The unmerciful meritocracy of college football

NCAA Football: Alabama at Kentucky

The month of February was a good reminder of the unique qualities regarding the sport of college football.

We began the month with National Signing Day.

Alabama secured the top ranked recruiting class in the country for the third straight year. ESPN gave 15 high school players the coveted “five-star” label, and Alabama landed five of them. The dominance of Alabama recruiting is well documented.

As Saban filled his hand with Championship rings in recent years, the gap between Alabama recruiting and recruiting at most other schools continued to widen. Nick Saban implemented a system and process at the University of Alabama that has been wildly successful. The top kids in the country want to play for championships. They want to play for Alabama. What’s the problem?

RELATED: UNC coach jabs Saban over five-stars

College football fanatics sometimes forget how unique this is in sports. Professional sports leagues work hard to legislate parity. The draft system where teams acquire talent is the perfect example of manufactured parity.

Professional leagues have a problem with the draft system, however. Because teams covet the top picks in the draft, intentional losing – especially in the second half of the season – is very common. It’s a major issue for the NBA right now, but we also recall the “Suck for Luck” campaign a few years back in the NFL.

Tanking in the NBA accelerated this past month. It climaxed with a recent game where the league worst Milwaukee Bucks soundly beat the Philadelphia 76ers (the league’s second worst team). The starting line-ups for these teams are laughable at best. The games are completely unwatchable.

Thankfully, college football is the complete opposite. When teams are underperforming, coaches find themselves on the hot seat. Sometimes they’re even fired mid-year (e.g. Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley). Even when a coach is relieved of his duty mid-year, salvaging the season is of the utmost concern. Recruiting – the lifeblood of college football – can often be impacted massively from wins and losses at the end of the season. How a team finishes a season can often create momentum into Signing Day one way or another.

College football is a meritocracy. Parity is not legislated by the powers that be. Resources vary between schools. Fan base passion can differ from school to school. Some teams have geographical advantages. The landscape is uneven to say the least.

Critics of college football don’t like the unequal landscape of college football. They are often the same people advocating for a large College Football Playoff field and automatic berths for the small conference champions. I strongly disagree with this point of view. Rather than criticize a sport that rewards the most passionate fan bases, the most heavily invested programs and the most talented coaches and athletes, why not celebrate it?

The alternative is watching the Bucks play the 76ers in a contest of who can suck more. Oh, and fans have a few months still of these non-competitive games. That’s not sports. Sports is about competition, and competition is what we’ve got in college football.



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