Earlier today, I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw an interesting statistic:
So, you’re actually saying that in the past 19 years, there have only been five teams that have won multiple championships in college football? I was curious to see if this was true, so I did a little nerd-work in Excel (trust me, I AM an engineer, not a big deal, I must know what I’m doing, there’s no way you peasants can question me) to figure this out:
Wow, my Excel skills are off the charts. Look at how complicated that is.
So this claim pretty much checks out, especially considering whoever threw this stat out there didn’t consider USC and LSU had a shared title back in 2003 (because of all that BCS nonsense). So the question has to be asked: is this a bad thing? If only 6 out of 129 teams have found continued success in college football, does this mean there’s an uneven playing field in the FBS?
Well, I look at it in a few ways.
The Alabama Problem
Before any Tide fans get upset at me for saying their program is the problem with college football, hear me out. They are far and away the most successful program since 2000. They have three more championships than the next closest opponent(s), which is crazy when you think it’s only been 19 years. This is due to Nick Saban being both a perfectionist and unbelievable recruiter. He is without a doubt one of the best
college football sports coaches of all time, especially in a sport with 129 teams. However, at the same time, it’s also absurd to think he’s done it FIVE times with ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-NINE OTHER TEAMS. Why aren’t the wins spread around more?
The Best of the Rest
Clemson, Ohio State, Florida, LSU, and USC all have two titles within the span of time in question. I definitely wouldn’t say two titles qualifies a program as a dynasty, necessarily, but it’s also nothing to scoff at. When you look at Clemson, especially, they’ve won two titles in two years. Clemson and Alabama are undoubtedly the most consistent programs in recent memory. USC also had their own run, winning two straight national titles. Florida won two championships in three years, and LSU only had four seasons separating their two titles. The only outlier here is Ohio State, who won a title in 2003 and didn’t win again for eleven years. However, the Buckeyes did win seven Big Ten championships in those eleven years, meaning they were in the hunt that entire span. My main point here is just because these programs don’t quite match Alabama’s run of consistency doesn’t mean these programs aren’t elite year in and year out or don’t go on successful runs of their own.
Bottom Line #1: You need consistency to compete for a national title. This comes in the form of being able to keep coaching staffs intact and continued support from your fanbases.
I took a look at Statista’s breakdown of total attendance numbers at college football games from 2003-2017:
If you notice, the attendance between 2003 and 2017 peaked in 2013 at 50.29 million. Wanna know who won that year? It was Florida State. Who did they play in the title game? Auburn. So the highest attendance rate occurred in a year where the two teams competing for a title didn’t have multiple championships in this 19-year span.
Alabama won the 2011 championship, which was the year with the second highest attendance. But who was the champion in the third highest year in terms of attendance? It was Auburn, who hadn’t won a title in the span of time we’re focusing on. Who’d they beat? Oregon, who has no national titles to their name.
So generally speaking, fans seem to go to games more during years where the national powerhouses (in terms of recent success) aren’t competing for the national championship and it’s the “outsiders” that draw more crowds. I understand that these differences in attendance might be marginal and not relevant in the big scheme of things, but I do think it plays a small part. This is supported by the fact that college football ratings fell significantly in 2017, which was in the span of the consistent rematches between Clemson and Alabama.
Bottom Line #2: Fans like to see “outsiders” competing for a title more than the powerhouses. Big shocker there.
Availability of Money
According to 247 Sports, four out of the six programs I’ve been talking about (Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, and LSU) are ranked in the top 15 most valuable programs in the country. What does this mean? More money means better facilities and more to spend on recruiting, which means better recruits. The top prospects want to go to the best situation for them to win, or at least the best situation to prepare them for the NFL. Alabama is the best example of this. They’re the third most valuable program in the country, and Nick Saban takes full advantage of it.
Now, this is merely a rule of thumb. Clemson is not in the top 15 programs in terms of worth, yet they’ve won two titles in two years. Meanwhile, Michigan and Notre Dame are both in the top 10, yet they haven’t seen that translate to titles. Money doesn’t always translate to wins, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Bottom Line #3: Money (usually) equals power, and small programs can’t compete with the top dogs, which has been a problem in the last 20 years.
Overall, I don’t necessarily think college football is in trouble due to the same teams hogging all of the championships. At least not yet. The last thing I want, however, is for the same six teams turning the sport into Golden State-Cleveland every single year. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t liked the NBA recently. I want teams like the 1990 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets or the 1990 Colorado Buffaloes (again with the title-sharing nonsense) to come in, steal our hearts, and win titles for all the little guys. I think it’s better for the sport overall.
I’m also just bitter because this doesn’t bode well for teams like my Nittany Lions or for coaches like Washington State’s Mike Leach (aka my dad). However, by that same logic, Michigan won’t be winning it all any time soon either, which I am PERFECTLY fine with. Stay pasty, Jim.