Will New Playoff Format Lead to Tougher Schedules?
Earlier this week, Ohio State announced¬†the football team would play home-and-home football series with the Texas Longhorns in 2022 and 2023. The news comes on the heels of last week’s¬†announcement¬†of a 2018 and 2019¬†home-and-home with TCU.¬†
The decision to beef up the non-conference schedule signals what could be a drastic change in the way elite schools schedule games. OSU AD Gene Smith already said that the Buckeyes hope to play more major conference opponents in anticipation of the new four-team playoff format and the need to have a stronger strength of schedule. To this I say, amen!
Ohio State isn’t the only school that is increasingly willing to play other major football powers outside its conference. Each season, there are a handful of highly-anticipated tilts between ranked teams early in the season. But this is hardly the norm. You don’t have to look further than this year’s Buckeyes for proof: OSU’s 2012 non-conference opponents are Miami (OH), UCF, Cal, and UAB. Of those four, only Cal plays in a BCS conference.
OSU and other schools are slowly beefing up their non-conference schedules, but many elite teams prefer to play a “guarantee game” in which they beat up on a lesser opponent that is paid¬†handsomely to show up.
Coaches argue that playing cupcake teams early in the season is a good way to transition into tougher opponents. It allows younger players to get valuable playing time. That’s all well and good, but it does nothing to boost the¬†strength of schedule rank will play a major role in deciding who gets included in the four-team playoff.
How can this be fixed? The NCAA should still allow schools to schedule four non-conference games. However, all teams in BCS conferences — or whatever the equivalent term becomes in the next few years — should be required to schedule at least three of those non-conference games against other BCS schools in order to be eligible for postseason play. The fourth game is up for grabs. Florida State can maintain its heated rivalry with Savannah State but also face a legitimate challenge before the month of October.
This is an opportunity for the NCAA to make a meaningful change that would be good for all involved. Fans would get to see better games, players would get to compete against the best, and television ratings would increase, pleasing sponsors and broadcasters.
This change would also allow for the renewal of certain rivalries that were lost with the conference shuffling in recent years. Nebraska can play Colorado, Texas can play Texas A&M, and Missouri can play Kansas.
College football should be about competition between two great teams, not one great team and one “we don’t stand a chance but we’re getting paid $1 million to get embarrassed for four quarters” team. Fans want good games. Why not deliver them, especially if it helps deliver a team to a playoff?
Photo credit: calamity jane via Flickr