Images: Courtesy of Patryck Krutewicz
Last year, the 2006 Rose Bowl between USC and Texas had the highest TV rating for a college football game in 19 years; it was a great game with huge star power between two well-known teams. Thats the good news. The bad news is that the Super Bowl has not had a rating as low as the 2006 Rose Bowl since 1967.
Even more damning for college football: this past fall the average Sunday Night NFL game is the 8th most watched show on TV and every NFL time slot far surpasses any college football time slot, in most cases doubling their rating. Now TV ratings are not everything, but they are quite revealing in how much we do not care about college football.
I love football. America loves football. And yet college football is falling further and further behind in popularity. In my opinion there is but one major reason for this: the current BCS system of how the National Champion is decided. College football is going to have to make some major changes if it wants to retain its popularity and profitability.
The biggest reason I prefer the NFL to college football is the way the champion is determined. In the NFL a fair, predetermined number of teams qualify for the playoffs and the last one standing without defeat is declared the champion. Pretty simple and very compelling drama as teams have to win at least 3 games and with each game the drama builds as the competition increases. This is also what makes college basketball so popular. The March Madness Tournament in most years is the second most popular sporting event to the Super Bowl, because of the win-or-go-home mentality, the chance for the underdog to pull off the upset, and drama that grows each game as the stakes are raised.
We dont have this with college football (even though it works so great for the NCAA in basketball). Teams are assigned to Bowl games, of which only one will determine the BCS national champion. All the other games are really meaningless. Sure the fans of the schools like them as they get to travel and see their team play; and players get to end their year on a high note of playing in a bowl game but the viewing numbers are horrible because there is no compelling reason to watch these games.
The biggest problem is how the participants in the championship game are determined. From October on, we have constant arguments on who is most worthy and what teams need to do to qualify. This year has been no different as strong arguments were made for both Florida and Michigan to have the chance to play Ohio St. for the championship. It is this arbitrary system of declaring a champion that most keeps me away from following college football on more than just a cursory basis.
How do we change this? The most obvious way would be to start a playoff system. We can still use the cherished Bowls. This would offer huge interest to the casual fan (see that little tournament called March Madness where more brackets and gambling is done than any other sporting event), not to mention huge amounts of money to the school presidents and athletic department heads. Sure there would still be debates over how we select the teams to be involved in these playoffs, but instead of deciding which undefeated team gets left out (like the USC, LSU, Oklahoma joke a few years ago) we would be choosing the eighth team over the ninth team.
The truth of the matter is that with my busy schedule and family obligations I rarely have time to watch football games on both Saturday and Sunday. I almost always choose to watch the NFL (Michigan is my favorite team and I have only watched 2 games of theirs all year despite the fact that this is their best season in years), and I think I fall in the majority, as evidenced by the weekly TV ratings. If college football ever wants to become more meaningful and popular it needs to scrap its current process of crowning the champion each year. Thats my suggestion; I am sure there are other ideas but the conversation needs to happen in the Presidents meetings and not among the few fans that are left.