Dr. Jessica Johnson: Business of college football threatens to take fun off the field

The College Football Playoff committee’s recent decision to deny undefeated ACC champion Florida State a chance to play for a national title sent shockwaves of disbelief that escalated to anger among FSU alums and fans. During the inception of the CFP nine years ago, it was always believed that an undefeated Power 5 conference champ would never be left out of the two semi-final games. Well, in the current state of college football things have gotten a little more complicated to where it isn’t just good enough to win.

A team must pass what’s known as the “eye test” in sports jargon. FSU failed to do this in what was viewed as a lackluster 16-6 defeat of Louisville in the ACC championship game with a third-string QB. Back in the 80s and 90s, a win like this over the Cardinals would have been considered a gusty victory. Instead, a one-loss Alabama, after beating Georgia in their SEC championship matchup, was awarded the fourth spot that the Seminoles had held. As fans and sports analysts were dumbfounded over the CFP snubbing of Florida State, many came to the conclusion that the committee wanted to avoid another “TCU situation,” where the Horned Frogs endured a 65-7 blowout loss to Georgia in January’s title game. CFP committee chair Boo Corrigan later explained that the decision was based upon “unavailability of key players,” meaning that the committee did not believe Florida State could compete at a high level without their star quarterback Jordan Travis, whom they lost to a season-ending injury.

The fierce win-at-all-costs era that we are currently in with college football has caused many fans to claim that the game “is broken.” The multi-million dollar television contracts that fuel elite Power 5 conferences along with the name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals that players are receiving have basically destroyed the amateurism model of college sports. Currently, ESPN is paying a whopping $470 million annually to broadcast the college playoff games. This business model that continues to evolve puts more intense pressure on football players and coaches to make the playoff every year and win conference championships.

Failure to do so results in roster overhauls and coach firings. An example of the former is what Ohio State fans are presently going through as we lost our starting quarterback, Kyle McCord, to the transfer portal this week after we suffered a third straight defeat to Michigan. The loss pretty much sealed our fate in being left out of the playoff after we missed the Big Ten conference championship. I really felt bad for McCord because as a first-year starter there was less time for him to adjust and hardly any room for error. He wasn’t consistent with stellar play throughout the season, although he did lead us to a thrilling fourth-quarter victory over Notre Dame earlier this year. After that game, however, McCord did not look as if he was having fun. I also think the social media vitriol that he received from some uncouth fans – which every school fanbase has – got to him a bit. He was given the shameful moniker “Honda McCord” that trended on X during games where some Buckeye fans incessantly complained when he threw an incomplete pass or failed to scramble from the pocket. I was glad to see that some of McCord’s former teammates came to his defense on X after he announced his transfer.

Buckeye star running back Treveyon Henderson wrote, “… no one could ever question your toughness and your willingness to give it your all for this team … God has a great plan for you brotha.” McCord is definitely on a “detour plan” from what he envisioned his playing career to be at Ohio State, and I pray that he finds success at his next stop. Yet, I truly believe if McCord played for the Buckeyes in a previous era without NIL and the heavy commercialization of college football he more than likely would have had a second year as a starting QB.

In a similar manner like FSU, McCord did not always pass the eye test running the Buckeyes’ offense, but at least he did have a fair shot to complete all season. Florida State won’t get the post-season opportunity that they worked so hard for. I wouldn’t say college football is completely broken, but the business it has become threatens to take the fun off the field.

Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.