The end of an era and the dawn of a new day for college football

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What a College Football Playoff so far!  The playoff committee, the fans, the NCAA, and certainly the TV networks couldn’t have hoped for better results.  This league that has recycled its national champion from the same small pool of programs for years is offering us something that hasn’t been seen for more than three decades and will never be seen again.

The final game of this college football season pits the Big Ten vs. Pac-12, Midwest vs. West Coast, and most astonishingly it’s Michigan vs. Washington!  

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Since the BCS era began in 1998 and up until this, the final year of the four-team College Football Playoff, Ohio State was the only Big Ten program to win a national title and USC was the only program from the Pac-12 to seal the deal. 

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That’s going to change Monday night thanks to this matchup.  And then, for better or worse, the sport will change forever.  

Next season there won’t be conferences in a sense that we’re familiar with.  When Washington, Oregon, USC, and UCLA arrive and bring the Big Ten to 18 members, some of the backyard brawls that made College Football what it is will become expendable games that rotate on and off the schedule.  When the SEC adds Texas and Oklahoma to become a 16-team conference the same will happen there.  When dollars trump geography, the only thing that will unite the programs culturally is the pursuit of those dollars. 

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The ACC will be the Atlantic Coast Conference in name only after adding two schools from California and one from Texas (Cal, Stanford, & SMU).  

The Big 12 was once the most regionally cohesive of all the conferences until it added programs from Phoenix, Cincinnati, and Orlando into the mix.

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The truth is, conference pride is part of what has made college football so great for decades. It wasn’t just about your team; the conference your team played in was a symbol of shared traditions and idiosyncrasies that everyone in that region understood.  It’s like being part of a big dysfunctional family that could fight with each other all year but still get together for the holidays and be merry together. That all ends on Monday night.

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Washington vs Michigan will be a conference game next season in the Big Ten – which is a huge win for the conference and it’s new commissioner Tony Petitti and an utter embarrassment for George Kliavoff and the collapsed Pac-12. Even if Washington wins on Monday, it will not be a celebration for the conference, but rather a reminder of the squandered promise that generations of Pac-12 administrators pissed away in the unspoken name of arrogance, greed, and ineptitude.  If the Huskies win the natty, that should mean something for the entirety of West Coast football.  Even for rival programs like USC and Washington State, it should be a point of pride that a team from the Pac-12 did it. It should be a source of inspiration to all the high school coaches and players from Seattle to SoCal.

All of that said, if college football were a stock I’d buy as many shares as I could afford as quickly as possible.  As humans, we tend to romanticize the past and fear the future. We cling to predictability and familiarity, oftentimes despite our best interests.

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Do we really want to turn back the clock to preserve the regional ties for tradition’s sake? How far back should we go?  As recently as the mid 90s it was common for games to end in a tie.  In 1997 there were two undefeated powerhouse programs that split the National Championship because there was no structure in place to settle it on the field.  Just three years ago players couldn’t capitalize financially off the game they dedicated their entire life to and generate millions of dollars playing.

The reality is, we are entering a golden era of college football.  With a 12-team playoff there could be 20+ teams with realistic hopes of winning it all heading into the final week of the regular season. 

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If we take a step back and look at the evolution of the game, things have only gotten better over time.  Since the forward pass was implemented in 1906, the college game has thrived with mounting exponential success through the decades. The 12-team playoff and the outstanding matchups throughout the season due to conference realignment will make for skyrocketing TV ratings and ad revenue.

LIve sports continues to be the greatest remaining frontier for TV/streaming advertising; it’s the only thing most viewers enjoy live still, even on a stream and it holds the most captive viewership audience that any sector of entertainment enjoys. I haven’t been rooting for an actor since I was 6 years old, and neither have you. But some of us, probably a lot of us, have love affairs with teams going back to our childhood. I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a few tears of joy on Monday night when the Wolverines won. Here’s to hoping that feeling never fades.

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