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Bobby Carpenter: Is An All-SEC National Title Game Good For College Football?

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The 2021 college football season was fantastic.

It had all the all the elements of intrigue to keep fans captivated from Saturday to Saturday — and every game in between. 

Fans returned to the stands after an abbreviated and disjointed COVID season which had no non-conference games, quarantines galore, and teams completely opting out of bowl games to give their players some much needed rest and reprieve. 

Playing games in half empty (or even empty) stadiums took its toll on the game. Players didn’t experience nearly the same emotions in an empty arena, and fans didn’t consume the lifeless games with near the same veracity.

The 2020 wasn’t any fun for college football.

Enter 2021, the year in which two CFP first-timers made their debut. There was no Ohio State or Oklahoma, Clemson, or LSU. Instead, they were replaced with a Michigan program that has been struggling to find its footing for much of the last decade and a Group of 5 school that finally crashed the party. Cincinnati had been on the cusp of greatness for a few years, but a victory over Notre Dame and some Power Five chaos punched their ticket.

Despite the newcomers, the Championship ended up with two traditional SEC powers, Alabama and Georgia. And while Georgia wasn’t truly an underdog, there were storylines galore to explore. 

Could Kirby Smart finally outduel his mentor, Nick Saban?

Could Georgia end its 41 year championship drought?

Could the walk-on Stetson Bennett best the Heisman winner, Bryce Young?

All the questions were answered affirmatively and in dramatic fashion. It was a 60-minute heavyweight bout that had this football fan glued to his seat.

However, it failed to captivate the nation the way a game like that should. While the game was viewed by 22.6 million, up from the 18.6 million who watch Alabama’s blowout win over Ohio State last season, it was still the second lowest title game in the last 16 years … and the lowest non-COVID game.

The 2015 Championship Game between Ohio State and Oregon drew a Playoff record 34.2 million viewers. So why wouldn’t this post-COVID season provide a bigger bump? The NFL is up 10% across the board and holds 91 of the top 100 most viewed telecasts during the expanded 17 game season. It’s clear that America still loves football.

So why not the CFP Championship? 

The Rose Bowl featuring Ohio State and Utah was the highest rated non-CFP game drawing an estimated 16.6 million viewers, which was nearly the same as the Cotton Bowl CFP Semifinal.

Alabama and Georgia provided a great product that drew both fan bases and the hard core college football fan, but few others on a national level. One major downside for some fans is the fact that both of those teams come from the SEC. In the SEC, football is as intertwined in the culture as iced tea and grits, and everyone in the SEC would be content to have an all SEC title game every year.

But is that best for college football?

It’s not the fault of Georgia and Alabama. They were the two best teams, and they provided a great product. It’s up to college football to de-regionalize its Playoff. More viewers nationwide translate to increased revenues for everyone, including the SEC. 

The NFL has a way to draw a massive audience, even in remote northern cities like Green Bay and Buffalo. So market size doesn’t matter. College football must find a way to reengage the Northeast and West Coast. Much of the Pac-12 currently plays too many games at terrible kick times in font of half-filled stadiums. It’s a long term problem that the sport must address if it wants to grow the pie. 

Lack of viewership won’t hurt the SEC or the Big Ten. They’re doing fine. But if college football wants to grow like the NFL, it needs national play. Maybe CFP expansion and new teams ultimately hoisting the trophy will help broaden national appeal. Ninety percent of college football is lagging behind, and they need to catch up.

But that’s not Bama or Georgia’s problem.

Written by Bobby Carpenter

Bobby Carpenter is the resident college football expert at OutKick. He played linebacker for the Ohio State Buckeyes and won a National Championship in 2002. He played in the NFL for Dallas, Miami, Detroit and New England. Carpenter is a radio host on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, Ohio, where he currently resides with his wife Cortney and their four children.

5 Comments

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  1. The Pac 12-and the West Coast in general-has been its own worst enemy when it comes to their positioning in the CFB landscape. I have no sympathy for their state governments poor decision making. Maybe Lincoln Riley’s arrival at USC will be the beginning of change…we’ll see.

    As for the rest of the major players in CFB (the Nebraska’s, Penn St’s and FSU’s, etc) GET BETTER! Hire better, recruit better, have better NIL deals…there is no “leveling the playing field” …schools will either get moving or get left in the dust. The choice is quite literally theirs at this point.

  2. I’ve made this point previously, maybe it’s not relevant. The playoffs and bowl games are biased towards the SEC, really all Southern schools. The bowls and CFP are played in warm weather on fast surfaces. Therefore teams like Alabama and Georgia, playing with track athletes are necessarily going to do well. The Big 10 especially, are built to play on grass, outdoors and in the cold. 320 pound plows up front with 250 pound backs smashing in behind them for 4 or 5 yards at a crack. Defenses are built to stop big, slow linemen, RB’s and even WR’s. It’s no wonder teams from the north can’t compete on what essentially are the SEC’s home fields come playoff time.
    It won’t happen but if you really want to get the best overall team, have Georgia and Alabama play in Ann Arbor or Madison in January. How do you suppose they’d do?

    • Didn’t really notice Michigan get many rushing yards in the Orange Bowl….. and it’s not like UGA was known for its high powered offense with it’s third string QB. They were an inferior team.

      OSU manages to compete in cold and warm weather. What a pathetic excuse.

  3. After a century and a half of disrespect to Southern Football and handing Natties to unworthy B1G and PAC teams in the OLD “Bowl System,” Y’ALL GOT WHAT YOU WANTED! (You seem to forget it was the SEC Dominance in the Rose Bowl that led to them shutting us out of the game for 50 years).

    If the playoffs taught us anything, it’s that, deep-down, no one really wants it settled “on the field.” See what it got you: The PAC is irrelevant and the B1G’s last 2 Playoff games a complete destruction at the hands of “Southern Football” with the B1G and the PAC losing all but 1 playoff game in the last 7 years. Under the old Bowls, MICH would have not played GA, but gone to the Rose Bowl, beat a crappy PAC team and been voted #1 – You blew it, Ann Arbor. BUT, you got what you wanted: Blown out by GA.

    Somehow, back in the day, “the voters” thought a 10-1 Michigan/OhioSt with a Rose Bowl win over a sketchy 8-2 USC/UCLA was better than a 10-1 Alabama/Georgia with a Sugar Bowl win over a top-10 SWC/BIG12.. well, YOU GOT WHAT YOU WANTED, mid-westerners and westerners! YOU GOT WHAT YOU WANTED: A championship “settled on the field.” (IF YOU CAN get on the field, boys.)

    The West and the Rust-belt locked us “Southerners” out for 100 years. You were arrogant enough to think you could prove how good you were… lol, how’s that working out for you? It was considered a joke even in 1925 when you brought a bunch of hillbillies form Tuscaloosa out to Pasadena for the first time.. and they rolled your Washington boys and would shut-out WashSt in ’26… you learned NOTHING 97 years ago and you apparently still won’t learn.

    THE SOUTH OWNS THIS SPORT. PROVE ME WRONG! From the Red River to the Carolinas: You DON’T want none! Now, either live with it, or go back to the fantasy “Bowl” world (BTW, I want the old Bowl system back, too).

    • Great point. People forget what the Big Ten and Pac10 did back in the day. Totally hosed the south. The UGA players from the 40’s, like Charley Trippi, talk about being shut out of going back to the Rose Bowl in ‘46/‘47. You could tell he was still upset about it.

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