIL transactions so that the divide between the haves and have-nots does not widen. And expecting that NIL agreements won’t become a part of the recruiting process (they already have) is as ridiculous as thinking Nick Saban will out-troll Lane Kiffin on Twitter next year.
Schlabach: I don’t want to come out as an old man, but the transfer site has thrown a lot of coaches for a loop. Not only have they spent the last two weeks attempting to fill their recruiting classes with high school players, but they’ve also had to re-recruit their own players who have left. I’m all for players’ freedom of movement, but I’m telling you that the divide between haves and have-nots is expanding, and the gateway is a big part of it. When Alabama needed another receiver, they signed Jameson Williams. When Georgia needed a cornerback, they added Derion Kendrick. To improve their rosters, they’ll cherry-pick the top players from non-contenders. It’s called “free agency.”
Bonagura: Placing a premium on the playoffs above everything else is bad for fans and bad for the sport. The concept of inclusion isn’t based on the desire to discover a better approach to crown a champion or reduce postseason blowouts. It makes sense since it would increase the attractiveness of the product throughout the nation. I’ve yet to hear a cogent explanation for why a system that encourages further regionalization is beneficial to the sport’s general health.
Rittenberg: Without conference schedules and other elements that are more similar across the sport, you can’t have a playoff system that everyone feeds into, as Stanford coach David Shaw put it. As others have pointed out, the sport as a whole needs to be promoted more. Even if a program does not make the CFP, it may still have a successful season, and a bigger CFP will enable more teams to check off those historic boxes in their profiles. I’d say a minor decrease in the overall number of bowls would be OK to me, but I’m sure I’d be chastised for it. Not that we should go back to 15, but anything in the range of 30-35 would allow for more front-end screening of whether teams, coaches, and players really want to be there.
What portion of the CFB postseason is your favorite?
Connelly: Gatorade (or whatever) showers with a sponsor theme.
Schlabach: Baths in Mayo. Come on, Connelly, you can do it.
Low: Reminiscing about all those beautiful memories as a youngster of waking up on New Year’s Day knowing it was going to be a full day of football with living-room coaching clinics from uncles, great uncles, cousins, and anybody else who happened to be at my grandmother’s home.
Uggetti: The ludicrous rituals of celebration. Imagine explaining to someone who isn’t acquainted with the sport why a coach had mayo thrown on him, why another earned a very, uh, detailed award, how Cheez-Its are involved, or why a french fry bath is standard procedure. Best wishes.
Bonagura: It’s the same portion of the regular season that I like the most: there’s football on TV to keep me entertained. We don’t mind that few regular-season games have actual stakes, since we love them just as much.
Rittenberg: I’ve been seeing my bowl predictions, which I made the day the matchups were announced, regularly blow up in late December and early January.
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