If you ask most college football fans — let alone coaches and players — they’ll tell you the best part of the sport is its pageantry-rich, on-campus gameday environments. The excitement of the action is amplified by everything surrounding it.
This isn’t the NFL, where billion-dollar taxpayer stadiums are leveled and replaced every quarter century or so. College football cherishes its ancient roots, its local customs. The stadiums become celebrated entities of their own — the Horseshoe, the Big House, the Coliseum, Death Valley.
Big or small, urban or rural, they draw out their own traditions — balloons in Lincoln, checkerboard end zones in Knoxville, a Buffalo run in Boulder, Touchdown Jesus in South Bend. There are tailgates pregame, marching bands at halftime, singalong-themed light shows before the fourth quarter.
There is nothing like it. Nothing. It’s simply glorious.
So why do the people who run college football hate on-campus games so much?
The most onerous part of the entire proposal that was released Thursday is that once again on-campus stadiums and college towns are getting shafted so the sport can maintain its commitment to cronyism by staging as many as three rounds at antiseptic, far-off NFL stadiums dubbed “bowl games” by corporate sponsors.
First-round games, featuring teams seeded 5-12, will be played on the campus of the higher-seeded team. Awesome. After that though, it’s neutral-site bowl games — increasing the bowl involvement from its current three games to seven. If you finish 1-4, you don’t get to host.
Why play games as far from fans as possible? Why make families travel week after week? Why take tourism dollars from college communities to prop up far-off locales?
Why cut out the best part of the sport?
“We’ve always honored the sanctity of the bowl experience,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “And we tried to do things to help everybody in the bowl and college football ecosystem.”
The participants in the national championship game will likely play their final four contests (conference title game, quarterfinals, semifinals and title game) at neutral sites in various big cities around the country.
Not one on campus? It’s crazy.
Bless the fan that can afford all those trips. But how is this better than Saturday night in Baton Rouge or Norman? Why should hotels and restaurants and stores near Miami Gardens get the tourist influx that the businesses of Tuscaloosa deserve?
“[It’s about] the history and the commitment of the bowls to the process and giving them a chance to continue to be relevant to the system,” said Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West and part of the subcommittee that designed the proposal.
This is just college football’s bizarre allegiance to outsourcing its most valuable product.
Try convincing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that the league’s divisional round and conference championship games should be moved out of the highest-seeded teams in Green Bay or Foxborough or Kansas City or wherever. Explain how it makes sense to cost those franchises and their fans money while devaluing the regular season by taking home-field advantage out of the equation just so some guy in an ugly blazer in Florida or Texas can get a cut of the money … because he’s always gotten a cut of the money.
You’d be laughed out of Goodell’s office.
The championship game at a neutral site? Sure. Fine. Make the Rose Bowl the permanent host. Or move it around like the Super Bowl. Whatever.
Do we need to go all the way to the quarterfinals for neutral sites though? There was talk about logistics and weather, but these seem like hurdles that can be overcome. When these guys want to find excuses, they find them — they used to criticize every rationale they uttered in support of the plan Thursday.
Why this inability to break free of bowl games, an industry mostly run by politically connected college sports insiders who make lavish, often seven-figure incomes simply by renting out a stadium?
It’s the colleges that fund the teams, market the teams and generate the customers. Almost no one is a fan of the “Chick-fil-A Bowl.” They are fans of the teams in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Yet the conference commissioners who run this sport are eager to take care of the guy who runs the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The whole thing is shameful and corrupt, but that’s almost an aside. Why would a sport turn its back on such an incredible backdrop that on-campus stadiums and college communities provide? If the NFL would never run from their lesser gameday environments, then why would college so gladly sprint from their superior ones?
The playoff is a lesser entity if it’s played at neutral sites. And a sport that claims it wants every game to matter will, by eliminating home-field advantage, make every game matter less rather than more.
All while abandoning the fans, campuses and traditions that make this sport so great.
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