What if College Football Had a Champions League?
There is probably nothing more American than college football, except for beating up your in-laws in an elevator, cat memes and apparently gay marriage.
So why, then, should we look to Europe for ideas on how to finally fix a system the sport can’t seem to quite figure out?
It’s simple. European soccer leagues are structured better than any sport in America, and it would be perfect for college football.
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will meet on Saturday for the UEFA Champions League crown, even if it will probably end in a tie and they’ll decide the winner based on a series of penalty kicks that have little to no correlation with which team is actually better.
Anyway, I now present to you the College Football Champions League.
For those of you who don’t understand how European soccer works (99 percent of you), here’s a brief recap:
There are a handful of major leagues that contain almost all of the dominant clubs: Bundesliga (Germany), Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), Ligue 1 (France), and Eredivisie (Netherlands). Think of these as your power conferences (formerly the BCS).
These leagues all operate independently and crown a respective champion annually. They also have relegation, which involves a smaller, less powerful league that is tied to the bigger league. Depending on the league, a select number of the worst teams from the top league will be sent down (relegated) to the lower-tier for the next season, and an equal number of the top teams from the lower division will be promoted every year.
The top teams from the upper-tiered league are then entered into a tournament to determine the overall champion of Europe: The Champions League. It’s like the Super Bowl, only 3x bigger. Seriously. Last year’s Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund drew 360 million viewers worldwide. The Super Bowl drew about 110 million this year.
College football’s method for deciding a champion is really messed up, and anyone who thinks that a four-team playoff is anything more than a cash-grab or that it will actually solve any problems is kidding themselves. Schedules are ridiculously imbalanced within conferences (LSU fans am I right?), and even with a four-team playoff, a heeeyuggeeeee factor in how the national champion is determined depends on a group of humans’ subjective opinions.
I’m throwing a lot of logistics out the window for the sake of this argument because, let’s be honest, even if it’s a good idea the NCAA takes 10 years to make a change. The BCS sucked since it started and that still lasted longer than Al Groh’s coaching career.
So what if college football divided into smaller, more manageable leagues where every team actually played all the others in its league? Crazy right?
You could certainly cap FBS at 120 teams, dividing them between three 40-team tiers. Each tier would consist of five 8-team conferences.
The conferences would be arranged with regional ties in mind, but the ultimate goal is to find the fairest way of determining a national champion, so some traditional conference rivalries will have to be broken. What’s that Tennessee? You want to keep playing Alabama? Okay, then stop going 5-7 every damn year.
Here’s a possible breakdown of the first tier:
To the naked eye, those leagues are pretty damn balanced. By shrinking the league sizes to eight, now every team will be able to play a full round-robin within its conference. Let’s say every team can then play three non-conference games for a 10-game regular season. The non-conference games will have zero impact on the team’s national championship aspirations. None.
Coaches can then choose how they want to treat those games: do they play a slate of cupcakes and keep their team from getting beat up before conference play? Or do they go out and pick up a few tough games to whip the team into shape before the league slate begins? (Not to mention giving the program more national exposure). Now Virginia Tech could schedule Alabama in early September and not have to worry about a loss taking them out of the national championship race for once (full disclosure: I went to Virginia Tech and will do absolutely anything in my power to make their path to a national championship easier…mission accomplished).
The top four teams from each league will qualify for the Champions League tournament. There are no conference tournaments. The top 12 teams get a bye – the top two from each conference, plus two wild cards that will be determined when each team elects a walk-on to serve as tribute, entering an earth-like Super Orb where they battle to the death. No? Alright fine, the two wild cards can be chosen by a selection committee, computer ranking, whatever. It’s still better than the BCS because no matter what seed you are, at least you qualified for the tournament on your own merit. That’s more than we can say about how it works now.
Here’s just one example of what a tournament like this would look like:
(1) Florida State vs (16) UCLA or (17) Oklahoma State
(2) Auburn vs (15) Louisville or (18) USC
(3) Michigan State vs (14) LSU or (19) Notre Dame
(4) South Carolina vs (13) Baylor or (20) Fresno State
(5) Missouri vs (12) Ohio State
(6) Oklahoma vs (11) Stanford
(7) Alabama vs (10) UCF
(8) Clemson vs (9) Oregon
Anddddd that’s just the first round. The most games a team could play under this format is 15 – and that’s if a team ranked 16-20th makes it to the championship game – so basically 14 is the maximum number of games a team could play. That’s exactly how it is now.
Isn’t this SO much better than a four-team playoff, chosen by a group of people who we lock into solitary confinement for four months and force them do nothing but eat, sleep and watch college football games? I mean, yeah to ME that sounds great, but I don’t think Condi Rice’s Saturdays are best spent watching Boston College and Pitt have a contest to see who can set the ACC record for punts in a quarter. It’s just not efficient for our country, and all I want to do here is help America.
At the end of the season, let the relegation commence. Each “Tier One” conference will drop its worst two teams in favor of the best two from Tier Two, and the same for Tiers Two and Three.
You thought these coaches were under a lot of pressure before? Can you imagine Will Muschamp trying to keep his job when Florida HAS to win three straight to end the season or face being kicked out of the SEC for at least a year?
This is where Europe gets it right – even the bad teams still have something to play for. All it takes is one bad year from a powerhouse to knock them out of the championship race for another full year. My God, this is amazing.
Also important: this will force the Boise States of the world to prove they belong at the big kids’ table. No longer will a talented team from a creampuff conference be able to run roughshod over teams full of 2-stars and then cry out for equality at season’s end. Nope…you’ve got to prove it over the course of time. If a smaller program starts to make a rise, they’ll have to take it up another level once they’ve been promoted just to stay in the top league.
This might be the only way to possibly make college football better. Seriously. If ESPN is reading this, you’re welcome. I basically just made every college football game about 150 times more watchable.
Are there logistical hoops to jump through to make this happen? Absolutely.
Who should I talk with to make this happen? Mark Emmert? Nick Saban? I bet if Saban decided he wanted a College Football Champions League, we’d have one by next year. He could at least run it by Mike Slive, and we already know what Mikey Slive wants, Mikey Slive gets.
College football wants to change. The players want it, the coaches want it, and the administrators want it. The Playoff is a nice start, but it’s merely a slight push in the right direction. There’s only one way to truly determine the national champion without any room for doubt, and this is it.
A Champions League isn’t just what college football wants. It’s what college football deserves.
Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshParcell