Natty or nothing

This is what things have come to in college football:

In 2018, Ohio State’s football team went 13–1. Its only loss came in a fluke night game on the road against Purdue, which played out of its mind in front of a young fan suffering from cancer. The Buckeyes recovered by scoring 62 points in an upset demolition of their biggest rival, then won the Big Ten, then won the Rose Bowl.

Ramzy Nasrallah, a Columbus native and Ohio State fan who co-founded the blog Eleven Warriors, recently told me that this sequence of events was “disappointing”—a “lackluster, lost season” in which the team’s coaches “screwed themselves.” The tweet he has pinned to the top of his account is from October 2018 and describes that month’s version of the Buckeyes as “the stupidest team I’ve ever seen in my life.”

To understand why he felt this way is to understand that the United States’ most proudly regional sport has become nationalized by ESPN and the College Football Playoff. [Emphasis added.] As a consequence, this is at once the best time ever to be a fan of college football as a sport and the worst time ever to be a fan of almost every major college football team.

That is my problem with the sport in a nutshell.  The morons who think they are geniuses running college football, with plenty of encouragement from Mickey, have convinced themselves that the sport’s future lies in swapping its regional appeal to diehards for that of a more homogeneous, less passionate national one.  And this is exactly what’s it’s about now:

The sport’s most important media outlet is ESPN, whose dominance in the TV, talking head, and online journalism realms has expanded as local papers have withered and died. The network has mostly unchecked power to set college football’s narratives via its studio shows and in-house opinionists. What ESPN naturally considers the defining achievement of a season, now, is earning one of the four spots in the ESPN-broadcasted playoff. One of the top stories on ESPN’s college football page when I was writing this story was about how Georgia and Oregon’s big weekend wins raised the possibility of getting “a second chance” at a “first playoff impression.” ESPN, more than anyone or anything else, is the entity creating those impressions, as major sports media becomes increasingly dominated by takes—provocative, declarative statements of opinion whose effectiveness and virality derive from their capacity to enrage.

College football is not better off for it.

… and when your team does lose, you can ruin your week by reading dozens of articles and Twitter arguments about why and how it did so, then be reminded of your newfound irrelevance by TV production teams whose concerns begin and end with the national race. As Banner Society’s Ryan Nanni told me, “It’s strange, but somehow expanding the playoff slightly has made everyone more worked up. … Everyone just sort of accepted that you could have a solid season and not make the [two-team] BCS title game. We all hated it, but now there’s juuuust enough access that if you’re not one of those four and you theoretically could have been, you fucked up.”

I made the mistake of thinking that expanding the playoff field from the old BCS format of two to the CFP version of four would have little effect on the sport.  The reality is that it’s had an enormous one already, in that it’s helped accelerate the change away from regional focus.  The BCS, by working to have number one and number two face off for all the marbles, had a simple goal of making sure there was a clear number one at the end of every season.  (That’s not the same thing as saying it succeeded in that every season, but it had lots more hits than misses in that regard.)

The CFP, by broadening the field, has morphed the discussion into a more general debate on several fronts — best versus more deserving, relative conference strengths, the value of conference championships, etc.  And, as noted, it’s had the inevitable effect of diminishing the role of the regular season — if you doubt that, maybe you can explain to me why the Big 12 took it upon itself to tack on a conference championship game for a league that has its members play a round robin regular season schedule.

All that, plus the outsized role it’s given ESPN in shaping public perception of the sport.

The damage is done; the horse is out of the barn.  I can’t even say I’m angry about it.  Looking back now, given the money driving college athletics, honestly, I’m a little surprised they held off as long as they did with the CFP.  But they’ve gone down the rabbit hole now and there’s no turning back.  I’m sure that pleases many of you, but I’ll bet in a few years even those of you enthusiastic about postseason expansion will concede that it’s a shame college football lost a little of what made it unique.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, ESPN Is The Devil

52 responses to “Natty or nothing

  1. Connor

    Good post, Senator. But it’s not your all time, best post. So I hate it.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Hogbody Spradlin

    Well said.

    I modestly attempt to add that college football is now going the way of pro football, basketball, baseball, hockey, college basketball, and maybe other sports. Expanding the postseason for the great g_d television and Mammon. Oh, and did I mention golf. You can’t watch a single non-major pro tournament without hearing about the FedEx standings every 15 minutes.

    I long for the good old days. Hey you kids get off my lawn.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Otto

      ,,if expansion happens but 3 weekends of playoff games make more than 3 months of regular season games? Especially as the field even further narrows and the teams which don’t have a realistic shot at the playoff further fade into the background.

      Bring back the BCS. (yes I know it isn’t happening but we didn’t know how good we had it)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ASEF

    Pretty much as predicted.

