College football viewership hit a record-high in 2016, largely due to streaming accessibility. According to Nielsen ratings, “More than 179 million fans (weeks 1-13) watched more than 100 billion minutes of college football games on ESPN’s networks, an increase from the 2015 season.” The trend also carried over to attendance with a record 49.3 million people attending games.
Despite all of outstanding numbers, college football is still getting it wrong and here’s how to make it better.
1. Fix the College Football Playoff
Since the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era, a great debate occurs every year when a qualified team is left out of contention for a national championship. It took over a decade of controversy from “error-proof” computers, before enough damage was down by screwing over multiple teams. (2001-Oregon, 2003- USC, 2004- Auburn, Utah, Boise State, 2005- Utah (again), 2009- TCU, Cincinnati, Boise State (again) 2010- TCU.)
A four-team playoff was the temporary solution in need of a serious amendment. An expansion to a ten-team playoff, with four total rounds, could be a possibility. Here’s how that could work out.
Ten-team College Football Playoff
In the ten-team CFP, the top five seeds would be awarded to the champion of each “Power 5” conference. The order of those seeds would be according to the final CFP Poll. The remaining five seeds would be at-large bids going to the highest ranked teams remaining.
No. 1 — Bye
No. 2 — Bye
No. 3 vs. No 10
No. 4 vs. No. 9
No. 5 vs. No. 8
No. 6 vs. No. 7
In each matchup, the highest ranked teams have a home field advantage in the first and second rounds, keeping a playoff game or two on campus. The semi-finals would be played at neutral sites, just like in the current CFP format.
Also of note, the No. 1 essentially has a two-round bye to take them directly to the semi-finals. This would be a reward for a team that would have (likely) proved themselves over the course of the season.
Lastly, tie-breakers are determined in the order of regular season record, conference wins and strength of schedule.
Take the same system with the ten teams from 2016.
No. 1 Alabama — Bye
No. 2 Clemson — Bye
No. 3 Penn State vs. No. 10 Colorado*
No. 4 Washington vs. No. 9 USC
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Michigan
*Pac-12 South Champions
This format is immediately more interesting with rematches for USC & Washington, and the most anticipated between Michigan & Ohio State.
The regular season meeting in Columbus was the most-watched game of the season on any network, generating a total live audience of 17.1 million viewers. Add the fallout from terrible officiating and the interest would be at a fever pitch in a playoff scenario.
The challenge for teams would be pulling off an upset on the road against the best. Clemson would likely host the winner of Michigan-Ohio State in the second round, and considering USC’s play in the second half of the season, redemption would be likely against Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
A good system for competition and television ratings. By expanding the field of ten it’s not likely to exclude any teams, even though, undefeated Western Michigan would be left out due a weakened schedule.
2. NCAA should start paying the players
Yes, I know people are passionate on both sides of this intangible issue, but it’s time for players to be compensated accordingly. The NCAA’s long-standing argument against paying players is outdated, reflected poorly on the decades of growth in revenue.
In 2015, the University of Texas football program pulled in a total of $121 million, that’s more than 25 NFL franchises. Furthermore, the Atlanta Falcons, who were last in the NFL, took in less revenue than 22 NCAA football program in the same year.
The numbers grow steadily year after year without shared revenue for the players, who’ve expanded college football’s branding. Besides, it’s not like NCAA president Mark Emmert, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, or SEC commissioner Greg Sankey are asking for an allowance after receiving a share of $7.3 billion from ESPN’s broadcasts.
Former Buff Joel Klatt said it best in a 2015 interview with Ralphie Report saying,
"Unfortunately, the NCAA as it relates to their mission statement is the worst organization I can think of. Their mission statement is to be there for the well being of the student-athlete, to protect the student-athlete and what it's morphed into is a governing body that has rules and regulations that are specifically to contain the student athlete."
Do the right thing and give players what they rightfully deserve.
3. Adjust scheduling rules for better competition
One of the biggest problems in college football is consistency with scheduling. SEC teams are the most notorious for using that to their advantage. Alabama and Auburn schedule an FCS opponent late in the season (a week before the Iron Bowl), providing an “off” week for a significant donation to the lesser school.
A simple way to fix that strict scheduling rules for non-conference games played up until week 5. In addition, teams should schedule a minimum of two games with teams from other “Power 5” conferences during that time. Mid-major teams might get worked out of the equation; creating key early season games among the top 65 teams.