College football isn’t even pretending the sport matters anymore

College football has always been a farce, but it has never been more clear than in 2020.

A sport where unpaid players play for millionaire coaches for universities making hundreds of millions off of their talent. A sport where a team like Central Florida can win 25 straight games and never get a chance to play for a championship. A sport with five major conferences and only four playoff spots.

We have always known this, though. The sport was always about making marketing executives and university presidents money, and dressing up the money making machine with the allure of tradition and prestige. We still tune in for 12+ hours of football every Saturday to watch one of the most exciting sports in the land, pretending we do not know about the inherent evil and greed that allows this sport to take place at all.

Still though, in 2020 college football has managed to outdo itself in exposing how much of a farce it is. The sport was always just a front to make money, but now the money making machines has gotten to the point where the sport itself does not even matter anymore.

Lets start from the beginning. Much of college football pushed on this offseason without proper protections in place for the unpaid players as COVID-19 ravaged the nation.

The Clemson Tigers, the defending runner-ups and offseason favorites to win the national title, suffered an early COVID outbreak that has left at least one player still dealing with side-effects. The Tigers then ran into controversy mid-season, when they allowed a symptomatic player to travel with them to Tallahassee to play against the Florida State Seminoles. Their opponents declined to play them to protect their own players, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney — and a few notable media members — compared the Seminoles safety measures to cowardice.

The Houston Cougars had four early season opponents cancel their games due to COVID, before later cancelling a game for their own COVID outbreak. The Cougars have had six games postponed or cancelled due to COVID as of time of writing.

Another national title favorite, the Ohio State Buckeyes, did not even play enough games to qualify for the Big 10 championship. The Buckeyes had three games cancelled this season due to COVID, including their annual rivalry game against the Michigan Wolverines.

The Buckeye’s bring us to our first farce. Despite not playing enough games — the Big 10 required a team to play six games to qualify for the conference championship and they only played five — they will still play the Northwestern Wildcats for the title this weekend. Ohio State is also slated to play in the College Football Playoff, being ranked №4 this week and unlikely to drop barring disaster this weekend. All for a five win team whose only tough game was a narrow win over the Indiana Hoosiers.

And speaking of the rankings, there is no greater proof that the sport effectively does not matter anymore than the current state of them.

The College Football Playoff released their Week 16 rankings this week, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind why teams are ranked where they are — other than profit motive.

In front of Ohio State is №1 Alabama, №2 Notre Dame and №3 Clemson. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish have earned their spots. Winning big games over tough teams, and each actually playing a full schedule thus far and posting a 10–0 record.

Then you have the Tigers, appearing in controversy once again. Clemson is 9–1, with a lone loss against Notre Dame. Behind Ohio State is №5 Texas A&M, also a one loss team at 7–1.

The Aggies, just like Clemson, also suffered a loss to one of college football’s elite, falling to Alabama early in the season. The Aggies, unlike Clemson, actually have a quality win under their belt, beating the Florida Gators in an early October shootout.

Going deeper in the rankings shows the Cincinnati Bearcats at №9. Cincinnati (8–0), has a better record than Clemson, and just as many quality wins at zero. The best win between the two teams is the Bearcats 49–10 destruction of Southern Methodist. Cincinnati has virtually no path to the playoff, though, while the Tigers could still get in even if they lose to Notre Dame once again in the ACC Championship.

The №12 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers’ (11–0) victory over Bringham Young is a stronger win than anything Clemson, Ohio State, the №8 Georgia Bulldogs, Cincinnati, the №10 Oklahoma Sooners or the №11 Hoosiers have on their resume. They also find themselves with no path to the playoffs despite having the best record in the FBS.

Iowa State, (8–2), may be the most mis-ranked team at №6. While they do have a quality win over the Sooners, they have also lost to №19 Louisiana Lafayette. This puts the committee in an ultimate dilemma — well it would if they actually cared to rank teams properly. You can not consider a loss to a Group of 5 team a quality loss while also barring Group of 5 teams from the playoffs.

If the Chanticleers and Bearcats Group of 5 status means they are inherently not good enough to play on College Football’s grandest stage, then a team who loses to a Group of 5 team has no argument to be near the top either.

Still, though, Iowa State finds themselves ranked sixth overall with two losses. If they beat the Sooners — another over-ranked team — in the Big 12 title game, and Ohio State and Clemson fall, then they may sneak into the playoff.

The reason for this mess is obvious, though. Power 5 teams makes more money than Group of 5 teams, and some Power 5 teams make more money than others. Two loss Iowa State has a path with Coastal Carolina does not because there is more money to be made if Iowa State gets in. Ohio State and Clemson have priority over A&M because they are bigger names that will garner more advertising dollars.

Nicole Auerbach, the senior college football writer at The Athletic, point blank asked Iowa Hawkeyes athletic director and current committee member Gary Barta “what’s the point of even playing the games” after this weeks rankings were released. He did not give a valid answer.

This weeks rankings an incomprehensible, and not at all based on the results of actual football games — a factor that should be important when ranking football teams.

College football has been like this for a longtime. Central Florida is still waiting for their chance. An entire half of the FBS is pretty much barred from actually competing in the Playoff, not because they are not good enough to do so, but because they do not bring in as much advertising revenue.

The CFP has jumped the shark in 2020, though, and now college football’s most prestigious games have become entirely removed from the sport itself. It is now no more than decorations around a money-making machine where the labor that work the machine are not allowed to be compensated.

Freelance writer. Bylines in American Magazine, SB Nation and Mondoweiss. Culture and Sports.

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