What College Football Can Learn from Soccer

By Michael Citro on June 24, 2013 at 11:30a
Pre-season trophy game in college football? Sign me up.

Although college football is already the greatest thing on earth, there is, nevertheless, a constant search for ways to improve it. This never-ending quest for innovation has led to such advancements as overtime, use of instant replay, and the magic yellow line that shows you how far your team needs to move to make a first down.

Many people who are much smarter than I am are perpetually working on tweaking college football to make it better than ever. Still, I’ll take my shot at it and for inspiration I’m taking a few pages from the world’s most popular sport.

I can think of at least three things college football can borrow from soccer to improve things for everyone — players, fans, and schools.

1. Off-season friendlies

Soccer clubs around the world use “friendly” matches in the off-season to work on things and maintain game fitness levels. These games are sometimes held on home grounds or at neutral sites and can raise significant attendance revenue and promote the game.

In recent years, many European clubs have crossed the Atlantic and played in the U.S. — against other clubs from Europe or against MLS and USL Pro teams. These friendlies have done wonders for advancing the popularity of soccer in this country and provide great entertainment without either team having any real consequence if they lose.

How great would it be to schedule an off-season game against Alabama or LSU? Perhaps at one school or the other, or maybe somewhere else — perhaps even in a different country. College football has training in the spring and again in the summer. Why not set up three or four opponents for the Buckeyes to play in the off-season to work on game fitness, basic concepts, and team chemistry?

It would greatly reduce the gaping chasm between college football games between the collegiate senior all-star exhibitions and the start of the following season. 

Speaking of friendlies…

Theatre (sic) of DreamsOhio State against Alabama at Old Trafford...you in?

2. A trophy game to start the season

The English Football Association holds an annual Community Shield match prior to the Barclays Premier League season each year. The defending league champion plays against the defending FA Cup champs in London’s Wembley Stadium. If the Premier League title holders also won the FA Cup, the second-place finisher is the opponent. The match is essentially a friendly with a trophy.

The Community Shield match doesn’t really count for anything other than bragging rights, but the winning team receives a big, shiny, metal plate as a reward. The match generates a lot of buzz every year because it signifies the start of the season and it raises a lot of revenue for charitable efforts and community initiatives around the country.

It would be relatively simple to set up a similar game in college football. It would give the national runner-up a shot at redemption, get everyone psyched for football season, and allow one team to walk away with a trophy. And, best of all, the game could be used to generate charitable monies. Everybody wins.

3. Relegation and Promotion

This subject has been covered in great detail before, but it’s certainly an intriguing idea. It wouldn’t be too difficult to pair up every major conference with a regional counterpart (i.e. the B1G and the MAC). The teams at the bottom of the conference standings in the “premier” conference would be relegated to play in the other conference the following season. Similarly, the top teams in the smaller conference would be promoted for the next year.

I absolutely love this idea, although it would have a lot to overcome in terms of scheduling and television revenues, but the BPL could easily be used as a model. I wouldn’t go as many as three teams in the B1G, but perhaps the bottom team in each division or just the two worst records could be dropped to the MAC the next year.

Under this model, Illinois would be playing in the MAC in 2013, along with either Minnesota, Iowa or Indiana, depending on how you structure the tie breaker. Kent State and Northern Illinois would join the B1G for 2013.

It’s not a perfect system, as it could conceivably mess with the East/West division lineup, but I think it’s workable. Illinois and Minnesota (or Iowa or Indiana) would be out of the B1G, which would suck for their fans, but they’d also have the opportunity to win a conference championship and go to a bowl game the following year, if they could navigate the MAC.

So there you have it, America — three things college football can borrow from soccer to become even bigger and better than ever.


Comments Show All Comments

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I am also intrigued by the idea of applying relegation to college football. One problem is that effectively there is really three, not two (FBS and FCS), tiers in Div. 1.
For example, schools like Ohio State, Texas, and Alabama should be able to provide more reasonable aid packages to student-athletes participating in revenue-positive sports (setting aside the Title IX obstacle), yet schools like Wake Forest and Iowa State will cry poverty and fight any such changes. 
Also, by dividing FBS into two tiers, solid "mid major" programs like G Tech, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Fresno, etc. could play for championships instead of the PapaJohns Bowl trophy.  

Denny's picture

Then go three-tier with relegation and we're all set. I love the idea of relegation, which is too staggeringly obvious to ever be actually implemented.


Run_Fido_Run's picture

Oops . . . bad phrasing by me. I meant that a problem of the current system is that they try to fit what's effectively three (fluid) tiers of programs into a two-tier system and that relegation using a three-tier system might help remedy some of the problems. 

oregonianbuckeye's picture

After reading the title, I thought, "This is blasphemy! Soccer is awful and football is already better." However, after reading the actual article, I couldn't agree more that college football could improve with these things. I especially like the ideas of the off-season friendly and the relegation and promotion. Imagine a spring game that is actually against another team. Yes please.

JollyFatMan's picture

No. Just no. 

How firm thy friendship..

