Alabama and Clemson Should Be Embarrassed

Assembling a 12-game college football schedule is a process that takes years. Generally speaking, teams will play 8 conference games (9 in the Pac-12) and round out the non-conference portion of the schedule with some combination of games against—for example—traditional rivals, in-state programs, friendly programs, schools with mutual open schedules, etc. In the era of the College Football Playoff and the BCS before it, schools have been incentivized to make sure that at least one of these games was against a program that would bolster one’s strength of schedule. Typically when two universities agree to play one another, there is a “home and home” set up, meaning that if we come to your place to play a game, you have to come to our place in some other season. The only way around this has been either to schedule a neutral site game or to buy your way out of making the return trip if you don’t deem it worthy of your schedule. Let’s take a look at these options:

The neutral site game: This makes a lot of sense because teams can better their strength of schedule without taking on road games that could damage their chances of piling up wins. It also creates better matchups which is good for fans and for TV money. I am a big fan of the neutral site games which have become more and more common in recent years. Back on Labor Day weekend there was a lot of talk about 2017 maybe being the best opening weekend in college football history. Neutral site games played a huge role in that.

The “home-only buyout” game: This actually does make sense even though it sounds borderline abusive and it brings us to the subject of today’s column. First, a quick explanation, in case it’s unclear what we’re talking about here: Take Alabama this week. The Crimson Tide needed a game to round out its schedule and was willing to pay Mercer $600,000 to come to Tuscaloosa without requiring a return game at Mercer’s tiny campus. This is a very common arrangement and, in some ways, it’s good for both programs. College football elites have been scheduling these types of “warm up” games for years. They get to pad their schedule and, for a cost that essentially means nothing to them, they avoid playing more than a few road games per season. The smaller program benefits financially and even gets some additional exposure that undoubtedly helps during recruiting. We’re never getting rid of these types of games whether we like it or not.

So, back to Alabama who, as I said, beat the Mercer Bears 56-0 on Saturday. Mercer is an FCS program in Macon, GA, that dropped its football program in 1942 and only started playing again in 2013. By scheduling Alabama and Auburn this season, they made more than a $1 million for the fledgling football program.  I don’t have a problem with this game being on the schedule, but I think it’s absurd that these types of “preseason” games are happening in November. Clemson played in-state little brother, The Citadel (who is tied with Mercer for 5th place in the Southern Division), and won 61-3. That’s the #1 and #2 teams in the polls playing absolute garbage games on the third Saturday in November. Embarrassing!

Schools of this caliber should be playing meaningful games that decide conference championships at this point in the season, not beating the doors off opponents who don’t even compete in the same classification. Imagine if, in Week 16 of the NFL season, the Patriots played Boston College instead of a fellow-NFL competitor. It’s so ludicrous it just wouldn’t happen. I understand that Alabama played Florida State back on Labor Day weekend, a time where it normally would have been playing a Mercer-type opponent, but I refuse to believe they couldn’t have found a different weekend to make up for it.

We’re calling out ‘Bama and Clemson today, but they’re not the only offenders. I’m calling on the self-titled “Power 5” conferences to put a stop to this nonsense.