Southern domination of college football

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Regardless of who wins the National College Football Championship next week, if one counts Texas as a Southern state — and I do since they were a member state of the old Confederacy — 14 of the last 15 national champions have hailed from Southern universities. If that’s not domination by region, I don’t know what is.

In the semi-final playoffs of the 2019 season, only three of the four teams need to have bothered to show up.

Oklahoma proved that they didn’t deserve to even be on the same field as Louisiana State University, who humiliated Oklahoma 63-28. And the game was much worse than the score indicates. Had not LSU started freely playing the reserves in the second half, the Tigers could have easily scored near a hundred points. And the only reason Oklahoma scored 28 points was the same reason — LSU starters, at least many of them, were riding the bench.

The #2 Ohio State University Buckeyes and the #3 Clemson University Tigers were, on the other hand, worthy opponents. Both entered the game undefeated and Clemson was the defending national champion.

OSU scored 16 unanswered points and looked to have the game in hand. Clemson roared back with 21 unanswered points of their own and it all came down to the 4th quarter. In fact, it came down to OSU’s last series of downs. As the final OSU pass was fired into the end zone, Clemson intercepted and the game was over: Clemson 29, Ohio State 23. Either team could have won.

But Ohio State did not win, so, the two teams, from different conferences, who will vie of all the honors are both from the South. And although it makes my cotton-picking, country-fried, banjo-twanging heart do a happy dance, it really ought not to be so. The sooner the powers that be realize that the playoff system is flawed, the better off college football will be.

The simple truth is that four teams picked for the playoffs is not enough. I understand the reasons why the major universities do not have a true playoff system. It all comes down to money.

Major college football, and the seemingly endless and mediocre bowl games it spawns, prohibits a true playoff system. The other sports have a true system. The other, smaller colleges (non-Division I) have a true football playoff system. Only in the NCAA, Division I, does money make a true playoff system unlikely.

But it could be better, much better, and the immediate solution is easily doable. Simply double the number of teams in the playoffs.

If the top ranked eight teams had been in the playoffs this year, the following would have been added: Georgia, Baylor, Oregon, and Wisconsin. It would only add one game to the season.

And another idea: eliminate one game of the regular season. There are too many “fluff” games where the powerful universities schedule a much weaker team that they have no business playing.

Why would Alabama play Western Carolina, whom they destroyed 66-3? Why would Georgia play Murray State, whom they crushed 63-17? It’s shameful, anyway.

Sometimes it backfires. This season, my beloved Tennessee scheduled Georgia State University for their opening game in Knoxville. GSU, while a large university, has only had a football team for ten seasons. I understand why GSU accepted the invitation: they got to be on national television, got to play in a huge stadium that seats 102,455 people … it’s the big time! Plus, Tennessee agreed to pay Georgia State $950,000 for the privilege of being humiliated on national television. But somebody forgot to tell the GSU Panthers. GSU embarrassed Tennessee by beating them 38-30 in their own house. Go Panthers!

But Tennessee went on to play Chattanooga and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (NOT the Crimson Tide Alabama), neither of which are of Southeastern Conference caliber, at home in Knoxville later in the season. Why? To eke out a 7-5 season and get a bowl bid against Indiana who also had about four fluff games in their schedule?

By the way, Tennessee paid Chattanooga $500,000 and UAB a whopping $1,550,000 to come to Knoxville and get throttled 45-0 and 30-7, respectively.

As a lifelong Tennessee fan (Not an alumnus. I graduated from East Tennessee State University, which went 3-9 but did get paid a cool quarter million to get beat up by Vanderbilt University), I think this is all just so wrong.

But back to the national championship series. If Division I football is going to be ruled by the Almighty Dollar, at least put some honor and dignity back into the system. End the practice of scheduling fluff games, or at reduce the number of them, cut out one regular season game, expand the playoffs to the top eight teams, and see how many of the so-called “less deserving“ teams wind up surprising everybody!

It happens from time to time in the NCAA basketball playoffs. Sometimes Cinderella goes to the ball and marries the prince. Sometimes an Appalachian State upsets a Michigan (34-32 in 2007) and a Georgia State embarrasses a Tennessee (2019). Sometimes the sacrificial lambs bite back.

