Jan 7, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws in the pocket against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game at Levi's Stadium

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Tim Brando: College football is ‘in peril’, facing coast-to-coast relevancy crisis

Would playoff expansion fix the problems?

Seth Dunlap
August 23, 2019 - 8:06 pm

Yesterday, we detailed Tim Brando’s thoughts on college football’s scheduling imbalance, and how he believes it’s reached a breaking point.  Read & listen to Part 1 of our two-part discussion with Brando here.  Part 2 of our discussion follows below.

On any given fall Saturday in Baton Rouge, tens of thousands of rabid college football fans flock towards Tiger Stadium on the campus of Louisiana State University.  Grills roughly the size of an affordable Manhattan apartment litter parking lots, with the smoke of sizzling meat creating an inescapable aroma that seems to hypnotize the gathered masses into an even deeper state of football-infused delirium.  

Those glancing at the never ending sea of purple and gold could be forgiven if they give a few chuckles and eye-rolls at any mention of waning interest in the sport across the country.  There’s no crisis here, and no impending doom on the horizon either.   This is the heart of SEC country.  These folks live and breathe college football, and they’ve put up their money to prove it.

LSU recently unveiled a stunning new $28 million football operations building, funded exclusively by the donations from a rabid fan base.  It’s the latest extravagancy produced by an unwavering college football arms race.

That arms race has also turned into a symbol of the growing regionalism of a sport consumed by the money it makes.   No doubt, that money is plentiful.   The NCAA surpassed $1 billion in revenue in 2017, fueled mainly by the cash cow of college football, and that money isn’t drying up.  Conference commissioners, university presidents, and television network executives are bathing in cash like Scrooge McDuck.  From their perspective the sport has never been healthier, and their only goal is to keep growing their profit margin.

Zoom out from the raucous scenes on ‘College GameDay’ and your typical SEC tailgate and the outlook starts to look a bit more dim for a sport that may have already passed by its zenith of interest.  West of Dallas and north of the Mason-Dixon line, the sport is facing a relevancy crisis that could tear college football apart from the inside out.  

The West Coast now functions as a junior varsity playground for the big boys down south.  The Big 12 watches Oklahoma and a Texas school or two try to compete on a national level every season, while the rest of the conference jockeys for a position in the Bluebonnet Bowl.   The Big Ten spends four months promoting Ohio State vs. Michigan, perhaps a sprinkle of Penn State in there too, while hiding the disaster the rest of their conference has become.  Clemson vs. the rest of the ACC is a bit like Shaq vs. Chris Dudley.

Tim Brando has seen this coming for years.  Brando, play-by-play voice and national commentator for Fox Sports, has become a passionate advocate for college football reform.  The promise the College Football Playoff once gave for a sport in desperate need of newfound parity, Brando says, has instead only exacerbated those problems.

“We went from the BCS, after that god-forsaken rematch between LSU and Alabama, when we went to four teams.  Everybody thought, ‘Oh my god.  Four teams.  More access.  We’re going to have more teams. This is going to be the greatest thing — might even be bigger than the Super Bowl.  Certainly the ratings will be every bit as big as an NFL playoff game.’  None of that has happened,” Brando scathes over the phone during an interview on “The Last Lap” on WWL Radio.  

“None of it’s happened,” he continues.  “The strength of schedules have gone down.  And we’re flat-lining from a ratings standpoint at the end of the year because densely populated areas like the Big Ten, where 34-percent of America’s televisions are, are not involved.  And nobody west of the Red River is involved.”  

What he and others see is a sport that is becoming marginalized in a vast portion of the country.  Yet those in power scoff at the suggestion anything is wrong with college football, refusing to look beyond anything but their bottom lines.  Brando took direct aim at those in charge of the sport’s postseason.

“It seems to me that the College Football Playoff committee is asleep at the wheel on this. Their offices are right there in Dallas, and they don’t know this is going on?  I guess maybe they’re just happy they got all that money from television. $50 million to every Big Ten team,  a little bit less than that to every SEC team, because of the networks that have their conference’s name on them.”

Brando put it more succinctly.

“We may be flourishing and making more money than we’ve ever had, but the sport now is, I think, in more peril than it’s ever been.”

Those words of warning should echo from Los Angeles to New York.  From Hoover to Columbus.  A sport can survive being regionally relevant.  It cannot flourish from coast to coast in a country as diverse as ours.  That might not worry fans in Tuscaloosa or Norman, but college football is only at its greatest when there is buy in from campuses across the nation.  That isn’t happening right now. 

“This is awful.  This is not good,” Brando begins to trail off, as if fatigued from being the vanguard in a battle many are unwilling to fight.  “And college football needs to stop being such fat cats, cashing in all that cash and not worrying about viewership.”

The past few months are a great example of Brando’s concerns.  The NBA and NFL, and even a newly invigorated MLB, dominated sports talk radio and the cable-TV debate-punditry shows.  College football was rarely discussed.

“It should be alarming to the people that govern college football that they can sniff of air time unless there’s a promo being done for a specific game being done for (their) networks.  Very little is being discussed,” Brando notes, his tone bristling with bewilderment.  “That should be alarming to people who are in the business of advancing and moving college football forward.  Yes, do I see the game from the prism of 30,000 feet, looking down it and saying, ‘Nationally we need to look at this and that to make the product better.’  Absolutely I do.  And that’s my job.”

Brando is one of very few recognizable names attached to college football who has been openly talking about the sport’s relevancy crisis.  The silence from others, many times, is due to their reluctance to speak out against a product that is benefiting their employers financially.  Brando isn’t worried about blow-back his direction.

“A lot of people are going to keep their mouths shut on this topic because they’re afraid they’re going to get a call.  I don’t care.  I only care about the game.  I want the game to improve, I want the game to be better.  I want more access for those involved.”

While no solution is simple, one relatively easy fix could be expanding the College Football Playoff.  Double the number of teams invited and watch the sport’s popularity explode, Brando believes.

“You can’t tell me that by going to eight teams in this playoff you wouldn’t be doing that.  Imagine the interest you’d have with teams ranked somewhere between, say, fifth and sixteenth in the last month of the season jockeying for positions five through eight. “

Brando seems to be alluding to the illusion of parity the NFL has built their empire on.  While only a handful of teams seem to really have a legitimate chance to win a Super Bowl every season, musical chairs for the league’s twelve playoff spots is all-consuming.  The Patriots may win a championship every couple of years, but a chance to make the postseason keeps fan bases in Jacksonville, Detroit, San Francisco, Cleveland, and elsewhere perennially invested.

Sure, Alabama and Clemson will still be college football's standard-bearers.  Right behind them will be Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, LSU, and a handful of other schools. That won't change.  Those who’ve long said inviting a team like UCF to play Alabama is only inviting on on-field massacre may be right.  A UCF, Washington State, or Houston upset of Alabama in a #1 vs. #8 match-up is unlikely, at best. 

Equally unlikely, however, are the sixth-seeded Buffalo Bills beating the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.  Does interest seem to wane or increase in anticipation of those matchups?

The answer is the latter, of course, and it’s a lesson college football should be taking from their big brother.  It’s not the fault of the college football behemoths, nor the SEC, that the sport is facing this crisis.  But it’s going to take a coast-to-coast buy in to fix spreading disinterest.  Until then, Brando will continue to plead for change to anyone willing to listen.

Listen to part two of Tim Brando’s discussion with Seth Dunlap on “The Last Lap” in the podcast below.

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