Since the introduction of the College Football Playoff (CFP), we’ve seen five teams dominate the championship landscape. With such a small handful of teams claiming the title, the season feels like a slow slog toward a predictable finish that can dampen fan excitement.
While top-tier teams like Alabama, Michigan and Georgia are drawing huge crowds, many universities are experiencing a decline in football attendance. “It’s a trend at our institution and nationally,” West Virginia athletic director Wren Baker said in a recent interview. “Most people have not had the same kind of crowds post-COVID as they had pre-COVID. Some people (fans) just got out of going. The lifeblood of (our) program is our fans and we understand that.” In their case, West Virginia has played at just 73.4% of its stadium capacity over the last five years. Even a national program like UCLA has experienced attendance problems. UCLA has averaged only 36,241 fans in six home games, despite the university routinely giving away tens of thousands of tickets.
To reinvigorate the competitive spirit of college football and renew fan interest, here’s a five-point plan that could level the playing field.
1. Implement a Salary Cap for Coaching Staffs
One of the significant disparities between top-tier programs and the rest is the financial resources available to hire elite coaching staffs. By implementing a salary cap for coaching staffs, all schools would be on a more equal footing when it comes to attracting top coaching talent. This would promote a more competitive balance and prevent wealthier programs from monopolizing the best coaches.
2. Enhance Revenue Sharing
Currently, revenue distribution in college football heavily favors the most successful programs. By enhancing revenue sharing, smaller programs would have more resources to invest in facilities, coaching, and other areas critical to success. This would help level the playing field and give more teams a shot at success.
3. Expand the College Football Playoff
Expanding the CFP to include more teams would give more programs a chance to compete for the national championship. This would not only increase the competitiveness of the sport but also make the playoff more exciting for fans, as there would be more games and more opportunities for upsets.
Here are some key points that must be ironed out before any expansion of the College Football Playoff can take place:
Schedule and Structure: The expansion of the College Football Playoff could potentially commence before the current contract ends, with the most likely start date being ahead of the 2025 season. The latest debut for the expanded playoff is set for the 2026 season. However, there’s a strong inclination to kick off as early as possible, with the earliest possible date being after the 2024 season.
Logistical Challenges: The early start of the expanded playoff presents significant logistical hurdles. These include aligning with NFL schedules and obtaining approval from university presidents to extend the season, which could potentially conclude as late as the bye weekend before the Super Bowl in February.
Revenue Projections: According to industry insiders, the expanded playoff could potentially generate an annual revenue of up to $1.6 billion for the 12-team field.
Player Welfare Considerations: The welfare of the athletes is a crucial aspect that the commissioners will need to address. This is because two teams could potentially end up playing as many as 17 games, equivalent to an NFL regular season.
Distribution of Revenue: A revenue distribution plan needs to be developed by the commissioners and approved by the presidents of the conferences. There’s also a proposal that players should receive a portion of this revenue. For instance, if each player were to receive a flat sum of $32,000 as a member of a participating team, this would amount to $38.4 million (assuming 100 players per team). However, this doesn’t account for the fact that some athletes may play in just one first-round game, while others could potentially play in a total of four games.
Scheduling Issues: Determining the dates for the playoff games presents another challenge. The quarterfinals are expected to be held around the turn of the year, with the semifinals commencing 8-10 days into the NFL playoffs. The CFP National Championship could then be scheduled 10 days to a couple of weeks later.
Availability of Stadiums and Hotels: There are complications related to the availability of stadiums and hotels. Shifting all of the games would require ensuring that venues are open and available without any conflicts on different dates.
Media Rights: There’s a strong push to take the expanded playoff to the open market once the current contract expires in 2026. This could spark a real buzz around the game. Imagine a bunch of networks and cable channels all chatting up the postseason at the same time, keeping the game front and center in the minds of fans.
4. Improve Recruiting Regulations
Recruiting is a critical aspect of college football, and currently, top programs often have a significant advantage. By improving recruiting regulations, such as limiting the number of five-star recruits a team can sign each year, we could ensure a more equitable distribution of top high school talent.
By implementing these changes, we can make college football more competitive, which is beneficial for everyone involved. For the teams, it means a fairer chance of success. For the fans, it means more exciting, unpredictable games and a more engaging sport overall. The beauty of sports lies in its unpredictability, and by ensuring a more level playing field, we can preserve this crucial aspect of college football.