Most of us will be packing bags on November 17th later this year, getting ourselves ready for America’s most traveled week. Hopefully it will just be a driving trip, so it will be easy to bring the stuffing or the yams. Don’t forget the wine, of course. Luckily, while we go through the monotonous process of making sure underwear, socks and toiletries are all securely tucked away, we’ll have an absolute peach of a college football game to watch.
Alabama vs. The Citadel.
Isn’t that what the holidays are all about? Eat a little too much, drink a little too much, see some old friends or family, and consume great football. This one really ought to hold our attention. I bet the Bulldogs (that’s The Citadel mascot) will keep it close. Maybe they’ll even be within 30 by halftime. If they’re lucky.
Allow me to ask a simple question here. What the hell are we doing? No really, what THE HELL are we doing?
For some reason, college football has this Texas sized loophole and won’t close it. The top teams in the nation are allowed a second bye week. They play almost all of their games, and then somewhere along the road, they get to schedule the Washington Generals. Or whatever. This is the sporting version of Billy Madison, when Adam Sandler plays dodgeball with Kindergartners. In Alabama’s case every year, they do it right before facing rival Auburn. Pretty convenient, don’t ya think? Oh, actually it’s not, because Auburn, they do the same thing. Right before Thanksgiving, they’ll give us a barnburner against Liberty.
I’ve been to Liberty. I was broadcasting for my alma mater, Cal Poly-SLO, a Division 1-AA squad back then. We traveled to Liberty and lost a close one, the only blemish in a 10 win season. Ah memories. You know who was on that Liberty team? Yeah, neither do I. Because big time college prospects don’t play at Liberty.
There is another league that plays football on Thanksgiving, called the NFL. Imagine if the Cowboys took the field on Turkey Day and when they lined up for kickoff, the cast of Friday Night Lights was waiting to receive. Not too enticing for the viewer, not very fair for the participants. That’s how I would describe what college football allows its big time programs to do, and it needs to stop.
I don’t mean to only pick on the big boys of the SEC, they’re just the most egregious offenders. Clemson will play Furman and Georgia Southern this year. Oklahoma will have no guilt as they squash our own Armed Forces. Army v. Oklahoma is slated for September. And actually, that brings up the most important point.
If we need to play these games, play them early.
I understand the dynamics at play here. These smaller schools are given a HUGE amount of money to get their hats handed to them in these games. And the top power 5 teams have little incentive to set up a trap game when they get all the rankings points they need in their conference schedule. Furthermore, teams should be given the opportunity to ease their way into the season when appropriate.
In college football, one loss can end up ruining the entire goal, even if that loss comes at the beginning of the season. It’s not rare for a team to look incredible come December or January, but early losses keep them out of the national title conversation. I attended the Orange Bowl in 2003 between USC and Iowa. Heisman winner Carson Palmer was a senior, and was vintage. SC won that game 38-17, and it wasn’t that close. I’m pretty sure that SC team would’ve beaten anyone that ended up in their path that January, but two early losses robbed them of that chance.
I’m mindful of that. Similar to an NFL preseason game, if Alabama wants to see the battling Bulldogs of the Citadel just after Labor Day, it makes sense. What does not make sense is The Citadel while we eat pumpkin pie.
Last year, USC played 12 games without a bye week. They went 10-2, then won the Pac 12 title game over Stanford and ended up in the Cotton Bowl. And those two regular season losses were both at the hands of top 20 teams. I’m not here to say USC should’ve been in the final 4 last year. What I am saying is that we have a crushing inequity in the way teams, supposedly battling against each other, are conducting their seasons.
How are 12 straight games without a break supposed to compete with what Alabama did? The Tide got the final week of October off so they could rest up for LSU, then grabbed a breather with Mercer on November 18th to the tune of 56-0. And in theory, they even got a bye week the next week as rival Auburn rolled the Tide, and it still didn’t stop them from winning it all.
Sports are played for entertainment. Sports are played so the participants learn lessons. And above all, sports are, sporting. At least they’re supposed to be. The holidays are for pouring gravy, not pouring it on. It is entirely anti-sport to have top teams steamrolling innocent opponents in November, and the NCAA, if it has a role beyond making money, should act.
Scheduling in college sports is complex. There is a lot of money on the line, and the schools make plans years in advance. Sometimes a team ends up with a cupcake on the schedule that wasn’t a cupcake when the plans were made. There will always be holes. But I surely think we can start with this:
*No Power 5 team shall play a non-Power 5 team past the month of September.
Not all non-Power 5 teams are the same. San Diego State beat Stanford last year, for example, so some of these games are threats. These two teams will play again this year, but even still, they’ll do it in August. Once the calendar turns to October, college football should mandate that only conference games are allowed, unless a special exception is granted. USC will finish this season against Notre Dame, which would be an example of an acceptable escape from the Pac 12.
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