Run_Fido_Run's picture

What college football should not learn from soccer:

And this:

DJ Byrnes's picture

They have these covered though:



Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Touche, except that the "hilarious soccer dives" was a "best of" (which might have picked from 145,687 other examples) and the hooligans video easily could have been similar. Besides, college football fans mainly confine their violence to sofas and automobiles, except in Happy Valley.
Fww, I'm a soccer fan (I just despise the diving).

rdubs's picture

Most of those dives were so horrendous that they are more funny than irritating. 

trasch_man's picture

They could definitely improve college football with some more fake injuries too. I'm looking at you, Cal! Get with it Bielema, if you want to get rid of the spread- watch the masters.

Maestro's picture

You may be called un-American for that title.  Just a word of warning.  I am sure you can handle it.

vacuuming sucks

DJ Byrnes's picture

While the mere mention of "soccer" and "Europe" will cause a lot of college football fans to have an aneurysm, I have always said college football has a lot to learn from European soccer.

Loan systems and youth academies to name two things off the top of my head not covered in this piece. Relegation, though, would be awesome.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

KE's picture

Friendlies wouldn't work because the risk of serious injury is too high. I don't think an off-season game between OSU and UFlorida played at half-speed would be much to watch.

Goalscorer9's picture

i bet 95% of the people on this site would watch it though!

Michael Citro's picture

Players get hurt in practice all the time.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Everyone gets injured all the time ... gets killed by people, gets murdered, stolen from . . .

Oyster's picture

Practice is also controlled to minimize the risk or eliminate it altogether (black jerseys).  It's hard to minimize that risk in a game environment.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

rdubs's picture

People wouldn't even play their starters much if at all in order to give some of the other guys some chance at real time reps that don't matter.  Kind of like pre-season in NFL.

Hovenaut's picture

We need a woman's perspective.....

NC_Buckeye's picture

Are those college teams? I see the Mountain West Sports Network logo so I'm assuming those are two Mountain West teams.
I'd be really surprised if #15 ever played in another college game. Seriously that's pretty bad.

Hovenaut's picture

Yeah....believe Utah and BYU, last season? It got some attention, didn't hear about what happened to the hair-puller, but I'm sure she was disciplined by Utah at the least.

pjtobin's picture

Holy hair puller! That is funny, but nasty! Mean girl!

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Hovenaut's picture

I like it....the girl in scarl..red is totally taking out the girl in bloo.

JC-28's picture

Thats New Mexico and BYU from like 3 or 4 years ago. You should watch the whole clip:
The hair pull may be the worst but she does way more than that.

Hovenaut's picture

Thanks for putting the clip up....can't believe it's been a few years.

WC Buckeye's picture

Ah yes, the fairer sex. I keep wondering when this is going to happen in CFB - there are so many players with long hair, it's bound to happen.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Oyster's picture

Friendly games sound great, until your star player has a serious injury that keeps him out of the games that count.  

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

chirobuck's picture

your exactly right and thats why I think there should be a JV for each team and those would be your summer games, it would give the coaching staff a chance to further develop the young guys and the injury thing is taken out of the equation at least for your star players,  but most importantly........it would give me football to watch in the summer!!!!!!!  that has to be priority number 1 


^ best post ever ^

yrro's picture

Play just second string versus second string. I'd watch Kenny G go against Alabama's backup QB any day.

Unky Buck's picture

I love the relegation idea as well. I actually wish more leagues did this. The only stipulation I would put on it is a time period. Instead of every year, how about every 2 years and using the combined record over that time. It's almost more for a MAC or lower tier school jumping up than someone jumping down. How often do you see a team from a conference like that have a fluke season and perform well then tail off again the next. If you do a combination of 2 years, you it gives a better example of what teams perform well regularly and what teams don't. At that point, a team like Indiana would have a chance to get back into the B1G after only a 2 year hiatus.
Also, alignment doesn't need to be too bad. With a pairing, couldn't we enforce a realignment of divisions that suits the B1G model a little better? Granted, the MAC isn't spreadout like the B1G, but they are centrally located and any sort of travel would be easier than most.
One question I would have, though, is with the BTN and its payouts. Do these teams that come up still get a share of the same money the other schools get? Does the MAC, being paired with the B1G, get a small share of the money if they decide to air those games on the network as well?

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

Deshaun's picture

So Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and the AP Pre-season #1 Hoosiers would have played in the MAC last year because Indiana's football team finished last in the Big Ten in 2010 and 2011?

In a football-only vacuum, I love the concept of promotion/relegation. However, while many people focus on football, we have to remember there are thousands of non-football student-athletes who take their sports very seriously.

These exercises are fun every summer when news is slow, along with player loans (sending Evan Lisle to Illinois to gain OL starting experience before stepping in next season) and trades (backup RB Rod Smith to Michigan State for run-stuffing DT Tyler Hoover?). It would be great, though, to see this system applied to the NBA and see how many teams continue sitting stars the final few games of the season in hopes of winning the draft lottery with the threat of relegation hanging overhead.

