Seven Changes to Make College Football an Even Better Product
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Seven Changes to Make College Football an Even Better Product

June 23, 2019

College football is crazy and unpredictable (unless Alabama or Clemson are involved) and wild and untamable. The pageantry, emotion and atmosphere for a college sporting event, especially football, is unmatched in sports. 

It’s a cash cow that, at some schools, subsidizes other athletic programs and can help university-wide budgets. (Nebraska’s athletic department revenue helps some with non-athletic scholarships.) 

What if it was even better? 

Approve the next seven proposals and it will be.

Proposal #1 — An Expanded Playoff

There's no need to belabor this point, as last week's playoff expansion column was the first bullet point of what would be my seven-pronged campaign platform in a bid for the (grid)iron throne. That was the appetizer course for this piece. 

Here's the rundown of what my eight-team playoff and new college football world would look like:

  • players are allowed to profit off their name and likeness 
  • a system of promotion and relegation is introduced to a restructured host of conferences that feature four 16-team high-major leagues and four mid-major feeder leagues 
  • eight conference games across the board, three nonconference games with one guaranteed high-major out-of-conference opponent each year for the top 64 schools
  • conference championships determine four high-major autobids, top mid-major school also earns an autobid
  • 10-member panel of peer-selected college football coaches determine three at-large playoff teams, then they seed the field of eight

At some point the playoff is going to expand, as moving away from a four-team system has been a topic of conversation ever since the four-team system was announced. So, in the process, why not just redraw the lines on the entire sport? Give it a facelift. Hit the refresh button.

The Pac-12 is Squidward inside his house looking longingly out his window as Spongebob and Patrick frolick around outside, except Spongebob and Patrick are the other Power Five programs and the frolicking is participating in the playoff. The Group of Five schools are back locked in the closet somehwere, unable to even see the greener pastures. This metaphor has come unhinged. Moving on.

An eight-team playoff that gives everyone who deserves it a fair shot is worth the trouble it would take to set things up.

Proposal #2 — Fix the Targeting Rule

Targeting has become the most impactful yellow flag in the sport, so its undeniable presence as one of the most subjective rulings is cause for concern. Wording needs to be clearly defined and concise with a rule like this, but in this instance it isn’t; “unnecessary contact” is grounds for interpretation. One officiating crew views that differently that another officiating crew. 

From the NCAA: “Players who target and contact defenseless opponents above the shoulders be ejected … The rule, passed by the Football Rules Committee in February (of 2013) and approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel in March (of 2013), addresses the committee’s concern about player safety by taking more measures to remove targeting, or above the shoulder hits on defenseless players, out of the game.”

This is often times the most influential call on any given Saturday and everyone hates it. Players hate its existence, coaches hate the game-to-game variance of its application, fans hate its severity, and I would imagine officials hate having to decide when to use it and when not. 

This kind of ruling needs to be black and white. So here’s my proposal to remove the controversy:

Above-the-shoulders contact is clearly defined, and easily identifiable. Any contact made to another player’s head or neck is a 15-yard penalty. It does not matter if it’s incidental contact. It does not matter who initiated the contact. If a running back lowers his helmet to run into a defender with the crown of his head, the offense is flagged and moves back 15 yards from the spot of the foul. If a defender leads with the crown of his helmet, same thing. If someone launches at a guys head with his arms or his shoulders, same thing. There are no exceptions and no interpretations. Contact above the shoulders? Fifteen yard penalty. Period. 

But on a player’s first offense, there is no ejection. The NBA’s tiered system for technical and flagrant fouls is a good one to try and mimic here. 

A second penalty brings about an ejection. And, again, no gray area here. If there is any contact to a player’s head, the flag comes out. If replay is needed, that’s fine, but referees won’t be judging the severity of the hit, only whether there was contact above the shoulders. 

You can change the name of the call if you want, since “targeting” implies intent and this new method wouldn’t be asking officials to determine whether there was intent, but that’s what I’ve got.

It’s probably safe to assume there’s a large sect of people who wouldn’t like it. “You’re making the game softer!” To that, I pose a simple question: would you rather this in five years or no football in 15 years? Because the people making the rules are dead set on making the game safer, if they reach a point where they feel like there are no feasible ways left to legislate out the kind of injury-inducing hits that now happen far more often because guys are bigger, stronger and faster, they’re going to start fundamentally changing the way the game is played. 

Look at kickoff changes in recent years. 

The targeting rule needs changing, because it sucks as currently enforced. And if you remove the interpretation part of the equation, the hope is that organically changes the way guys hit. Which would save us all a lot of trouble and time, and in the case of the players, hurt.

Proposal #3 — Uniform Conference Schedules

This is not a difficult concept.

If five power conferences are all, in theory, supposed to have equal shots at four spots in the College Football Playoff, why are the conferences not equal? 

The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 play nine conference games. Each of those conferences has been left out of the playoff field at least once. In the case of the Big Ten and the Pac-12, this is now two straight absences. 

The SEC and ACC play eight conference games. Meaning an extra spot on the schedule to play The Citadel or Furman. Clemson has played a non-major school every season since Dabo Sweeney took over in 2008. Twice they’ve played two FCS teams in a year. Alabama has played an FCS school and at least two Group of Five schools in all but one season since 2009. Ohio State has played two FCS schools in that same 11-year span.

The conference sizes aren’t uniform, so we’re already starting on uneven ground, why is it so hard to introduce scheduling regulations? 