    2 to 4 was a X2 in ill effects. 4 to 8 will be X4.


  4. aucarson

    Yeah, but not even Mickey can destroy the savory goodness of beating the bammers/gaytors/dawgs/corndogs/insert rival here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reverend Whitewall

    Agree with the majority of this, and I was against the playoff not because I thought 4 teams was bad, but because I know it will eventually lead to more teams (more playoff expansion).

    Although I do think an argument can be made that the 4 team playoff hasn’t diminished the regular season, it’s actually enhanced it. More teams are kept in the discussion later into the year, but without sacrificing the requirement of a great season to get in (we have yet to see a 2 loss team make it in, though that will be inevitable with 8 team fields). I honestly feel like it has detracted from the bowls more than the regular season, which is a shame too. Even the bigger bowls, fans are happy if they win, but if they lose it’s just written off as “we weren’t focused” (sound familiar?), which it’s a shame that teams can’t get focused for those games anymore. And that totally bleeds over into why players are sitting out those games – it’s not the only reason, but the fact those games just don’t matter as much anymore has to play a role.

    So for me, to this point, I feel like the negative impacts of the 4 team playoff has been more on the bowls than the regular season. But as soon as we start seeing 2+ loss teams in the playoffs, that’s when devaluing the regular season will settle in for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I don’t know. I compare college football’s regional rivalries to those of the Premier League. Even though Liverpool is competing for the league championship, as well as the TV ratings monster, Champions League, fans still remain very passionate about the local derby with Everton, who does not compete for either of the two. Hopefully we keep our passion about our games with Florida, Auburn, Yech, etc. So long as they don’t whittle those games away as they have with other rivalries like the one we had with Clemson, which could happen. My daughter’s boyfriend is a big Notre Dame fan and he is pissed that they lost against Michigan primarily because they will not play them again for another decade. All is not lost…yet.


  7. Bigshot

    How do expect the fans not to have this attitude when the players have it? Exhibit # 1 UGA vs Texas Sugar Bowl


  8. AugDawg

    I think college football is headed down the same path as NASCAR. Regional sport with very enthusiastic fans, powers that be start chasing every dollar that they can nationally, things are great for a while, then the sport becomes so generic as they try to appeal to everyone that it loses large portions of even the most die hard fans because what made it great we’re rivalries, long-standing dislike for other competitors, yet respect for the sport. In the end, chasing the national dollars and national appeal will help a few smaller schools, but will be the downfall of the big rivalry games and passionate fans bases that have made the sport such a unique fan experience for so long.

    Liked by 3 people

    • W Cobb Dawg

      Agree. But blaming it all on the playoff or ESPN isn’t accurate. The schools are definitely holding their own when it comes to driving people away. We quit tailgating when Adams made it too much of a hassle. Turned in the season tickets when game times became unpredictable. Concessions and restrooms always sucked. And the school ALWAYS has their hand out for more money. They drive students away IMHO. And weather extremes aren’t helping. But when it’s all said & done, I actually enjoy watching a random Thursday or Saturday evening game more than a playoff semifinal.

      Liked by 1 person

    • JC

      The fall of NASCAR was my first thought as well. My Dad was exhibit A on how to lose a lifelong fan that never missed a race. Once the powers that be starting changing the heart of the sport, he lost interest and never went back.

      Liked by 1 person

    • NASCAR was a combination of issues, but I think much of it was the loss of car brand loyalty from the fans. My dad would never root for a Chevy driver, because he drove Fords. When they lost the shade tree mechanics, they lost the sport IMO. The other factors were icing on the cake.


  9. chopdawg

    I blame us fans.

    We’ve allowed the Natty-Or-Nothing diatribe to dominate us for several years now, not just during the playoff years. I remember conversations with a co-worker, a huge college FB fan, who (after 2012) kept criticizing Mark Richt for not having UGA “in the national-championship conversation.” I kept asking him to define what “in the conversation” meant, but he never could. In more recent seasons, I’ve read numerous posts, here and on other forums, whose themes were “no regular-season game is meaningful unless, by winning it, your team advances their chances for a Natty.” This means a lot of CFB teams play a whole lot of meaningless games.

    Another factor is our starry-eyed fervor with recruiting rankings. Fans expect that, since we sign Top-5 recruiting classes in several straight years, we’re automatically going to be in CFB playoffs every year. Great high-school kids don’t always translate to great college kids in any endeavor, & certainly not in college football, and we set ourselves up for failure through our unrealistic assumptions.

