College football is out of whack and has been for a long time. The competitive balance between the elites of college football like the Alabamas, Georgias, LSUs, Michigans, Ohio States and Oklahomas versus the Minnesotas, Arizonas, Californias, Indianas, South Carolinas, Syracuses and all the rest is unfair and goes against the spirit of competition. Coaches, administrators, fans and media need to speak out about the issue.
The Gophers are headed to Ohio State this week for a Big Ten mismatch against the Buckeyes. Nothing new about that. All-time Minnesota is 7-46 against the Bucks. The Gophers are 4-23 in Minneapolis; 3 -23 in Columbus. Minnesota has lost 12 straight in the series.
The Gophers are 25-77-3 against Michigan and have won four times since 1967 when Lyndon Johnson was president. That was also the year Minnesota claimed its last Big Ten title.
Most of the Big Ten Conference has been looking up at Ohio State and Michigan for decades. As of late, the last six league titles have been won by the Buckeyes or Wolverines. Ryan Day has lost two Big Ten games since he became the Buckeyes head coach in 2019, both to Michigan.
Georgia is in pursuit of a third national championship, taking over in recent years from Alabama as the No. 1 “bully’ in college football. For more than 25 years it’s pretty much the “same old crowd” in the hunt for No. 1. The last time a school won a first-ever national football championship came in 1996 when Florida accomplished the rare feat.
The arrival of Name, Image and Likeness compensation has only made the rich richer. Long established with booster money, big brand programs can now benefit from the transfer of resources to NIL. With that have come allegations many programs are offering NIL money during the recruitment process, which is illegal by NCAA policy.
Recruits want to play for the so-called “helmet schools” because those programs have been so successful. That success includes playing for conference titles, participating in the college football playoffs and experiencing prestigious bowl games. Success also means being groomed at places that turn out NFL draft choices in assembly line like style.
The Michigan team that humiliated the Gophers on October 7 by a score of 52-10 has annihilated others as well. In league games Michigan is averaging 42 points per game, while giving up 8.4 (Ohio State is 31.1 and 9.7). The Wolverines may have 20 or more future NFL draft choices, according to their head coach Jim Harbaugh. The Gophers might have three or four, including senior safety Tyler Nubin.
What needs to be done to create a more competitive landscape? For starters, college football needs a new authority to replace the NCAA, one that is looking out for all the major college programs and the welfare of the sport. This means determination to put in place policies that will create enough parity across the country to at least close some of the gaps between the haves and have nots.
A significant change should be placing a financial cap on the amount of money available for NIL. Closing the money gap could prompt prospects to turn down a “helmet school” for a less prestigious program because more NIL rewards are available at the latter.
Cutting the number of scholarships from 85 to 75 or 70 would reduce the number of quality players the “bullies” can have on their rosters. As with closing the NIL gap, this move could steer more quality players to Minnesota and similar programs.
Those are just two innovations that could be considered. The point is that with strong leadership and consensus from the have nots—who outnumber the voting block of the haves—rules changes can be developed and implemented to improve the competitiveness of college football.
A move toward creating more parity will not only improve the game on the field, but also enhance revenues. More teams playing quality football translates into more box office sales, merchandising profits, and TV viewership commanding higher ad prices. TV ratings are successful now but are not reaching their potential in major markets like Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and Phoenix.
How big could the TV revenue pot grow if teams such as Minnesota, Illinois, Rutgers and Arizona State were fighting for college football playoff berths in November, and even before the season were nationally ranked? Remember, college football not only pays its own bills, but covers extensively for all the non-revenue sports in athletic departments across America.
The Big Ten expands to 18 schools next year and will eliminate the East and West Divisions for football. Gopher fans may already be feeling sorry for themselves when thinking how far down in the 18-team standings their favorites could be after adding four West Coast programs—USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington. As things stand now, it’s not that realistic to think the Minnesotas, Northwesterns, Purdues, Wisconsins and other West Division schools will chase the top three or four spots in the standings.
The hope here is the Big Ten will soon expand to 20 teams, prompting the conference to create four divisions of five teams each. Adding Notre Dame and Florida State (gives the league a first-time presence in the Sunshine State) would put the “cherry” on a prestigious super conference.
The move to small divisions would emulate the successful NFL model and create “November Madness” at many conference schools as their favorites compete for a division crown and possible entry into the Big Ten championship game and college football playoffs.
On the wish list, too, is an expanded College Football Playoff format. The CFP goes from four to 12 teams after this season but 16 is more desirable. At that number it’s not difficult to see a half dozen teams from the Big Ten able to earn a playoff spot.
It would create a microcosm of “March Madness” and a huge morale boost to the fanbases in many places around the country including at Huntington Bank Stadium where the maroon and gold faithful are sometimes frustrated in November.