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A Look Into The Potential 80-Team College Football'Super League'

NFL interview.
© Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Realignment may not be over yet!

A group has come forward to propose a plan to transition college football into more of a Premier League type of structure with promotion for the ten best lower tier teams and relegation for the ten worst, and unprotected, teams in the top tier of college football. Here are some of the details of that proposal.

The Basics

Before we can get into the nitty-gritty of this proposal let us go over some basics. This 80-team college football league would have one overseeing body, no more conferences and would provide a type of promotion/relegation system for what they dub the “smaller” schools of college football.

Who is proposing this new league?

The group proposing all the new ideas calls themselves “College Sports Tomorrow'' or CST as they will be referred to in the rest of this article. They are a group of 20 individuals made up of a variety of personnel from all around the sports world. The group consists of Roger Goodell’s second-in-command Brian Rolapp, Philadelphia 76ers owner David Blitzer, TurnkeyZRG’s (a search firm that places almost all the top conference commissioners including the Big Ten Conference’s Tony Petitti) lead organizer Len Perna, and several college presidents.

Why do they want this change?

“The current model for governing and managing college athletics is dead," said Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud.

West Virginia’s president Gordon Gee added, “We are in an existential crisis."

It is no secret that the new NIL laws, while finally giving many college athletes the pay they deserve, have not gone as smoothly as many would hope. It has been like the "Wild West" with many players jumping to a different school every year simply because they are being paid more. The CST said it intends to replace the NCAA and College Football Playoff format to solve NIL issues and put an end to many current and future lawsuits related to the new rule.

Who Would be in an 80-team College Football League?

CST has proposed an 80-team league would that would include all current Power Five teams, with Notre Dame and the new Atlantic Coast Conference addition Southern Methodist University as permanent members. The league would be broken down into seven divisions comprised of 10 teams each, and division No. 8 would be comprised of the 10 Group of 5 teams that earned their way to the higher league the year prior. These 10 teams are the only ones that would be at risk of being relegated to the second-tier league made up of the remaining 50-plus teams that are not included. 

How would the postseason work?

A point of contention in college football discussions has been, “What is the best playoff format?” With so many teams and only 12 games to base results on, it has made this otherwise straightforward question quite tricky to answer. CST’s solution is to get rid of a selection committee and have the eight division champions get an automatic spot in the playoff with an additional eight “wild card” spots being filled by the remaining best top-tier teams determined by both record and tiebreakers, similar to the NFL format.

Will any of this happen?

This proposal made by the CST has struggled to gain much of any traction. The ACC Board of Directors heard a presentation of this plan back in February, but dinners planned with the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 Conference have all been canceled. The biggest obstacle the CST faces is with the already established TV deals made with ESPN, Fox, NBC and CBS, which include the Big Ten's deal which runs through the 2029-2030 season, the Big 12’s which runs through the 2030-2031 season and the SEC’s which goes through the 2033-2034 season. So if this plan does gain any ground it will not even begin to take effect until the middle of the 2030s.

Other Key Details

Under the new proposal, the universities would own a percentage of the league, similar to how Major League Soccer is structured. However, it would not be an even split across all teams, with teams like Alabama getting a bigger slice of the pie. According to two executives briefed on the proposal, one reason the College Football Playoff Committee imposed a March 15 deadline on themselves for the six-year CFP extension was to stave off CST’s push of its plan.

There are many critics in the media and college sports concerned about having private equity involved in college football, claiming the CST is trying to “buy college football." However, Perna insisted this is not a money-making venture for the group, even responding to such claims by saying that they are only trying to create a system for football that, in turn, would result in the finances needed for non-revenue-generating to survive and thrive. The plan is for the format to create more TV deals in a similar way to how Rolapp secured TV deals for the NFL. It was also noted that any non-football sports would remain in the conferences they are currently a part of.

Rolapp being a member of CST has certainly caught a lot of attention from those they have pitched their plan to. He was the one who was able to secure a $110 billion TV deal for the NFL and has even been sought after for top college commissioner jobs.

What do we make of all this?

There are some criticisms about the proposed plan. First, you can not make 70 out of the 80 teams impervious to relegation. Take Wyoming for example. A good season going 8-4 in the regular season with an Arizona Bowl win over Toledo finishing as the 11th best Group of 5 team that would get relegated instead of Power Five underachievers, Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Colorado, Stanford, Houston, Cincinnati, Virginia and Wake Forest. Another big gripe is with the group that proposes this plan, the risk of bringing in any private equity group is going to drastically increase the focus on said group making money. Sadly, they are not just going to dump their hard-earned money with no expectation of at least getting it back.

Person in yellow shirt holding trophy above his head.
© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There are some things to like about this plan though. It could prove to be a first step toward college football getting a proper promotion/relegation system which is something that college football has needed for a long time. The only way you get a system like that to work is by putting everybody at risk of "relegation" though. Having a 16-team playoff with eight spots being an automatic bid for “conference” champions is a great way to have the postseason organized. It would be nice to not see the continuance of top athletes opting out of tournament games—but it will probably still happen.

It seems like we have quite a few years before we see a plan like this start to gain any sort of ground, but it could be a great step in the right direction, or as the “doom and gloomers” continue to say about any change to college football, it is the beginning of the downfall of our beloved sport. It feels better to have a more optimistic outlook and see it as a first step to a wonderful new system for football.


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