Why College Football Needs a 13-Game Regular Season Schedule

If Alabama and Nick Saban have their way, the Alabama football team will not step foot on the college campus of a non-SEC program ever again.

Unfortunately, their reasons are sound.

When Alabama backed out of its home-and-home against Michigan State, they claimed the “uncertainty” around the SEC conference schedule and the possibility it may move to 9 games. That was not true – the SEC is moving to 9 conference games.

What was true was Nick Saban laying out the business argument – when the conference moves to 9 games, it will make far more financial sense for Alabama to play its big non-conference game at a neutral site. Alabama needs 7 home games for its budget. That leaves 5 other games – 4 will be conference road games. Why play that other game on the road when Jerry Jones wants to pay you $5 million to play it there?

In a time long, long ago, college football teams played 11 games, but got a 12th game if they played in a neutral-site “preseason” classic. Today’s Chick-fil-a Kickoff is the same as the old Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands, except the old classic was an extra game for teams. Today’s neutral site games are part of the season.

espn gameday clemson georgiaThey are slowly destroying the fabric of college football.

Georgia at Clemson in Death Valley should be the norm, the exception.

Wisconsin and LSU should play each other twice. But instead of NFL stadiums, they should be on campus. Wisconsin should get a taste of Baton Rouge after dark. LSU needs to see “Jump Around” in action.

Tennessee and Virginia Tech just signed a deal to play a game at Bristol Motor Speedway. It will be an interesting exercise in the absurd. It will ultimately be less exciting than a home-and-home series.

With the looming college football playoff, it is becoming quickly apparent that it is doomed for failure. Say what they want, the BCS is merely creating another poll with its selection committee – one that is made up of 13 people instead of 60-something coaches. It’s still a poll. It’s still a terrible way to select teams.

College football has had the undefeated season and the number of losses ingrained in our head as the end all, be all. In professional sports, where everyone plays the same schedule – this is true. In college football, it is most certainly not. The quality of losses can be just as important as the quality of wins.

This year, Ohio State will likely go undefeated. They do not deserve to play for a national championship. Neither does Louisville. Why? Because they didn’t challenge themselves out of conference and their conferences, for this year, are not good.

The best team Ohio State will play all year is likely Northwestern. If they win their conference, Alabama will play at least 3 teams better than Northwestern. So will Stanford. So will Oregon. So will Clemson. Georgia has already played 3 teams better than Northwestern.

The most infuriating thing about college football is how the media gives teams a pass for their nonconference scheduling in November.

Ohio State knows this. If they finished undefeated, they will be in the national title game. They won’t deserve it. People will cry foul. “It’s not their fault the Big Ten stinks!” they’ll say. “They had to play 7 home games to make money,” idiots will cry out.

Well Ohio State had four games to schedule whoever they wanted. They decide to take one road trip. While it made for quite a scene, they played a terrible Cal team. And except for a couple of glorious Aaron Rodgers-led years, Cal has always been mediocre. Some Ohio State fans have even complained about Vanderbilt dropping them, which hurt their schedule.

When losing the 11th-best SEC team from your schedule hurts, you’re doing it wrong.

So why should college football move to a 13-game regular season? Let me count the reasons why:

1)     More Games, More Information
It’s actually a lot easier to identify the top 2 teams than the top 4 teams. When you are picking the top 2, you essentially have to pick who you feel the absolute best team in the country is. It’s not rocket science. There are rarely – if ever – more than 3 possibilities. And even with three, there is usually an established #1.

But with four teams? Every team in the traditional top 10 of the rankings could probably make a case for being the 4th-best team in the country. The move to a 9-game conference schedule for TV purposes – the oft-repeated “inventory” bullshit – is great for television. It is not great for trying to compare teams from different leagues. There needs to be more games for a greater sample size.

It is exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to decide the four best teams after 12 regular season games. One more game makes that decision easier. It may only be a little easier – but I’ll always take a little better over a little worse.

2)     More Games, More Money
Oh, so this is about money? Is anything in college football today not about money? Everyone gets an extra game, which means more football on television. Do I even need to explain this in detail?

3)     Teams Already Play 13 Games
It’s called the Hawaii Rule – if you play a road game at Hawaii, you have the option to play a 13th game, in theory to play another home game to recoup the excessive cost of flying to Hawaii. So if 13 games are already good enough for some teams, why can’t it be good for all teams?

4)     The Dreaded Double Bye Goes Away
Every college team – except those who play 13 – has two bye weeks. That’s not necessary. When Labor Day is early, that means Thanksgiving comes 14 weekends later.  It makes it extraordinarily easy to add in an extra game.

Now sometimes, Thanksgiving comes early and there are only 13 weeks. In those cases, Thanksgiving weekend won’t be the last weekend of the regular season. Is Florida/Florida State somehow diminished if played on Dec. 1 instead of Nov. 24? In those cases, there is still the same amount of time between the conference championship games and the start of the playoff.

5)     The Notion of the Annual Undefeated Season Should Die
College football used to be ruled by a very select few – and you could argue it still is. But there are a lot more decent to good teams than in the past. Yes, Ohio State and Michigan may stand head and shoulders above the rest in the Big Ten, but there are other programs that lurk. This year, Clemson and Florida State are the class of the ACC but the middle class can spring an upset.

In short, this is not the 1992 version of the ACC where Florida State didn’t break a sweat en route to sweeping through the conference.

The future national champions will likely all have a loss. Some may have 2. There’s an outside chance they could have 3. This is not a bad thing. The regular season won’t be meaningless.

And when the champion does go undefeated? It will be legendary.

emperor nick saban
6)     The Neutral Site Games Can Stay
Look, the neutral site games can be fun. Sure, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State in Houston is stupid, but Alabama vs. Michigan in JerryWorld is awesome. In a 13-game schedule, these games can co-exist with the traditional home and home nonconference arrangements.

Alabama shouldn’t have to choose between playing Michigan State in Big Ten country and West Virginia in Atlanta – they should do both.

7)     The FCS Games Can Stay
The FCS games aren’t ideal but they are important. The FCS schools – many of them – rely on them to fund their entire athletic programs. The FCS players get a chance to experience big-time college football. And the fans, well, every once in a while we get to experience games like Appalachian State at Michigan or North Dakota State at Kansas State.

The problem with the college football schedule is not the FCS games. It’s that Florida can’t leave Florida to play a non-conference game. It’s that Alabama needs to play an FCS team AND Georgia State. It’s that somehow, no college football team can make money playing less than 7 home games.

8)     Everyone Gets Their 7 Home Games
The cynic in me knows that moving to 13 games would just open us up to another discussion 10 years down the line, when Emperor Nick Saban declares that the Kingdom of Alabama can’t make money without 8 home games. But in the near future, teams can play 7 home games…and a neutral site game…and still have five road games.

9)     The Maximum Number of Games is 16
13 regular season games. 1 conference championship game. 2 playoff games. The same number as an NFL regular season.

North Dakota State went 14-1 last year en route to winning the FCS title. They received a bye in the playoffs, meaning the maximum number of games an FCS team can play is already 16. I’m not breaking any new ground here, people.

10)  The Sport Gets Better
Alabama at Michigan State does more for college football than Georgia State at Alabama. Wisconsin at LSU means more than Wisconsin vs. LSU.

Ohio State traveling west to visit USC grabs people’s attention. Ohio State hosting San Diego State does not.

Will this happen?

It should.

And because it means more money, it will.

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