Playoff Fans in Capital as University Football Meets Its Future

INDIANAPOLIS – Freezing rain has turned pedestrian streets in the city center here into granite-dry-concrete roads. A concert venue in the city center and an empty beer garden, a dance and light drone show were canceled, and closing a restaurant table – far removed from the community – was never a problem on Saturday night.

It seems that football fans in Georgia and Alabama, many of whom drove from Atlanta and Birmingham to avoid heavy airfare and to flee for tickets to Monday’s national championship game, decided to stay after driving in icy winds. in. book their hotel rooms and order. (And why not, when a room in TownePlace Suites went $ 900 north?)

On Sunday the weather was dry, but the temperature dropped among the youngsters.

If the College Football Playoff title game is the peak of the season, a time for a legion of spectators to wave the school flag – and take a break from the devastating pandemic winter – then this edition feels more like a costly Siberian escape.

It was so easy to get back to this thought: Why not New Orleans? Miami? An Phoenix? Or Los Angeles? Or Tampa? Or Las Vegas?

There’s no shortage of balmy places in January – and if you’re already into winter, why not do it in a place like New York and when you drink cocktails at the theater, in museums, in the mall or in the heat of the cold weekend? at the roof bars? (If you are going to get wet for a hotel room, at least get something in the deal.)

All of this is not for the faint of heart, but one way to explain why Playoffa College Football is in its current state: a stand-alone, four-team game, in which TV rates are reduced, in which system administrators – the same people who think to put a title game. here was a great idea – to avoid change because of their own self-interests.

Ten conference commissions and Notre Dame’s Athletic Manager Jack Swarbrick, who make up the College Football Playoff steering committee, have met seven times since June – including 12 hours this weekend in Indianapolis – to discuss a change in format before terminate the existing contract. after the 2025 season.

“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Groundhog Day’?” 12 High Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said after another round of negotiations ended Monday without a decision.

Of course, if there is a place that reveals bureaucratic weakness and a presidential vacuum, there is no better place to hold a championship than Lucas Oil Stadium – a short walk from the NCAA headquarters. Although the governing body does not oversee the college football game, it is also required to correct other issues in the sport: the transfer portal and the rules governing the use of names, images and miniatures, which allow players to take advantage of their reputation. .

Bill O’Brien, Alabama’s attack coordinator and former NFL president, described the transfer portal as “a free agency, but without rules.” Both of Monday’s playmakers, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Alabama’s Nick Saban, joined the choir calling for legislation to prevent universities from first using students’ offers to take advantage of their sports reputation as sports incentives.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has sued Congress, but even though his body was not dealing with more serious issues, lawmakers may well remember how Emmert and other university presidents spent years (and tens of millions in spending). legal and lobby) tested. to block state laws that allow athletes the same funding opportunities as other students. When those laws came into force in July, instead of trying to set up guards, the NCAA originally took over and left.

The hand-manager approach paved the way for a parade of players with professional embargoes to give up cash games or enter the transfer portal. And the complexity of the coaching staff has only allowed soldiers to sign in December instead of waiting in February, which has encouraged schools to make coaching changes earlier, even in the middle of the season.

All of this, along with the coronavirus cases, is a good omen for the state of Louisiana, which last week played only 36 free agents against the State of Kansas – which required the use of a receiver in the quarter – and four coaches who remained out of the regular season. showed itself.

Predictable grievances about the state of the game became more pronounced with the cold television ratings.

Alabama’s straightforward victory over Cincinnati drew fewer spectators, just over 16 million, more than any other semifinal other than Clemson’s victory over Oklahoma in the 2015 season. And Georgia’s win over Michigan drew a little more, 16.5 million, the lowest of the first semifinals since the game began in the 2014 season. The combined viewing of both games was down 14 percent from last year.

George Kliavkoff, the recently appointed Pac-12 Commissioner, said those numbers are further evidence that the game is a “broken system”.

Correcting it will require a larger system. But eight teams, or 12? Are there guaranteed locations for the five so-called power conferences: Southeast, Atlantic Coast, Pacific-12, Big Ten and Big 12? What about Notre Dame? Will there be a response for teams outside of Force 5? How can the Rose Bowl – which has attracted as many spectators in Alabama and Cincinnati – be able to calm down to leave their favorite New Year’s Eve venue? And how can a new NCAA constitution that has not yet been made play in the changes?

Once those questions are resolved – and with more games costing more than $ 500 million each year – they will have one choice to make: travel.

When the NFL reduced its regular season to 17 games, it needed to negotiate with the players to do so. In college football, the new system is likely to leave open the possibility that a champion will need to play 17 games, the most recent extension of the season which has increased from 12 games in the last 30 years, and raising questions about player well-being. to be. (Ivy League leaders have long struggled to extend their season by more than 10 games due to health and safety concerns.)

Ramogi Huma, an advocate for college athletes, points to the lack of uniform standards – like those approved by the NFL – as evidence of how little is considered to protect players. This comes despite the risks of brain damage posed by the suicide of Washington State actor Tyler Hilinski four years ago, who was found at autopsy to have suffered brain damage due to head trauma.

“How many conference commissions gather soldiers to make sure health and safety concerns are addressed?” Huma said. “Zero.”

So when the playoff commission drowned over the weekend, planned but few said, those who remained in the center of the corps, at least metaphorically, with the spectators who were here looking for the championship: went out on a limb.

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