What’s the best trend that emerged from the first few weeks of the college football season?
Really meaningful non-conference games.
From Clemson-Georgia at Oregon-Ohio State to LSU-UCLA to Texas-Arkansas at Auburn-Penn State, the non-league games have lived up to their hype. This is what makes sport so fun. And let’s include games like Cincinnati-Indiana, which give so-called Group of 5 teams moments to make statements in the spotlight.
Yes, these clashes also provide great data to measure teams for the playoffs.
And yet there is another trend that threatens to translate less and less information into quality non-conference games.
The made-for-television arms race between the SEC and the Big Ten / ACC / Pac-12 alliance is a troubling development.
Yes, the SEC annexation of Oklahoma and Texas is a big step for the parties involved. And yes, the alliance of the three conferences is a lame answer, deserving all the spades it has received.
But if you are a fan of college football, you should be a fan of an alliance of all conferences. This is the way forward for convincing non-conference confrontations. And a fairer championship race.
This is not the way it is. Supported by the Longhorns and Sooners, the SEC super-conference will have less incentive to play outside of its league. And because the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 will go head-to-head, they’ll be less likely to want to play games like Auburn-Penn State, which are already pretty rare.
Having two competing camps, rather than coordinating, is a bit like having a United Nations without Russia, China or the United States. Everyone should be at the same table, not to draw below.
If the New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams could close their own TV deal, that would be great for them. But not for professional football. The NFL realized this a long time ago.
Putting all the big conferences on the same page would be a step towards hosting games similar to the non-conference battles that work so well in basketball between the ACC and the Big Ten, and the SEC and the Big 12.
Rotate conference games every year or break them into chunks so leagues see more than one league per season. One Big Ten division plays against its Pac-12 counterparts, the other against the SEC.
Rank your teams. N ° 1 against n ° 1 across the board. That would provide great games and go a long way in determining the most worthy teams for playoff status.
Having said that, I don’t hold my breath as I wait for this idea to become a reality.
When it comes to taking care of them first, no college football program is immune.
Long ago, Notre Dame tried to conquer a market by getting its own television contract. Years later, Texas created its own television network, which sparked the dismantling of the Big 12.
The Big Ten annexed Penn State, which had been pushed back by the basketball-focused Big East. The ACC hacked the Big East into oblivion.
The Big Ten then embarked on the trend of mega-dollar conferencing networks, and justified the annexation of some illogical teams (Nebraska, Maryland, Rutgers) because they added televisions to their network.
The SEC followed with Missouri and Texas A&M, and now Texas and Oklahoma.
In other words, what would be best for the sport is very unlikely to happen. Because it’s not better for individual schools and their conferences.
It’s reality. It is also a shame.