Last month, I finally became a true Georgia student. After a locked-down, ticketless freshman season, I acquired season tickets over the summer and cashed them in to go to my first football game in Sanford Stadium: the home opener against UAB. And unlike much else in college, this experience was exactly as advertised. Being with so many fans was like nothing else I’ve experienced in sports. After an isolating first year, it was exactly what I needed to feel truly connected to my university.
None of this had anything to do with the game, which sucked. It was a completely uncompetitive blowout from start to finish.
An air of absurdity permeated the entire event, with the emotions and energy of the crowd strangely juxtaposed next to a contest that was more of a staid ritual than the competition we ostensibly paid for. After all of the hype, anticipation and pageantry, most of the crowd left by halftime.
But out of everything, the strangest part of this whole experience was that everyone in the stadium knew exactly what would happen. This match was but one drop in a sea of meaningless, uncompetitive college football games.
The other games I attended were the same. While other sports leagues have multiple must-see matches every week, any given college football season only has a few meaningful and competitive matches over the whole year. Beyond those exclusive contests, the rest of the season might as well not occur.
The problem here is clear and has existed forever. College football is defined by consolidation, where a small group of perennial contenders lord above hundreds of schools unable to compete with them.
Everyone knows this, everyone complains about it and it is completely unsustainable.
This unfairness may benefit the No. 1 ranked Bulldogs now, but it is the fundamental issue plaguing the sport, one that could lead to permanent marginalization and regionalization if not rectified. At the core of this issue: the recruitment process.
In professional sports leagues, there is a clear dynamic for the addition of new players — the worst teams get the earliest picks in the draft. This gives the worst teams a chance to improve and keeps the best teams from becoming too dominant. As a result, American professional sports leagues are some of the most consistently competitive in the world.
In the NCAA, this entire dynamic is reversed. There are next to no regulations on recruitment, allowing the best teams to get the best prospects. As teams establish their dominance on the field, they become even more appealing to scouts and future prospects who want to win national championships. These recruits, in turn, make their new teams even stronger, creating a feedback loop that has defined the sport.
Something must change with the way college football operates so that the appeal of already-strong teams isn’t as potent. The best tool for this, by far, is to expand the playoff system. The NCAA moved in this direction in 2014, but did not go nearly far enough. In a big step, it created a playoff system for the first time, but it consisted of the top four teams alone. This minor expansion did nothing to diminish the allure of the nation’s juggernauts.
Expanding the playoff system to something like 16 contenders, consisting of the Power Five conference champions and next 11 best teams, would truly shake up college football.
Teams would not have to be complete world-beaters to have a shot at a title, allowing college football’s many non-juggernauts to truly promise opportunity to recruits.
Currently weak conferences could be revitalized by the promise of an easy playoff berth. It would not even be unfair to the sport’s elite. A matchup against a low seed should not be a problem for, say, the number one team in the country.
The creation of such a system should be supported by all college football fans, even Georgia fans. It is no secret what the hope of every Bulldog fan has been since our team became a true contender: that they will be able to establish a culture of dominance and winning so potent that we enter the ranks of college football’s perennial titans.
We are not the first ones to try. In 2019, LSU tried the exact same thing, pushing for a title on the back of a strong senior class. The Tigers did not just win in that season: they dominated college football, winning their two playoff matches in blowouts.
By all rights, they of all teams would become a perennial contender after such a performance. It never happened. The next year, they nearly had a losing season. As of early October of this year, they are unranked.
The nature of exclusive clubs is that the game is rigged from the start. The only way to truly get in is to open the doors for everyone.