Hartman: Nationalizing college football not worth the risk

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Gene Smith explains why Big Ten adding USC, UCLA is good for Ohio State during a news conference in Columbus on July 1, 2022.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

My neighbor sought me out at a 4th of July party to let me know he is a “nay” on the Big Ten adding USC and UCLA.

Then he asked me if I am going to need more manure for my garden soon.

These were not specifically related items, but they sure have a lot of similarities.

Explore5 things to know about Ohio State's perspective on adding USC, UCLA to the Big Ten

I guess the biggest difference would be fertilizer is intended to help things grow while there is no indication that will be the result of conference expansion — or that it is even the true goal.

With another wave of change potentially upon us, here are some thoughts on the present and what could be next:

  • Initially, the Big Ten’s big move was widely viewed as the first in a chain reaction (or second if you go back to the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma last year) that would remake the whole landscape. Now, The Athletic reports the Big 12 could raid the Pac-12 or the leagues could fuse together to save each other, and multiple reports indicate Notre Dame still prefers to remain (mostly) independent if possible. The latter would be great news for the ACC, which is seen as a candidate to be raided by the Big Ten and SEC pending some potential legal pitfalls.
  • A Big 12-Pac 12 merger (or the Big 12 just adding Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado) would leave that a viable league. It wouldn’t be on the same level as the Big Ten and SEC, but it would be close enough — pretty much like now. Then maybe the ACC survives as well and we end up with four big leagues and another group of teams that would truly fit the term “mid-major” as they reside between the FCS and the power teams that make and spend the most money. It might be a little more obvious there are tiers of teams even within the highest level of the college game, but how much would really change?
  • The Big Ten could still add more teams, in which case it could also group itself in such a way that most of the new teams are in one division and the traditional ones are in the other. A new Big Ten Division and old Big Ten Division under one umbrella to maximize revenue actually has some appeal to traditionalists like myself.
  • If four super conferences emerge comprised of about as many teams as now comprise the Power 5 leagues and they can figure out how to keep the bottom half of what’s now the FBS attached, maybe that could work. It would be different but not that much worse. A big, diverse tent with people mostly just sitting at different tables and getting up to dance at different intervals. Four big conferences could have their own mini playoffs and funnel into an eight-team postseason more easily as well. You’d probably have more big brands playing each other, but more of those games would be intraconference.
  • Hopefully they figure this out because the alternative is most likely major college football driving itself off a cliff.
  • Long before last week, there was talk about CFB eventually consolidating down to 40 teams or less, a move that likely would be a disaster for multiple reasons. To begin with, it jettisons the about 75 percent of the teams who are currently in the FBS. They will have less interest in their own teams and certainly in what is going on at the national level. Even if the connection now is more perception than reality, often perception makes all the difference.
  • Fox College Football analyst Joel Klatt, who works for one of the networks supposedly pulling the strings of expansion behind the scenes, tweeted earlier this week these moves are all good for the future because they will unlock college football as a national television draw. I highly doubt this is true. The ceiling on the TV ratings for the College Football Playoff and championship games is a dead giveaway. Big brands draw; others not so much. But the big brands aren’t big enough to pull the cart on their own, something likely to be confirmed if the supposed “College Football Super League” comes to pass.
  • A CFB super league might make just enough money to survive, but I highly doubt it would thrive the way college football has over the past 30 or so years since the conferences were freed to sell more of their games to be broadcast, a move that got them a lot more money and eventually turned Saturdays into an all-day sports bonanza not unlike the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament.
  • There are many national fans of football, but guess what they watch? The NFL, whose ratings dwarf college football (and everything else). Guess what they will continue to watch if there is minor league football with the names of college teams attached? The NFL.
  • College football still seems to be a large group of regional fan bases who crossover at times but spend most of their time reveling in their own worlds. The whole is much stronger than the parts. Start throwing out parts and the whole will become much weaker.

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