Alabama plays a marquee season-opening game every season to try and balance things out from a perception standpoint, but that team rarely ends up living up to name recognition (or Bama just breaks their season from the get-go). Louisville last year? A Florida State team the year before that finished 7-6? The average record of Alabama’s “marquee” first opponent since they settled on that spot in 2012 has been 7-5. 

What if every conference played nine league games? Some form of nonconference scheduling requirements would be interesting but probably a little too restrictive if everyone is already playing the same number of games against a Power Five team. If you want to play more, you’d be doing it at your own risk (which would be something the committee should consider.)

Proposal #4 — Get Rid of Punting

Here’s where I get weird.

Football is a sport where you pit 11 incredibly athletic and freakishly strong men against each other. More often than not, the bigger and stronger collection of men wins. Strategy comes into play when the scales are balanced, but at the end of the day, a losing coach talks about his team not being big enough, or not being strong enough, or not being fast enough to the football. It’s the most gladiator-esque sport we have. 

It seems incredibly strange then that kicking the football is an element of the game. 

Two lines of 300-pound men crash into each other on every play while another 200-pound running back tries to run over the 250-pound linebackers trying to drive him into the ground. Receivers that stand 6-foot-3 are running with 4.5 40 speed down the field trying to out-pace corners. 

But a 175-pound kid who doesn’t participate fully in practice each week could come in and decide the game for everyone on a last-second 45-yard field goal? 

A national championship could be decided by a field goal? 

I floated this idea that all forms of kicking in the game should be removed on last week’s Varsity Club podcast and it was admittedly pretty jarring. It grew out of my belief that punting the football is stupid and teams should either have to go for the first down on fourth down or kick a field goal if they’re close enough, and then I started thinking, “Why are we even kicking in the first place? To justify the name of the sport?” 

I’ll just stick with punting for now, mostly because I haven’t fully thought through what a football free of all kicking would look like. Some people have suggested a one-point deduction from teams that punt, which is a perfectly reasonable way to change the risk/reward calculation that takes place when a team with the lead punts, but I say just remove that part of the game entirely.

(You’d also run into games where teams end up with negative points because they’re Rutgers and they can’t score, which would be hella hilarious but borderline insane.)

What if in the 2018 Rose Bowl — with the game tied, Oklahoma facing fourth-and-2 from its 45-yard-line with 17 seconds left — the Sooners couldn’t punt and had to go for it? They punted and played for overtime, but what if, in this new punting-free world, they went to the air and picked up 25 yards? What if they didn’t get it and George took over with 10 seconds left? 

What if the first two fourth-quarter drives for either team in a nine-point Ohio State-Nebraska game last year didn’t end in punts and saw everyone go for it? Nebraska punted from its 40 to begin the fourth. Ohio State then went three-and-out and punted from its 30. Then Nebraska went three-and-out and punted from its 37. Then Ohio State went three-and-out and punted from its 24. What if Ohio State had to go for it on fourth-and-10 and fourth-and-10 from deep inside its own half of the field? Would the Buckeyes still have had a nine-point lead with only 10 minutes left? 

Here’s a way to ratchet up the intensity.

Proposal #5 — Tweak the Overtime Rules

This one is pretty straight-forward. College overtime is infinitely better than NFL overtime and I’m not looking to change that, but instead of each team starting at the 25-yard-line, each team starts at the 50.

If the team that goes first fails to get a first down, it can kick a field goal and still most likely lose the game. If it misses the field goal, it has effectively already lost the game. (See, kickers deciding things in dumb ways again.) If the second team takes over because the first team shot itself in the foot, the second team can take three kneel-downs and then kick a field goal to win. 

Starting at the 50 makes things more interesting. You have to earn it. And if you’re facing, say, a fourth-and-5 from the 30-yard-line, you’re then deciding between a 47-yard field goal or going for it from a spot a little too outside the realm of comfort.

Proposal #6 — Fix the Transfer Mess

Justin Fields commits to Georgia knowing Jake Fromm is there and good and not going anywhere anytime soon. Justin Fields, the top-ranked dual threat quarterback coming out of high school, says he doesn’t care about competition and trusts his ability to beat out Fromm and we praise him for it.

A year later, Justin Fields transfers to Ohio State because the Buckeyes need a quarterback and Fields isn’t going to play over Fromm and we reward him for it by granting him immediate eligibility.

Kirby Smart didn’t leave Georgia. The situation at Georgia didn’t change. Why was the waiver to play right away approved, exactly?

Meanwhile, Brock Hoffman transfers from Coastal Carolina to Virginia Tech to be closer to his mom after surgery to remove a noncancerous brain tumor causes complications for her, requests a family hardship waiver and is denied. He doesn’t get to play football for a year because of it.

Luke Ford transfers from Georgia back to his home state of Illinois to be near his ailing grandparents, applies for the same waiver to play right away, and is denied. Twice.

Former Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell tries to keep Fields out of Columbus, taking to social media to say he’s the only one winning the starting quarterback position in 2019, and then when Fields transfers to Ohio State, Martell transfers to Miami before spring ball even begins. And Martell gets a waiver to play right away.

The change is this: players are allowed one transfer in their first four years of school. They can go where they want and they do not have to sit a year when they get there. 

Proposal #7 — Nick Saban Has to Coach at Rutgers

I just want to see if he can do it. 

If he can, the College Football Hall of Fame gets renamed after him.

You’ve been named College Football Czar. What are you changing? Let us know in the comments or tweet your changes at me @DrPeteyHV

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