The Janus-faced Nature of American Sports

While many in our society are in the process of preparing Bûche de Noël among other delicacies, contestations occurred moments following the announcement of this season’s College Football Playoff participants. The nature of these debates ranged from the legitimacy of Ohio State making it into the semifinals after only playing six games to the University of Cincinnati Bearcats not being granted ingress after finishing their undefeated season.

            Of course, the old familiar refrain of expanding the playoff field once the current contract ends began to dominate the discussion as being the panacea of all that ails the FBS. Naïve college football fans believe the ben trovato of additional teams added to the field will open the path for Coastal Carolina, Cincinnati, and others instead of the blue bloods that comprise programs from the Power Five conferences.

            The economic realities of the American system make ratings the essential component of the CFP. That being said, a matchup between Alabama and Cincinnati may lose its charm if the Crimson Tide scores 50 plus points against the Bearcats in a semifinal contest. In reality, Alabama just might score half of a hundred on any opponent regardless.

            When you have to depend upon sufficient advertisers to meet their financial obligations, it decreases the probability of non-traditional powers being selected for the playoffs if Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, or USC are in the mix. Teams nicknamed the Chanticleers, Bearcats, or Golden Hurricane do not have a certain je sais quoi like the typical heavyweights.

            In fairness, we cannot blame the CFP Committee solely for these inequities because of our duplicitous nature of talking inclusion until competition does not yield the kind of result that we desire. The Power Five conference teams will continue to vie for championship payouts that are necessary to help fund other sports that are struggling because of reduced budgets caused by the pandemic.

            Non-traditional football programs also have the deck stacked against them due to weaker schedules from the competition that they face in their conferences. Therefore, these types of programs will have to virtually be undefeated multiple seasons with the hope of defeating a Power Five team in their non-conference matchups during the regular season. Since rosters change annually and non-conference schedules are made years in advance, the odds are against the MAC, AAC, et cetera to sustain a level of excellence of this magnitude for this duration.

            Nonetheless, having a system that is equitable for most programs regardless of conference affiliation (or independent) is a plummy aspiration in American college football. It is just unfortunate that the financial structure is such that it makes inclusion a bit more challenging than some may want to admit.