But, if you want to keep ensuring that a Southern team keeps being the National Champion, if you want to keep the Southern domination of Division I college football, then I’m cool with that too.

We have the past 15 seasons to know how the present system works. However this year’s game turns out, it’s a team from the South that will be the national champ. So, go Tigers! Bring it home … again!

[David Epps has been a weekly opinion columnist for The Citizen for 23 years. He is the pastor of Christ the King Church (www.ctk.life) on Ga. Highway 34 between Peachtree City and Newnan. He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have to disagree with you on a few points in your article. Let’s start with the notion that the college football playoff system is “flawed” and finish whether Texas is a southern state or not.

    One of the main objectives from moving from the “BCS” era (two-teams) to a “Playoff” (four-teams) was to ensure that the two best teams would be identified and would play each other for the national championship. Basically, include some potential outliers.

    And in the past six seasons that culminated with a crowned champion through playoffs, can you really make an argument that there’s possibly another three to four additional teams that are as good as any of the national champions in that span? I think not.

    Increasing the number of teams in the playoffs from four (4) would only offer up some bad mismatches and significant point spreads from the get-go. Heck, in your article you pointed out a most recent mismatch between #1 LSU and # 4 Oklahoma.

    But that’s not to say the occasional upset wouldn’t creep in from time to time. It’s bound to happen just like any given Saturday can produce a major one. But the fact still remains there would be less fan interests for a #1 vs a #8 game.

    In your argument to expand the playoffs, you overlooked one thing that’s unique about college football and it’s particular to the FBS level. That is … that every week the games matter. Or stated differently, the regular season unto itself is a playoff run with a narrow margin for errors.

    Now, I’m not naïve to think that the college scheduling and playoff system isn’t in need of some tweaking. For example, it’s very reasonable to entertain six (6) teams in the playoffs with the two (2) top seeds earning a bye week. Adding #5 and #6 seeds could be a nod (if qualified), to the top team from the Group 5 and/or a Power 5 conference champion.

    In an effort to resolve those “fluff” games between the FBS division and the FCS division each year, my suggestion is to play them in the annual “spring” game. And yes, pay the visiting school to come visit. The big schools and conferences can afford it.

    Now to explain the southern dominance in college football, all one has to do is look at the recruiting. If you recruit the best players you generally field a better team. If you do it consistently, you add depth.

    Recruitment services and their outlets rank all the FBS schools each year. In the past decade, the top ten schools in recruiting are from the Deep South, followed by Texas and Oklahoma, Ohio, and until recently, north Florida and California. This explains the “southern” dominance in college football.

    And speaking of southern and whether Texas is part of the South or not, by geography you can say that it lies within the western part of the South Central States, that is west of the South Atlantic States … and is definitely, not from around here.

    But I do have to agree with you on one point, that the national champion in college football will once again be from the South and it was very wise of you to pick the Tigers to win the game!

    • You make some very valid points. I like the idea of 6 teams with #1 and #2 getting a bye. I also like the concept of, say, an Alabama playing Slippery Rock but in the spring with the smaller teams getting paid.
      On the matter of Texas, since more Tennesseans died in the Alamo that Texans, I still claim Texas as a southern football state.

      • Thanks. In further defense of the 4-team playoff system, I looked at the FCS Division over the last ten (10) seasons. Those playoffs by the way have a whopping sixteen (16) teams competing for the national title.

        In that span, every year the top 4 seeds were represented in the finals, with #1 in there 70% of the time. Only one time did a higher seed (above #5) compete for the title and that was a #1 vs #7 and with no Cinderella story ending.

        Actually I like the concept of say playing the ETSU Buccaneers in the Spring Game instead of a Div-II team, like “the Rock.” I point to the UGA game (Week 2) this upcoming season as an example and with some “local” interest.

        And … using the logic that more Tennesseans died in the Alamo (than Texans), wouldn’t that make for a stronger argument for say “part of Mexico” then, since they had 2-3 times the casualties and losses? Oh that’s right, their game of “football” is a little different than ours!