Why ESPN.com's Power 40 won't work

It’s a fun idea. And it sounds great. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing college football’s 40 top programs butt heads solely against each other every season?

That’s what Pat Forde of ESPN.com has proposed, and what, in a last-week-before-practice exercise he, Mark Schlabach and Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com have rolled out. Forde wrote that it’s time to trim the dead weight from major college football and proposed the hypothetical exercise of cutting the Football Bowl Subdivision to 40 teams — four 10-team superconferences. Schlabach came out today with the first two new conferences, and they’re downright druel-inducing.

It’s fun to think about a 10-team Bear Bryant Conference that includes Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Miami, South Carolina and Tennessee.

But here’s why it would and could never fly, and why those schools wouldn’t ever agree to it.

You could call this game, “Who wants to be an afterthought?”

Which of those 10 bluebloods is going to finish last? How’d you like to sit in the room with those 40 proud programs and remind them — “Every week, half of you are going to lose.” ESPN.com even adds the wrinkle that the last place finisher in each conference, plus one underachiever, will be booted out of the chosen 40 every season.

No way any of those fabulous 40 would sign up for that.

I’ll quote no less an authority than the Ted Knight “Caddyshack” character, Judge Elihu Smails, who told young Danny Noonan: “Well, the world needs ditchdiggers too.”

That’s why you have about 60 decent programs, and 60 who probably don’t belong in the FBS. It’s a financial necessity. What’s going to happen to Clemson and Tennessee from a program-building standpoint if they finish 7th and 8th in the Bear Bryant Conference every year?

I know. This is an exercise in fun.

But while acknowledging that there is a huge disparity between the top 40 and everybody else — one that is only growing wider — it should at least acknowledge that if you pare things to 40 teams, the bottom 20 will eventually start to suffer financially, too — not in comparison to the rest of college football, but certainly in comparison to the top 20, which would be the only competitors that matter.

The NCAA needs to address this growing disparity, and so far has shown no desire to do so, because it fears the most powerful BCS schools splitting off and forming their own organization altogether.

Still that’s what we have now in effect, anyway. The NCAA needs to assume control of college football and its postseason. It needs to institute a playoff and equally distribute revenues on the model that it uses for college basketball. The most powerful conferences would sue. They would threaten secession. It would be a mess.

But just wait. The economic realities of many — in fact, most — universities whose athletic departments have been running deficits for a decade or more will hit home soon enough. It is a situation that can’t be sustained forever.

Of course, it’s probably already too late for the NCAA to act. That 40-team dream scenario ESPN.com is throwing out there isn’t a formal setup, but it is pretty much a reality now. It’s just that the way things stand now, half of those super 40 don’t have to lose every week. And I don’t think they’d ever be willing to dump the ditchdiggers.


10 thoughts on “Why ESPN.com's Power 40 won't work

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