    So maybe the presence of the playoff heightens these sideways obsessions, but the pressure fans (like UGA’s) put on their teams to be #1 would’ve been there anyway, to a much greater degree than when the best your SEC team could do was win the SECC and get invited to the Sugar Bowl, and if you won the Natty, great!…but you could still be happy with your season even if you didn’t. Meanwhile, games like our game in Auburn next week were huge games regardless of the teams’ won-loss records.

    IMO a playoff expanded to 8 teams might temper fans’ expectations–your team could lose 2 games and still have a shot at a Natty. So you’re still “in the conversation” later and later into the seasons.

    OK, here’s the soapbox, who else wants it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Macallanlover

      Just an outstanding post, and so much more on target than what others have said, imo. It is self inflicted, as your statement above about how dumb it is to relegate 99% of all games to irrelevant status because they weren’t one of the 5-6 that determined the MNC that year. I hate that feeling has reached that point for some, although I don’t think it is as universal as many think. Most schools have no illusion of that, and can get amped about progress…it is definitely a 1st world issue.

      Going to 8 will prove to be the savior, imo. Part of the disdain is being too limited. Sure you can go too far with expansion, (beyond 8 is my line), but providing a path for all 5 conference champs, and the best of the Group of 5, plus 2 Wild Cards will increase the excitement. The comparisons to pro sports, March Madness, etc, is simply not relevant (6% versus 30% in some cases), as is the devaluing of the regular season argument. These are fake comparisons and not grounded in reality. Regular season games will increase in importance, as will conference championships.

      As for the bowls, I hate the attitude they have brought about for players but if it contributes to ridding the “more meaningless” bowls, that would be a plus. Seriously doubt it does, but having about 10 in warm weather spots might make them a more meaningful achievement, and desirable for fans, at least. Don’t think we can reverse the attitude of many of the players, just have to accept they are exhibitions to some of the “stars”. Losing bowl interest isn’t a bad thing to me, if it comes because of finally getting the National Championship issue fixed.


    • IMO a playoff expanded to 8 teams might temper fans’ expectations–your team could lose 2 games and still have a shot at a Natty. So you’re still “in the conversation” later and later into the seasons.

      That is the textbook definition of making the regular season less meaningful.


      • Cojones

        So you are for zero losses that would really define the teams deserving to be in a “Playoff”. Meaning that you think it would be futile and bad for football if a 1-loss UGA faces Baylor for a NC. So, if we play all the big guys in the SEC and we keep punching each other’s ticket, it wouldn’t have anything to do with the best college team if we all have a loss.

        That’s the textbook definition of making the CFB Playoff less meaningful.

        Senator, in your pell-mell attempt to foot drag the final 8-team playoff (where we will inevitably arrive), you have now proposed going backwards to two teams. The reason we have opted for a playoff for years is to keep the selection less political and more about choosing the best team in the country. Going backwards pretty much says you think there should have never been a playoff mentality when we could just have ESPN appoint a NC each year. Nice.


      • Will Adams

        How does it make the regular season less meaningful if it keeps you in the playoff conversation longer?

        I could see how an 11-0 Dawg team could consider the last game of the season less meaningful because a loss does nothing to hurt them getting into the playoff field of 8. Or even an undefeated Dawg team losing a “meaningless” SEC CG because their ticket to the playoff is already punched.

        But even though I labeled those games as meaningless, they wouldn’t be, in reality. Playing for an undefeated season would never be meaningless. Much less considering the insect opponent. And the same could be said for the other scenario.

        So maybe the meaningless-ness would only be applicable to the earlier games in the season. But you have to win those in order to make the later games meaningless.

        Or maybe the meaningless games would occur during a down season with 3+ losses before the last month of the season. But how does playoff expansion make those games any less meaningless than they would be during the BCS?

        I guess it comes down to the NC or bust mindset. I for one can never envision a cocktail party being meaningless, no matter what is ir isn’t on the line. Same goes with the barners or bugs or vowls or cocks.

        Anything that will help my Dawgs get a NC, I’m all for. It’d be nice to actually win one during my lifetime. But if my Dawgs happen to be out of the conversation or already in the field, I just don’t see how it would take away from getting a win versus a rival or any other SEC/Power 5/ranked team. Maybe I’m just shortsighted on this topic but I just can’t see it.


        • How does it make the regular season less meaningful if it keeps you in the playoff conversation longer?

          Because it turns the regular season into little more than a delivery system for the postseason.

          Look, if you like a bigger playoff, I get it. I just don’t like what it means for the regular season, which is what has made college football unique.


  10. The value of the bowl games is on life support. When the field expands to 8, the bowl system will be dead.

    When beating FU, 10rc, the Barn, and the Trade School are no longer important, I’ll be on the golf course on beautiful fall Saturdays.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. HahiraDawg

    Very well written and put together Senator. Disappointingly one of my favorite posts you’ve ever had, and that is really saying something bc I’ve been here since just after your launch.


