How To Kill College Football Playoffs: Make Them Like Baseball’s World Series

Silhouette of a football player running with the ball

By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

“It’s the College Football Playoffs on XBS. Watch as the Penn State Nittany Lions take on the Utah Utes to decide who is the greatest collegiate team on the gridiron.”

Wait, you say. Penn State and Utah aren’t the two best teams in college football. Shouldn’t they involve an SEC Team, and maybe either Michigan or Ohio State, perhaps Florida State, or Washington or Oregon? Sorry, this is the expanded College Football Playoffs, where 16 teams make the cut. And currently, that’s #9 Penn State and #13 Utah, during the World Series.

But #9 and #13 are highly unlikely to make it to the finals, you think, allowing the College Playoffs to avoid this ratings killer of a scenario. Think again. With 16 teams making it, #9 and #13 could play each other. And that’s what happened when Major League Baseball expanded to so many teams, with the Texas Rangers facing off against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Texas and Arizona might have been a compelling story for the World Series, but their brand pedigrees are comparable to the Utes. In 63 years, Texas made it to the playoffs nine times, and has now collected their first championship, as many as Arizona has in the 26 year history, with seven playoff visits Both have career losing records, with Texas losing 94 games last year and more than 100 the year before, just as Arizona only won 45% of its games last year and dropped 110 in 2021. Both snuck into the playoffs.

Then you assume that college football is different. Well, with several weeks of playoffs, Week 1 (16 teams), Week 2 (8 teams), Week 3 (4 teams), and Week 4 (2 teams), that’s a lot of extra football, with lots of injuries, wear-and-tear, and exhaustion. The regular season of college football, with rivalry games and conference championships would become as uncompelling as pennant races today in major league baseball. Those who perform well during the season are penalized for their success.

But didn’t the novelty of the new Rangers-Diamondbacks matchup in the finals deliver solid ratings? Think again. The 2023 World Series TV Ratings were the worst in history, and these numbers for the sport have been trending downward ever since baseball expanded who gets in, often supplanting those who earned their way into the finals. The NFL Game in Germany at 9am got a higher share and more viewers.

Perhaps you’re thinking that there’s no worry about college football. They’ll learn their lesson from baseball. The executives can read ratings data pretty well, right? Unfortunately, the push for a 12-team college is set to begin in 2024 or 2025. And powerful forces within the BCS and attached to teams can’t wait to expand the field, even to the failed MLB model of 16 teams. MLB is beginning to earn the moniker “Mistaken-Laden Baseball.”

College football had whopping better ratings when they could have the best play each other, and also-rans duel in also-ran bowls, giving us something to watch on a December 28 or January 2. We could answer the question of what would happen if Oregon and Clemson matched up over Christmas leftovers, while putting away decorations.

MLB tried to be nice, giving small fan bases hope for the playoffs. What they didn’t realize is that by the end, those tiny followings would be the only ones watching. NCAA College Football should profit from this lesson, and make it so that the final game won’t showcase players as anonymous as the Rangers and Diamondback lineups were this year.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own, and do not speak for LaGrange College faculty, students, staff or administration. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

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