Football: America’s Sport

Everyone knows that football, even college football, is all about the money. The SEC finally figured it out with their own TV network. Heck, even the Northwestern football players themselves figured it out.

What makes any sport America’s sport? Football often requires the word “American” in front of it to differentiate it from the football that the rest of the world knows. What about an option for enterprise? In major league sports, players, coaches, and the media all make buckets of money, but not the players in college football. Until recently.

Let’s take a step back. Imagine needing a source of cash flow and having some experience with the collegiate football process, but not enough skills (or motivation) to necessarily get hired anywhere as a coach or athletic director. Where is there an open source of money to be made? Well, there are those games where one team plays another of a vastly inferior caliber and division and pays that team for the right to lay the smack down. The lower tier conferences and divisions don’t rake in the cash like the top tier leagues do, so they are happy to take a loss for the money before going back to playing teams their own size (North Dakota State aside). Who is to stop me from making my own football “team” made up of eleven dropouts and getting paid to get smashed to bits every single week? Everyone else is raking in the dough in this industry, why not me?

What sentiment could be more American than that?

Of course, no legitimate team would schedule such a disreputable opponent, and there must be rules against that sort of thing, right?

The frontline journalists at reddit‘s college football discussion group, /r/cfb, uncovered just such an enterprise. User Honestly_ posted his/her findings yesterday. The post and many of the top comments are worth reading, but I will summarize a few of the highlights here.  

There are two “teams” affiliated with “schools” called “College of Faith” and “University of Faith”. Exactly who runs them seems somewhat unclear. Their websites look like they were made by either five years olds or seventy year olds. They are unaccredited schools in a division with just two teams.
UoF's 2014 ScheduleNeedless to say, none of their games have actually been on ESPN or ESPN2, or ESPN8 for that matter. They seemed to get blown out by every team they play. In the comments, some users claiming to have played against one of these teams weigh in. /u/throwawaybruh says

…I play for Davidson College, the team that played CoF last week. This was the most embarrassing shit ever. We were bad last year, but us players were still pissed we scheduled these guys. We had our starters out before the end of the first quarter and barely ran our offense because we felt bad for almost putting up 50 in the first half. If we had just kept playing I don’t see how we could’ve scored less than 150 They were so bad and it sucks as a player to have to try and justify any reason why we should’ve been playing them to other people. It was embarrassing as an athlete. But I suppose it’s a win, and we’re moving on to the rest of our schedule now

He then adds that “A bunch of their players got hurt and our trainers had to handle it for them.”

There are several other similar testimonials throughout the comments.

Where, then, do these programs fit in with the rest of college football, and do they spell doom for football in general? First, I should highlight the following quotation from UoF’s head coach. He says that it is an opportunity for “paid On-The-Job STUDENT WORK experience while obtaining a certification or degree.” He also uses terms like “hands on ministry outreach” while the head coach of the other program uses phrases like “second chance program.” While it does seem possible that this is honestly a unique approach to ministry and outreach, the money aspect and the complete lack of education – biblical or otherwise – makes it hard to believe. (Players are given “assignments each week at practice and they have one assignment a week and they turn it in by hand or they email it to me [their head coach].”) Apparently there are no rules against even FBS teams scheduling completely questionable programs such as these ones (although scheduling too many games like this could put a team in hot water).

Clearly this story tells us that this system is broken. On the one hand, if players with no particular football skills (some of whom may actually be homeless men recruited to have enough people on the roster to field a team) can get paid to play (although it isn’t clear that they are making more money than their “tuition” fees), then certainly players at Northwestern or elsewhere should also be allowed to get some kind of compensation. But we all know how sticky of a subject that is, so I propose I more practical alternative, inspired by the NFL (but not about their incredible salaries). The NFL is a largely competitive league. With thirty-two teams, most matchups are competitive. Certainly none of the baloney like CoF’s 2013 scores happens in the NFL:

63-0: Tusculum
69-0: Brevard
56-0: Clark Atlanta
52-0: Ave Maria
42-0: Stillman

Since FBS teams can play FCS teams (and technically anyone else they want to, regardless of the school’s accreditation, athletic affiliation, or the homeless status of the head coach), this essentially turns the college football “league” into one with at least 252 teams, just counting FBS and FCS schools (about half in each). There is no way that such a league could ever be balanced, even with concepts like a draft and salary caps. There has been a move of sorts to establish the top five conferences (Big Five? Power Five? We need a catchy name for these conferences and I officially put forward my vote for Fab Five) as a separate division, but that feels like it is a long way off. While I do think that this will have the intended effect, politically it doesn’t seem that feasible. A more practical solution would be to impart actual differentiation between the leagues – make wins against non FBS teams not count towards bowl eligibility or conference championships (after conference record and head-to-head, overall record is typically used, especially in three-way ties).

In effect, if this rule were in place years ago, Michigan wouldn’t have scheduled Appalachian State and I wouldn’t have this gaping hole in my memory where just a big “Do Not Enter” sign exists.

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Related
The Atlantic reveals the history of the NCAA and the true genesis of the “student-athlete”
Book Pre-Review: The System
Equal Justice Under College Football Playoff
Think you understand the new college football playoff system?

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8 thoughts on “Football: America’s Sport

  1. Pingback: ALDLAND Archives: Equal Justice Under College Football Playoff | ALDLAND

  2. You mention the other football. What do you think about incorporating a relegation concept? That might be a way to keep the whole college football landscape somewhat stitched together, even as your proposal inserts certain (probably needed, probably inevitable) divisions.

    • I like the theory behind the US census. Every 10 years we check on the status of things and adjust as necessary. Of course, that system has been wildly corrupt essentially since its inception.

      That said, an adjustment every ten years in football could be wrangled to work. No more conference realignment whenever a team or conference feels like they can squeeze a few more dollars from donors or a few more millions from TV conferences. At the end of the decade, conferences are allowed to realign and accept bids from lower tier schools. Of course, to be practical, this would inevitably mean kicking some teams out (otherwise it would just grow and grow and we would have the same situation we currently do) which would result in a sudden and massive loss of funds. Perhaps in the first year after a realignment, the funds get split between the incoming program and the outgoing program to mitigate any swing too large in one direction or another.

      Clearly, there is still some wrangling to be done for such an idea.

  3. Very interesting article and well-said. No one wants to watch a totally lopsided competition, whatever the sport is. Can’t believe that is allowed to happen in college football.

    Also, did you watch the Broncos and the Colts game last night? Peyton Manning and the Broncos looked amazing.

    Ivy

    • I was also surprised to learn that there is no rule against a team playing ANY football team in order to become bowl eligible (so long as non FBS games don’t account for too much of their schedule).

      I did not watch the Broncos yesterday.

  4. Addendum: An additional bonus of splitting the FBS into two divisions (can I trademark FAS and FBS to go with FCS? Presumably A stands for awesomest.) is that fantasy college football would then be possible. As it stands a middling team can play a lousy team one week and the top team in the league the next. Of course that can happen in any league, but in FBS (especially since teams can play basically any football squad and have it count) the difference is must larger than in the NFL.

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