January 11, 2021
I hate the day after National Championship football games in College Football.
Inevitably, headlines are going to focus on something superlative about the results. This year, because Georgia beat Alabama, the headline, especially at ESPN, where, let's face it, sports is a religion, was along the lines of "Georgia wins first college football championship in 41 years." The Georgia fans are cast as perpetual Cinderellas, never quite climbing that mountain again in 41 years. Think about how much that sentiment is toxic to the rest of college football.
Some points to consider:
A football champion has been named every year since 1869. That's 153 national champions. 44 colleges have been able to hoist that trophy (whichever version it was). Since so many years prior to 2010 had multiple national champions, because let's face it college football has been a cluster for a long time, it is misleading then to think, on general principle, that roughly once every 4 years, a team that has never won the championship will win it.
The last first-time school to win it: 1998, Tennessee (also their only one). That is a longer period of time than my college-graduated son has been alive.
As many people know, only the schools in the Power 5 conferences, and Notre Dame, really stand a legitimate chance to win the championship. Don't let the hype about Cincinnati this year fool you. They had a great team, but when it came down to having to win two games against opponents with practically every advantage: depth among players; depth among coaches; games played under pressure; history and legacy-provided foundation; Cincinnati would never have won both games.
If this was the 1980s or 1990s, they could have probably split the championship. They would have only had to win a single game with one of these other three dominant teams. How far back do you have to look for a non-Power 5 conference team to win the championship? I'll be liberal and account for non-stop conference re-structuring, but in the end, it is 1984 and BYU. Yes, almost 40 years ago!
There are about 65 schools not in the power conferences. We get excited because Cincinnati makes the final four or Boise State almost makes it there, or South Florida threatens to make it there. Think about how much had to go right to even make it in the conversation, whereas a handful of teams start in the conversation and never have to worry about being dropped from it.
(As an aside, at what point, does the "this school and their fanbase have waited so long to ascend this mountain again" storyline get ridiculous? BYU, you're coming up on 40 years. Syracuse, you're coming up on 64 years! Army, 78 years! Lafayette, 127 painful years!)
And then there are the power-5 schools, most long-standing members of the football powerhouse conferences, closer to the national championship display window, but still looking in:
Boston College (not even the great Doug Flutie could get them to the top of the mountain); Virginia Tech; North Carolina; North Carolina St; West Virginia; Virginia; Duke; Wake Forest; South Carolina; Mississippi State; Vanderbilt; Missouri; Louisville; Kentucky; Indiana; Purdue; Northwestern; Kansas St; Kansas; Oklahoma St; Iowa St; Baylor; Oregon; Oregon St; Washington St; Utah; Arizona; Arizona St; Texas Tech
That's 29 schools out of 64 power conference schools that have never won a national championship. Given recent history, where only 13 schools have won the National Championship since 2004 (when the BCS supposedly put an end to split champions), or since 2014 with the current final four set up, only 6 schools (out of a potential 32 spots) have even played in the final championship game, most of the 29 schools should not be holding their breath.
Consider what happens in NCAA basketball, where at least 64+ teams start with a theoretical chance to play for the national championship. Over the last 8 years of that tournament (accounting for no tournament in 2020), 13 schools have played a one-game-take-all national championship. However, college football is a sport that rewards a football coach who goes 6-6 and gets into a bowl game, all the more, if he wins against another 6-6 team and ends up 7-6.
However not only are these also-ran schools holding their breath, their athletic leadership is holding their colleges hostage for ransom. Because without the money, there is no opportunity.
How do you get into this elite company? You spend more on recruiting. According to a 247 Sports story from October, your leading spenders on recruiting in the 2019 Fiscal Year were:
Georgia - $3.6 million
Alabama - $2.6 million
Tennessee -- $2.24 million
Clemson -- $2.23 million
Arkansas -- $1.9 million
Texas A&M -- $1.67 million
L.S.U. -- $1.6 million
Penn State -- $1.52 million
Florida State -- $1.5 million
Michigan -- $1.4 million
Notice a trend yet? I have yet to name one of those 29 schools who have never won the national championship, let alone the other sixty-five or so that can't get even get in with the big boys.
You have to get to #17 on this list to find a national-champion wannabe, and that is Utah, spending $1.17 million.
How about if the also-rans decide to spend the money on a big-name coach. According to a December 2021 report from 247 Sports, here are the highest paid coaches:
Lincoln Riley, USC -- $10 million
Nick Saban, Alabama -- $9.9 million
Brian Kelly, LSU -- $9.5 million
Mel Tucker, Michigan State -- $9.5 million
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M -- 9 million
David Shaw, Stanford -- $9 million
Dabo Swinney, Clemson -- 8.5 million
James Franklin, Penn State -- 8.5 million
Seeing the same trend? Good Lord, only two of the eight names here have won a national championship. A lot of money is being spent on speculation. Even the outlier here, Stanford, has won a national championship so if Shaw pulls off his own minor miracle, ESPN can still fall back on the "Stanford faithful rewarded after 96-year wait for second national championship."
What if I just cut to the quick and look at highest spending college football programs? Luckily, On3.com, a website I had never heard of until writing this blog, provided this information a few months ago:
1) Ohio State -- $215 million
2) Michigan -- $180 million
3) Texas -- $173 million
4) Alabama -- $173 million
5) Texas A&M -- $159 million
6) Penn State -- $157 million
7) Oklahoma -- $157 million
8) Florida State -- $155 million
Can I stop? You all see the trend, right? I want to throw up just typing this.
Kentucky is the first national-champion wannabe to show up on this list, in 14th place, spending $140 million. They had a good year in football. Let's see if they can keep it up. Odds are they won't.
Throw in the transfer portal and the NIL revenue and college football is a shit show. But ESPN won't tell us that. I basically know that and yet come September I will be watching my WVU football team hoping that this might be the year. Like American society overall, football is great at throwing the scraps off the table and keeping the masses happy while a select few walk off with the entree.
*This blog has been updated to include three more Power 5 non-national champions. My apologies to Arizona, Arizona St and Texas Tech fans for not including you in that list.