The Case for Bringing the Big Dance to College Football

This post is part of the Inaugural FOS College Program. Be sure to check out more about it here.

By Shannon Flaherty, @shannonscf (SMU

Clemson celebrates after winning the 2017 National Championship Image via

Clemson celebrates after winning the 2017 National Championship Image via

Busted brackets are a sign of a March Madness tournament.  Only about 1 in every 100,000 brackets stays perfect past the first two days of games. Yet there is something enticing about creating a tournament bracket that draws in even those who otherwise rarely pay attention to college basketball.  

Why should college basketball get all the fun? Couldn’t a similar single-elimination bracket work for college football?

Of course, we have the College Football Playoffs, but four teams simply do not have the same excitement as the 64 teams seeded in March Madness. Invitational bowls often provide great matchups that we otherwise wouldn’t see, but a bowl win often does not carry the same weight as a regular season game.  

Enter the tournament concept. The games would be played after the regular season and would showcase serious talent and unique matchups. Invitations and seeding would be based off national rankings, just like March Madness. The result would be top-notch competition between well-matched teams.

This past season, some of the nation’s most talented players like Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU tailback Leonard Fournette opted out of playing bowl games in order to not jeopardize their NFL futures due to injury.  The growing trend seems to be players do not consider bowl games to be competitive enough to offset the injury risk they pose.  With more and more players sitting out of bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft, an expanded College Football Playoff would increase the competitiveness of post-season play.

Additionally, March Madness generated over $1 billion in TV advertisement revenue alone. It is no secret this tournament is an enormous cash cow. Teams, sponsors, and venues are all poised to benefit financially. Ticket, concessions, and merchandise sales all spike during the tournament. College football could capitalize on these revenue streams and would surely see more revenue generated just from the sheer number of additional fans. More football facilities would hold even more fans and an increase in TV ratings would be inevitable. The opportunity for financial benefit here is tremendous.  

For the players, a highly competitive tournament is another opportunity to showcase their talents. NFL recruiters would flock to games like magnets. Teams being matched with competition outside of their conference always ensures a more dynamic, unpredictable game.  

However, considering all the benefits of a March Madness-esque tournament, the nature of football games does pose logistical constraints on having an expanded tournament. The scale would likely need to be smaller than 64 teams. With the average college football game lasting nearly four hours, fewer games can be televised in a given day. A happy-medium number of teams would need to be picked. The number should consider ensuring representation of schools not in “power conferences”, while also ensuring the games can all fit into a relatively short few week period. After all, the back-to-back play is part of the allure of March Madness.

Another serious consideration for an expanded tournament is the increased risk of player injury. Football is generally a more physical sport by nature and poses a greater risk for impact injury than basketball. Having a short turnaround between games could increase this risk. Player safety is a priority for all teams and thus is an important topic to take into account.

The final verdict: why hasn’t an extension of the College Football Playoffs been set up sooner? There is plenty of demand in the market to sell out games and the opportunity for revenue generation is aplenty. Replicating the success of March Madness in college football would be beneficial to players and teams in terms of experiencing more competition. However, to this point, the tournament downsides have proved a roadblock for the NCAA. For those college football fanatics out there, until the creation of such a tournament, you’ll have to settle for spring football to satisfy those off-season withdrawals.

Student Bio:

Shannon Flaherty is a junior at Southern Methodist University double majoring in Marketing and Applied Physiology & Sport Management. She is a student-athlete on the Pom Squad. Flaherty is interested in pursing a career in the sports marketing industry. You can connect with Shannon on LinkedIn here.

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