Last week my good friend Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com got folks all worked up with a survey of coaches from the 65 teams in the Power Five conferences (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 plus Independent Notre Dame).
The survey revealed that 30 of the 65 coaches (43 percent) liked the idea of the Power Five conferences playing all of their games within the Power Five. That means no games against the other FBS conferences (American, Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA) and none against the FCS (formerly Division I-AA).
Alabama coach Nick Saban told McMurphy that keeping all of the games within the Power Five is something the fans really want.
“We need to be more concerned about the people who support the programs and the university and come and see the games,” Saban said. “Those are the most important. But we never think about that.”
And now that the Power Five conferences have gained autonomy in the NCAA governance structure, does it logically follow that those conferences would someday keep all of the games “in house”?
I’ve talked to a lot of fans who absolutely love this idea. They are tired of fighting traffic, fighting heat, fighting long lines at the concessions stands and restrooms to watch bad games. They have a huge high-definition screen at home and a refrigerator that is 12 steps away. I’ve talked to others who have decided to give up their season tickets and simply pay a premium for the games they really want to see in person.
But this is not going to happen and if you really care about college football it shouldn’t happen. Here’s why:
It’s not going to happen, particularly in SEC territory, because of long standing relationships between the big schools and the smaller schools. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier pointed out recently that his fans would rather see the Gamecocks play East Carolina of the American Athletic Conference than a second-tier team in the Big Ten because East Carolina, to put it bluntly, is close by and is probably going to be a better team. That didn’t make the Big Ten folks happy but it is the truth.
The reason it shouldn’t happen can be found at the entrance to the new College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, which will open its doors a week from Saturday. The first thing visitors to the HOF will see is a three-story wall covered by more than 750 football helmets. Those helmets represent every college or university in the United States that plays some level of football.
And while the 65 schools in the Power Five get the most media attention and the most money, it’s important that the sport be healthy at every level. Playing non-conference games with the other five conferences and FCS schools helps to keep those programs viable. All of these schools are interdependent and, as my friend Tim Brando says, they are really in business together.
The last thing we need is for college football to become like a 65-team NFL. Saturday’s “are” different than Sundays which is why many of us enjoy the college game so much. The NFL has the best athletes in the world and is the most popular sport by far in the United States. But there is a uniformity about the product that I find boring.
But the college football tent is big enough for Michigan vs. Appalachian State; for Youngstown State vs. Ohio State; for Georgia vs. Georgia Southern. For the good of the game, let’s keep it that way.