  12. 81Dog

    Hmmmm. A bunch of insulated notgeatern suits wants to tell us hicks I flyover country what we care about is stupid, so we should just do as they tell us. Because they know better than we do.

    Sounds kind of familiar.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. PTC DAWG

    Speak for your self. I enjoy College Football now as much as ever. Win the damn SEC..


    • 92 Grad

      I totally agree with you, winning the conference trumps everything for me and why I enjoy the season.

      The other issue does loom large though, when a program like ours recruits players, they are sold on being in the playoff. I truly dont know how Kirby can keep the team focused in the event that they lose two games. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that we lose two games to highly ranked opponents in the first half of the season. I honestly believe that Kirby would lose half the locker room for the rest of the season, another “throwaway year” is always just around the corner.

      Liked by 1 person

    • This will/has always hold true, “win the sec” and that university will always be in the national title conversation


  14. Faltering Memory

    So many good points in the opinion and in many replies. Hopefully, something will happen to ESPN. I only watch when a live sporting even is on, never sports center and certainly damn not all those contrived ‘takes.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Classic City Canine

      I hate how the media has moved towards so many opinion shows and I hate that we the people are responsible for that move because we watch them. I don’t know why they’re so attractive to people. I’ve seen them and they’re not very interesting especially because 80% of the coverage is the NFL or NBA.


      • Doggoned

        They’ve merely followed the news “journalism” model of 95 percent commentary shows and 5 percent or less straight news shows. They draw viewers and mirror the contemporary culture in America.


  15. Bright Idea

    This is a very relevant story and post. I despise watching college basketball on TV with sound because all the announcers talk about is who will get into the Big Dance. They totally forget the game in front of them. Football has become the same way. The CFP is why our fans and media melt down when we lose a game or boo if we don’t beat Kentucky 60-0. An SEC Championship used to be a great point of pride but now the big deal is if you lose it can you still make the CFP. If fans don’t get back to identifying with their team/alma mater and its players more than a NC then this will get worse. Another loss and the Tech game becomes even more meaningless to our fans which is sad to this ole’ timer.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. MDDawg

    I’m curious to know how much the playoff has affected the coaching landscape, and how much of an effect further expansion would have. Will we reach a point where conference championships don’t guarantee job security? Like, “yeah you won the conference, but you finished 10-3 and missed a playoff berth. Pack your bags, loser!”


    • Macallanlover

      I will never consider winning the SEC title a disappointing season, ever. Even after having the Bama game stolen from us after the 2017 season, it was still the very best season I have ever experienced as a UGA fan.


  17. 123fakest

    I actually enjoy the 4 team playoff, and think it’s much better than the BCS system.
    I still get the most joy by winning the SEC. Everything else is gravy.

    Going to an 8 team playoff actually would make even appearing in the SECCG a disadvantage. Why play in it if you can get in the playoff as a 7 or 8 seed?


  18. Russ

    Nebraska – Oklahoma
    Texas – Texas A&M
    Kansas – Missouri
    Pittsburgh – West Virginia
    Penn State – Pittsburgh
    Arkansas – Texas
    and many others that are only played infrequently

    Liked by 1 person

  19. BuffaloSpringfield

    Perhaps, maybe not half the locker room is lost but the mentally of losing to a USCjr and not playing consistently rubs a few jock straps raw early when focus is paramount.
    Great Senator, Take a bow ! The powers that be whether it is the UGA AA or the SEC/Birmingham, NCCA and The World Wide Sports Leader don’t have a clue as to what the fans think.
    Ask all the NASCAR fans at the little tracks that made it NASCAR big if the give a DAMN about TEXAS, California, Watkins Glenn. Hell they can’t even sell out Bristol anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Excellent post. I miss the days of the BCS. While it wasn’t perfect, more time than not it got it right. And it provided a lot more interesting discussions and arguments than the current model does.

    Let’s pretend that you are named Czaar of College Football and you have unlimited power over all aspects of the sport (including TV). How would you change it to bring back the regional fee (put the horse back in the barn so to speak)? Back to the BCS? Bowl Alliance? Something else?


  21. WarD Eagle

    Came here to say I told you so.

    ESPN is the worst thing to happen to sports in forever.

    That $5-10 they get from you every month is how they fund and build the turd sandwich they tell you is tasty.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. DawgByte

    Sen. Blutarsky – You need to take something for your ailment. You’re like a Champagne cork ready to explode. You should be rejoicing, ESPN is the fulfillment of every PC’er’s dream. Don’t worry it’s unlikely AU/Bama fans will come together for a new mountain Coke ad any time soon!


  23. Mick Jagger

    Following the NASCAR model. Ask them how that’s working out.