CFP expansion best way to blunt SEC dominance

On Monday in Indianapolis, right in the heart of the Big Ten, two SEC schools played for the national championship.

Georgia won, defeating Alabama to give the SEC its third consecutive title. What should be even more concerning for the rest of the sport is this was the third different team in those three years (Alabama and LSU were the others). It’s also the 12th title by five different SEC schools (add in Auburn and Florida) since the 2006 season.

You can talk about Nick Saban’s juggernaut in Tuscaloosa all you want, but it’s the league as a whole that keeps churning out champions. And, oh, Texas A&M just signed a recruiting class that could rank as the greatest ever.

This is the SEC’s sport right now, with a rare Clemson or Ohio State popping up. And that’s before the league begins to enjoy the fruits of a $3 billion television deal with ESPN that starts in 2024 and should further enrich the rich.

So powerful is the SEC that last year the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas bailed on their longtime home in the Big 12 to join up, even though the path to successful seasons and championship contention will be exponentially harder. If you can’t beat them, join them.

This should trigger alarms all over the sport. It should create an all-hands on deck approach to make the game matter everywhere again. The SEC isn’t just the most powerful, it’s growing more powerful. The SEC isn’t just the biggest, it’s getting bigger.

To the victors go the future.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 10: An overhead view of the stadium during opening kickoff in the game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide during the 2022 CFP National Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The national championship game on Monday, played in Indianapolis, was another SEC affair, with this time Georgia taking home the ultimate prize. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

SEC’s recruiting dominance is laughable  

The only way to change that is to spread out the talent, to stop having tight ends from the Napa Valley head to Georgia or quarterbacks from L.A. go to Alabama or Texas A&M land star recruits from Pennsylvania and Washington and so on.

Talent is the key variable. Programs and entire leagues are only as good as the players. It’s why professional sports have drafts and salary caps. None of that works for college athletics, though, where students should be free to choose their school.

Right now, for a generation of top recruits, the SEC is seen as almost the only place to go to win a national championship. So that’s where they go. When, say, the Pac-12 hasn’t had a single entrant in the tragically flawed four-team playoff since 2016, how do you blame West Coast kids for leaving?

The four-team playoff was so small, that it choked off interest in most places while elevating it in others.

In the Class of 2022, 37 of the top 101 players per are headed to just three schools – Alabama, Georgia and A&M. (And that number may go up.) Georgia signed 10 of the top 48 recruits in the country, and yet A&M’s class is ranked higher.

This is beyond lopsided. This is unhealthy. And when it’s Aggies vs. Bulldogs for the national title in January of 2024, well, it’ll be no surprise.

Name, image and likeness should help chip away at SEC recruiting dominance. Yes, SEC teams will spend big on talent, but there is money everywhere. Compensation is an economic tool to overcome location, prestige and stability in every job market. It’s what lures workers to oil fields in North Dakota and fishing boats in the Bering Sea and garage start-ups in the Silicon Valley.

It won’t solve the problem, but even just this year, top-five national recruits signed with Jackson State, North Carolina and Missouri. Maybe it’s the start of a trend. If in a few years three schools sign “only” 25 of the top 100 players, well, that’s meaningful.

None of the above is a secret to those in college football. They are all staring down the barrel of a major gap emerging between the SEC and all but two or three other schools.

They also all agree that one of the best options to combat this – again, just impacting the margins of talent acquisition is an important improvement – is to expand the College Football Playoff.

Why CFP expansion gives others a fighting chance vs. SEC 

It won’t necessarily alter who wins the title immediately, or perhaps even in the long haul, but it will change the paradigm for schools and conferences that are currently boxed out and falling further behind.

It will generate more excitement in more places. More interest. More paths to competing for the championship that can help spur ticket sales and booster donations and, perhaps most important, convince more recruits that staying home, or even heading somewhere other than the top of the SEC, doesn’t preclude them from championship contention.

Playoff games, especially those played on campus, will be a boon to college football. Showcases. Points of excitement.

Games such as this year’s Michigan State vs. Pitt bowl game would have been huge local events and big national television draws in a playoff. It would have celebrated and showed off two great seasons by two often…

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