Sports

Takin’ on Sports: College Football is the Premier League, adjust your expectations accordingly

You can't have a great card with just the main event, you need to celebrate the undercard, too.

It’s the off-season in college football, which means the hot topic is everything that’s wrong with the sport and why it needs changing. It’s a tired act – although one we’re not immune to here at The Take.

However, while we sit here and point fingers at those who “ruin” the sport we so love, maybe a little introspection is needed to cure some of our collective ills?

College football is a sport of haves and have nots, and the sooner everyone accepts that as fact, the sooner they can fully enjoy the sport. This isn’t to say the numerous conversations had around changing the sport for the better (improving the postseason, compensation for players, etc.) should be ignored – far from it, actually. This also isn’t to say the arguments against change, in the name of “amateurism” and “tradition,” aren’t little more than smoke shows for those in charge to keep the money/power and share as little of it as possible.

The blue bloods have always run the show, and they always will, but that doesn’t mean everyone can’t enjoy the proceedings. Alongside the rise of the College Football Playoff have come the arguments and think pieces claiming the sport is dying, solely because a few programs have aligned themselves at the top of the sport, and show no signs of giving up power anytime soon.

These are wholeheartedly foolish opinions, ultimately short-sighted and made out of envy. Yes, as an Alabama fan it’s easy to sit back and say “look, you just have to adjust your expectations and you’ll get more enjoyment out of the season.” But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Take a look at English soccer, for example. The Premier League is ruled by the “Big 6” clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham (and really, that group was a big three before this century). During the last 25 years, the champion of England’s top league has come from outside that group only once (also of note: Tottenham has not won the league since 1961. This has no relevance here other than fuck Tottenham). That fact does not deter fans of Southampton or Crystal Palace from enjoying the season. Clubs all across England pack out stadiums, be they giant ones with corporate names or tiny, local stadiums packed into a neighborhood home of a 3rd Tier team. And, while every fan dreams of a miracle run to a Premier League title, they all know to adjust their expectations.

Now, the media certainly deserves its share of blame for the “playoff or bust” mentality. Of course the CFP deserves top billing and the largest share of coverage, but you’re failing the sport you cover if you don’t cover it in its entirety. Of course, this is where the Premier League holds a key advantage: relegation. The threat of relegation is compelling television, and it turns matches between cellar-dwellers into must-see TV. This system wouldn’t work in collegiate athletics, so the onus is on the media to find the good stories in the lower parts of the standings.

Where might these stories come from? How about all of this pageantry and tradition folks who cover the sport like to invoke any time they feel threatened by progress? This sport is full of stupid-but-fun-as-hell traditions, dumb-yet-awesome trophies, rivalries so full of vitriol they literally cause consternation between loved ones. To only cover the elite level of the sport is a disservice to the sport itself. But this isn’t a rant against the media, rather this is a plea for perspective from the fans. Not every mid-major with a good squad is going to turn into Boise State. Not every traditional powerhouse in the midst of a down period will find a Nick Saban to resurrect the program.

Success in this sport is circumstantial. The college game isn’t the same as the pros, there isn’t a system of parity designed to give every franchise a shot at winning. As is, there’s probably only about 15-ish programs that have realistic shots at winning the national title. A MAC team will never, and I mean never, win the CFP as it currently stands. The system just doesn’t allow it, nor do circumstances. But that in no way means a MAC team can’t have a wildly successful season. It doesn’t even have to involve being the G5’s representative in a NY6 bowl – winning your conference should be a point of pride, even if it doesn’t lead to playoff success. Yes, the sport needs drastic structural change, but why wring hands over shit you can’t control?

Too many programs bail on coaches after two seasons, expecting win-now results with win-every-now-and-again resources. What programs like Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are doing now is nothing short of historical dominance. Yes, the setup of the system has helped facilitate the re-emergence of these programs on such a high level; but it’s also just a bit of dumb luck that runs throughout all of sports. It’s one thing for Dabo Swinney to build Clemson into a national powerhouse, it’s another for their main rivals to either fall from grace (Florida State and Virginia Tech) or struggle to get their heads above water (Miami).

There are 130 programs in the FBS level. It’s just unrealistic to expect all 130 programs to run at the same level when they don’t enjoy similar resources. Without a stable system of revenue sharing aimed at bringing up the basement-dwellers, the blue bloods are only going to widen the gap as TV deals get bigger and major conferences expand their footprint. This is one of the main reasons I’m a fervent supporter of re-aligning the FBS by slimming it down.

While all of that structural change is needed, it’s still something out of the hands of the everyday fan. Yes, we should listen to pleas for change from fans of smaller schools who ask for a fair path to postseason success for their schools. The change they asked for is desperately needed to improve a sport we all love. But, until that change comes about, we have to enjoy what we have in the current system. Make the best of the current situation and don’t let the things outside of your control affect your passion for college football.

The conversation around the seasons of Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina and BYU shouldn’t be dominated by what could’ve/should’ve been; but rather what they actually were. The Bearcats are on the verge of becoming the next mid-major powerhouse. BYU pulled a season out of nowhere in a year that didn’t want them to even have a season. Coastal just played their fourth season at the highest level of the sport and damn near went undefeated.

All of these are wonderful, awesome stories! Yes, they deserved a better chance at the CFP, but why is that the headline and not a supporting story? Like a great TV show or movie, what separates it from being merely good isn’t just the lead actors or major plotlines, but rather the supporting roles and little details woven throughout the story that bind together the whole thing.

Hell, people love to bitch about Alabama’s dominance under Saban, but in 20-30-40 years, those same people will tell their kids and grandkids about how they lived in the era of, if not the single greatest dynasty in the history of the sport. Perspective matters.

So, while it’s easy to see how people get bored with the same teams appearing in the CFP, to fault anyone but the bored themselves is a mistake. Like Master Yoda said, “Be mindful of the future, but never at the expense of the present.” Instead of obsessing over the negative, enjoy the beautiful, fucked up sport that is college football, while still working towards and supporting change for the better.

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