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OPINION | BRADLEY GITZ: Pigskin capitalism

by Bradley Gitz | September 19, 2022 at 3:52 a.m.


The common assumption is that conservatives resist change. On the other hand, those who support capitalism and associate innovation and prosperity with the profit motive that drives them are also often depicted as conservatives.

This is contradictory because there is nothing remotely conserving or static about the impact of capitalism, as is now being reflected by what it is doing to college football (and college sports in general).

The Supreme Court ruling in NCAA v. Alston allowing college athletes to profit from their "name, image, and likeness" (NIL) means that some will make more money than their coaches before they've played their first down.

The loosening of transfer restrictions (the "transfer portal") also allows players to essentially offer their services to different schools each year of their eligibility in a way that makes a mockery of what was left of the "student-athlete" pretense--the classroom doesn't matter if switching to a different school means more playing time and (with NIL) more money and better NFL prospects.

Such mercenary incentives will, as many have noted, transform the nature of coaching and especially recruiting, giving the advantage to schools whose boosters have the deepest pockets--colleges will be to a much greater degree, only now more openly and within the rules, "buying" their football teams.

But none of this mattered much to me while parked on the couch with the chicken wings and chip dip watching the usual smorgasbord of Saturday games, and it's not as if those of us with libertarian inclinations can complain about young people selling their skills for maximum profit in a free market for labor (or when the Supreme Court, as in NCAA v. Alston, upholds the rule of law by getting it right on points of law).

If we now have a greater incentive than ever to not know how the sausage is made, we still get to enjoy it, and that enjoyment is about to be enhanced by another market-driven, seismic change: conference realignment that will finally produce expansion of the College Football Playoff (CFP) from four teams to 12.

The SEC, of course, started it off by adding the Big 12's two marquee football schools, Oklahoma and Texas, while the Big Ten responded by stealing the marquee programs of UCLA and USC away from the Pac-12.

The bet here is that the Big Ten will add more schools sooner rather than later (Stanford, Washington, Oregon and perhaps even Notre Dame?) and the SEC will respond by adding four of their own (Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Clemson?), producing two "super-conferences" comparable in many ways to the AFC and NFC in the NFL.

What this also means is that, in a ruthless, Hobbesian scramble for survival, the old Pac-12, Big 12, and ACC will have to be reconfigured from whatever schools the SEC and Big Ten didn't want. Precisely because capitalist-driven change coughs up both winners and losers, as well as the unlikelihood of finding 40 programs from out of those remains sufficient to create two 20-school power conferences, they will likely be forced to consolidate into just one, leaving lots of schools, now in a major conference, outside one (think Georgia Tech, Iowa State, and Oregon State here).

The winners of the resulting Power Three conferences would logically get automatic bids to the playoff and a fourth could go to the highest rated non-Power Three team (Cinderella). The other seven could be seeded based on the same logic as the current CFP process, which would likely add additional SEC and Big Ten teams to the mix.

The best thing about college football has always been that every game matters, at least for those with national title aspirations; a single loss, however narrow, even to a strong opponent, essentially puts the loser on double not-so-secret probation. Unlike in the NFL, 9-7 won't cut it.

A 12-team playoff would still preserve most of that sudden-death suspense, even if two losses could now get you in. We would also get less dead time in December, defined as the barren period between the conference championships and the start of the playoff (sorry, but Army-Navy doesn't count), and 11 games that matter rather than just three.

The four highest-rated teams, not necessarily conference champions, could get first-round byes, and the first four contests (No. 5 versus No. 12, No. 6 versus No. 11, etc.) could be held on the home campuses of the higher seeded, as a reward for earning those seeds.

The bowl games that once defined college football were made pointless by the CFP and subsequent recognition of that pointlessness by players with NFL aspirations unwilling to risk injury playing in them, but a bit of their rich tradition could be retained by staging the quarterfinals at the Cotton Bowl at Jerry World, the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

The semifinals (the approximation of what now exists under the CFP) would then be played in the Sugar and Orange Bowls, with the championship in the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Simple, and improved. And courtesy of the "creative destruction" of capitalism.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.


Print Headline: Pigskin capitalism

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