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College Football Owns Labor Day, So Let's Make It Official

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College Football needs its own moment to be celebrated in all its glory, and the Labor Day Games are the answer.

Non-conference matchups between big time powers are at the heart of the Labor Day tradition
Non-conference matchups between big time powers are at the heart of the Labor Day tradition
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Isn't this fun!? The first 72 hours of the 2014 college football season have been outstanding. From the Aggies' air raid (What?) Thursday in Columbia through Hawai'i's close call early Sunday morning, we have spent the last three days being reminded of two things. One, that going into the season, we don't know nearly as much as we think we do. And two, that Week One of college football is flat out excellent. But - get this - it could be even better.

A CFB playoff has been a necessity for decades now, which goes without saying. But of those who opposed the idea of a playoff as it gained traction over the years, one of the talking points seemed to be the desire to protect the sanctity of TRADITION.

"But what about the pageantry of the Rose Bowl? What about the long standing tradition of the Beef ‘O' Brady's bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl?"

Well, I hear you, old men of the Midwest. Tradition can be pretty great, but clearly isn't enough to consider sacrificing a playoff for.

Which brings us back to Week One, and the ever growing number of neutral-site games that are being pitched as traditions, classics, and challenges (How many years of the Croke Park Classic before it actually becomes a classic?). We've been standing in line at the CFB methadone clinic all spring and summer with Labor Day Weekend circled on our calendars. It only makes sense that match-ups like Temple vs. Vanderbilt feel like the 2005 Rose Bowl. But what if instead of Temple vs. Vanderbilt, we actually got games the quality of the 2005 Rose Bowl?

Labor Day Weekend presents a very unique opportunity for College Football to briefly steal the spotlight from Big Brother NFL, while teams are still in camp playing games with scrubs that mean nothing. The NCAA calendar is highlighted by inter-conference match-ups that have significant bearing on the playoff selection process. Not only do these games matter, but they may be the toughest games national powers play each year.

Neutral site games, your Chick-Fil-A Kickoffs, Jerry World Challenges, etc. are becoming ever more present. This past week saw 8 neutral-site games played, all out-of-conference games in major markets.

As Jon Solomon at CBS Sports pointed out, the trend is not without cause. Wisconsin and Boise State, both participants in neutral-site match-ups in Houston and Atlanta respectively, are not Southern household football names. Through the neutral-site games, both were able to theoretically use their season openers to lay groundwork for Southern recruiting opportunities.

Rather than see profit once every two years in traditional non-conference home-and-home match-ups, schools like Alabama, who play neutral site games annually, see revenue from major non-conference match-ups every year.

Aside from alienating season ticket holders with a fear of flying, playing neutral-site games makes sense for all parties involved. The programs use the game as a recruiting tool and, regardless of outcome, the game itself acts as a resume booster for the playoff committee to take into account. The athletic departments see annual revenue and gain national brand exposure. The fans get great football to start the year. Neutral-site games are advantageous to all participants. Which is why they shouldn't be given. They should be earned.

Bowl eligibility is no longer a badge of honor. Missing out on a bowl game is certainly a dishonor, but there is little reward in the middle ground between 6 wins and the National Championship. I find this strange, particularly for a sport with over 125 participants.

So let us reward those who fell short of perfection, but turned in above-average seasons. I can't be the only one coming away feeling empty when teams like Baylor and UCF, Boise St. and TCU, are tossed into throw away bowl games on a Tuesday night come January. Already lost in a post-holiday malaise, these games will become even less relevant as we head into the playoff universe.

Bowl games love their tradition. And they love their conference tie-ins. So let's take all the warm goodness of the Bowl Game/BCS era, remove the element of arbitrary tradition in deciding national championships, and let interesting, competitive non-conference match ups play out early in the year.

Qualification for the Labor Day Neutral-Site games are simple. You must finish in the top three of your conference the previous season. Group of 5 Schools will select entrants from across their five conferences, acting as a single conference for this purpose.

Produced will be an array of showdowns that generate interest (read: revenue), establish and uphold existing traditions, and alleviate the challenge of scheduling tough out-of-conference match-ups for programs who have trouble doing so on their own.

Participating in Labor Day games would have a profoundly positive impact on Group of Five schools in particular, who have the most to gain from national exposure, resume boosting non-conference games, and large chunks of cash. I would venture a guess that UCF drew just as much attention yesterday morning playing Penn State in Dublin as they did in the Fiesta Bowl.

Neutral-site games should be treated as a reward. A privilege. Particularly now that one loss doesn't make or break a season and the incentive for the risk-averse to avoid these games is nullified.

This theoretical Labor Day Neutral Site schedule would look something like this:

Location

Tie-in

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA)

PAC12 1 vs. B1G 1

AT&T Stadium (Dallas, TX)

ACC 1 vs. BIGXII 1

Georgia Dome (Atlanta, GA)

SEC 1 vs. AAC 1

Sports Authority Field (Denver, CO)

BIGXII 2 vs. PAC12 2

Soldier Field (Chicago, IL)

B1G 2 vs. SEC 2

FedEx Field (Landover, MD)

MWC 1 vs. ACC 2

Once upon a time, New Year's Day was College Football's moment in the sun. With the National Championship game being held on January 12th this season, and all but 3 bowl games acting as a neutral-site consolation bracket, New Year's Day is merely a blip on the sports calendar, shared by outdoor hockey and parades.

College Football needs its own moment to be celebrated in all its glory, and the Labor Day Games are the answer.