A European Super League-style setup looks like the future for college football. What would it look like, and how could CFB avoid some serious pitfalls?
The soccer world was thrown into disarray on Sunday when a European Super League involving 12 of the biggest clubs in the sport came to light.
Let’s be honest: College football is barreling toward the same scenario.
For years, talk of restructuring the current conference model has been bandied about. Realignment, super conferences and expanded playoffs are in constant discussion.
How would it all work? You can take the ESL model and apply it straight to college football fairly easily.
There are specific details needed to understand the European Super League, but the gist of it is this: Take the 15 most powerful teams in the sport and install them as “founding members” who will participate in each season of the Super League. Toss in an additional five wildcard teams invited on a yearly basis and you get a 20-team league.
Which teams would participate in the College Football Super League?
The 15 founding members from college football are rather easy to identify.
From the SEC, you’d grab Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU.
From the ACC, the obvious picks are Clemson, Florida State and Miami.
The Big Ten would provide Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
Oklahoma and Texas are no-brainers from the Big 12, while Oregon and USC would come from the Pac-12.
Notre Dame rounds out the 15.
Obviously, there’d be arguments over some of those teams. Why Penn State and not Wisconsin or Nebraska? Why Florida State and not Auburn or Texas A&M? What about Washington?
The 15 cover regional bases while also siding with the most powerful brands.
Remember, the entire point of a Super League is to cash in on the biggest matchups possible.
In the end, the left-out teams would get the chance to compete as one of the five yearly invites.
How would the season work?
The European Super League is planning to split their 20 teams into two groups of 10 who will play each other in a group stage-type setup. The CFB Super League could work the same way, with each team playing nine regular-season games.
The ESL then plans to hold a knockout tournament featuring the top eight performers of the season. An eight-team playoff, you say? Why not.
The CFB Super League season would finish up with the top eight duking it out for the championship.
What can CFB learn from the European Super League?
Here’s the thing: A Super League is awesome in theory. There would be no more slogging through games between Alabama and South Central Louisiana State University. No one could hide from the best teams in college football. Debates over resumes and schedule strength would be tossed aside. There would be marquee matchups every week.
That’s great for the teams involved, but it leaves literally everyone out in the cold. Sorry, UCLA. Sucks to be you, Oklahoma State. Tough luck, Iowa.
As for programs whose entire operating budget depends on out-of-conference matchups with major powers? They’d be hit the hardest.
The biggest problem soccer fans have with the ESL is the idea of the rich getting richer while other levels of the sport suffer. With guaranteed membership for 15 powerhouses, everyone else would be left with scraps.
That’s something college football would do well to avoid. Instead of ensuring decades of membership for the founding 15, the answer might be to re-seed the league every four years or so. It would ensure programs are punished for bad performance across several years while teams outside the Super League could hope to advance.
More than anything, college football must take notice of just how much pushback this idea has gotten from fans, pundits and sporting organizations in Europe. The moment CFB moves in this direction, that same ire will be directed at the major programs looking to consolidate their power if they do it in the same unilateral fashion. They’d better be ready with a substantial PR machine to fight that battle.
There need to be more than just 15 winners in the proposal. The rest of the college football structure has to also be taken into account.
Realistically, some form of this is the future. The key will be to have stakeholders at every level of the sport involved in creating whatever comes next.