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Why College Football Should Be Paying Attention to the European Super League Debacle

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The richest soccer clubs blatant disregard for the long-term health of the sport is a warning sign for top FBS programs

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Ohio State vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The twelve richest soccer clubs in Europe developed a plan over 20 years to breakaway from the traditional European soccer pyramid to develop their own league. This plan blew-up in only 48 hours after it was unveiled publicly because instead of consulting fans, players, and coaches, the billionaire owners of these teams just consulted their bankers, before unveiling their grand-scheme.

The hallmark of European soccer is its pyramid system. A pyramid system in sports which may be unfamiliar to Americans, means a set number of soccer clubs each year at the bottom of each division, drop to a lower-level league, while the best teams in each division, are promoted to a higher level league. For example if there was a pyramid system in college football, Vanderbilt would move to a G5 conference after a bad year while Cincinnati would be promoted to the SEC after finishing as the sport’s best G5 team.

When a team is promoted from the second highest division of English soccer to the Premier League, the highest division of English soccer, it can mean well over $100 Million in additional revenue for that club per annum. When a team is relegated from the Premier League, the inverse also holds true. It is easy to see why owners of the Super League clubs wanted to get rid of promotion and relegation to protect their bottom-line at the expense of the fans and tradition.

This is what a true meritocracy in sports looks like. What this means is that your team’s finances and its ability to fund the best facilities, hire the best coaches, and in pro-sports go out and sign the best players is a direct function of its on the field success. This also means that well-to-do owners who, like Woody Johnson of the Jets, year-after-year fail their fans with sub-par on the field performance, would no longer have the comfort of receiving a proportionate share of their league’s television revenue if their teams do not perform well.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Host Committee Press Conference
Bill Hancock, the Executive Director of the College Football Playoff, has a lot to do with limiting the expansion of the tournament and not giving smaller schools a chance to compete for a national title
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

College football already has its super league and it is unfortunately slowly ruining the game and indirectly the long-term interests of the school’s who promote a two tiered college football structure. In college football no-matter the on-field performance, schools in the Power 5 conferences have built a financial moat around themselves, allowing them to reap the largest benefits from TV contracts while schools in less affluent leagues suffer, no matter what they do internally to turn around the fortunes of their football program.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the schools in the biggest conferences get the most lucrative TV deals, thus they have the most money to spend on new facilities, the best coaches, which in turn allows them to recruit the most talented players. Like the European Super League would have done to soccer, this is at the expense of historical rivalries and doesn’t allow die-hard local fans of these teams to travel to away games unless they are willing to pay hefty airfare and hotel costs.

The irony about sports in America vs. Europe that is never lost on me is that America considers itself the free-market capital of the world, where anyone can rise to any position if they work hard enough and are willing to sacrifice properly. At least that is how the legend goes. In reality though it has become more-and-more apparent over the years that like in American society, American sports are not based on merit at all and nowhere is this more apparent than in college football.

The biggest and richest college football teams continue to get wealthier no-matter how good or bad their on-field performance is or how corruptly their administrators act, and the aspiring teams that win on the field and try to climb the ladder properly are rewarded by not getting a seat at the adults table.

In English soccer Leicester City, a team that might be equivalent to Tulane in college football, won the Premier League in 2016 over the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United. This was a team that had experienced success in the early part of the 20th century, fell on hard times through most of the latter part of the 20th century, and rose to prominence again recently from the lower leagues through promotion to win the top prize in English soccer.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
A team like Oral Roberts, who went to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA tournament, would have never gotten their fair shake in the current College Football Playoff system
Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

A team like Tulane, no matter how dedicated they were as an institution to want to seriously compete for a national championship, would never have an opportunity to do so in the current college football system due to the monopoly that the biggest schools have built around the sports’ biggest prize. This has nothing to do with merit or hard-work, but everything to do with a few at the top protecting their self interest at the expense of the many. Is there anything less American and less free market based than that?

The saddest part in all of this is the biggest losers in college football are the players, fans, current students, and alumni. The most important and longest-term stakeholders. Tradition rich rivalries are ripped apart for expedient and lucrative five-year television deals. A group of freshman on a roster may grow together over four years to become one of the best team’s in the country, but will never get a chance to play for a national championship just because they go to a “certain” school that is not in the “right” conference.

And we haven’t even touched upon how players do not get compensated properly for the value that they bring to their schools.

College football is one of the most popular sports in America, the entertainment value a good-game on a fall Saturday brings is second to none. If the greedy folks at the top of the food-chain do not start acting strategically about the sports long-term health when making decisions, they will ruin everything that has made the sport successful over the past 150 years.

Feel free to email me your thoughts on this topic at tannenbaum.adam1@gmail.com.