Unky Buck's picture

Oh, I do think that having this done in the NCAA would likely be a logistical nightmare. It's fun to think of scenarios, but it would be insanely difficult to plan for and around on a college level. This would be something that would be absolutely feasible on a pro sport level, though, and something I would be totally for...although the Bills and Browns would be relegated to hell and back.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

Michael Citro's picture

So Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and the AP Pre-season #1 Hoosiers would have played in the MAC last year because Indiana's football team finished last in the Big Ten in 2010 and 2011?

Well, the title of this article does alert the reader to the intent that it would be for football, although separate scenarios for other sports would also be possible.

I think we're all aware how seriously athletes take their sports, and as a fan of hockey, soccer, volleyball, etc., I take them seriously too.

You've intrigued me with the player loan idea. Would have been a great way to get Curtis Grant some additional snaps last year. I can just imagine what coaches would think of that idea. lol

As for pro sports in the U.S., I'm all for relegation/promotion across every sport.

SaltyD0gg's picture

Two words: No Commercials.

Pain of Discipline

Pain of Regret

Take Your Pick

unknownmusketeer's picture

One word: Hahahahaha (Is that really one word?)

Michael Citro's picture

RE: Friendlies...

In a typical friendly, there is liberal substitution (as opposed to 3 subs per team in a league or tournament game). I'm thinking the college football friendly would be the equivalent of an early NFL preseason game: 1 or 2 series' for the starters and then the backups come in. A coach might not even play his starting QB at all if he doesn't want to.

Also, why not a black jersey for the QB like in the Spring Game?

Run_Fido_Run's picture

One issue, though: no one cares which team wins an NFL pre-season game, but fans/boosters would kind of care which team won a friendly between Ohio State and Bama. Heck, we already care which school has the record for highest attendance at a spring football game . . .

William's picture

The issue here is that relegation has, and always will, make far too much sense for it to be implemented in any of the American sports. 

Jason Priestas's picture

More like we're far too much of a litigious society to ever roll with that. The first time a team is relegated due to a controversial play, hello lawsuit.

William's picture

But relegation is implemented after an entire season's worth of play. The argument that one controversial call or play would be the reason for one's relegation is a bit naive, as there were multiple other games in which one could have improved their standings. I do however agree that we are quite the litigious society, we love us some lawsuits. 

pjtobin's picture

I would be all in for some summer games. If there were any minor injuries they would have time to heal. And us fans could get our fix. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

OHraised's picture

Summer friendlies are a great idea; even better would be summer friendlies played in other countries.  The NFL and EPL have both done limited experiments with this (I think the Giants played in London last year, and the Cowboys have played in Mexico City).  Think UT v Texas Tech in Mexico City, or Stanford v Berkeley in Hong Kong.  Those schools have a big presence in cities like that, with plenty of football-starved American expats to boot.  I married a French woman, and it is impossible to get anyone from another country to care about college sports even though lots of foreign students study at US colleges.  Those potential fans are money that the college football is leaving on the table (it would also make fandom easier for me.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an Ohio State bar in Marseille?).

NW Buckeye's picture

1.  Pre/off season scrimmages have been championed by numerous coaches over the years.  However, the general consensus among most coaches is "meh".  It sounds great for the fans, but most coaches have many concerns about such a system.  There are so many more factors that go into planning such an undertaking than just "what some fans may want".  The mere discussion of this brings up issues like player safety, monetary concerns, scholastic concerns, etc, etc.  You bring up the idea of it being good for the fans, but how many of these types of games would be well attended?  Sure OSU could probably sell out a stadium against most opponents, but just who is going to flock to a game featuring the likes Indiana vs U Conn?  There would be a few teams across the country who would obviously benefit from such matchups, but the vast majority of them would lose money big time.  Heck, most of the second tier bowl games (anything short of BCS bowls) struggle to fill their stadiums.  And, in recent years, even Bama and TTUN could not sell their allotment to the BCS games.  Throwing in another game like you are suggesting would most likely be seen as another attempt to drag the fans over the coals and extract a few more bucks. 
2.  College football has already gone through the Season Kickoff idea with very limited success.  The idea was abandoned in the 90's because of poor attendance and viewership.  Many reasons for that.  Also, the coaches really don't like it in the system they operate because a matchup can be perceived as too big of a risk for rankings in the current season. They are now trying to create marquee match ups like last year's Bama/TTUN matchup.  Not an additional game to the season, but a matchup with some real interest.  Even with that, TTUN struggled because it stretched their fan base too much, as did Bama.  As was mentioned earlier, both Bama and TTUN struggled to sell their allotment of bowl tickets and fell short, because the fans just don't want all that extra travel, and Bama was in the NC!!  
3.  Relegation has gotten a lot of press lately for some reason.  Maybe I can understand it a bit, but to throw a system like that into the leagues of college football would create a real quagmire.  Like it or not, membership in college conferences is so much more that just athletic participation/endeavors.  The universities use proceeds from their conference commitments to fund their entire athletic departments.  The best revenue sharing out there is by the B1G, and all member schools depend on their piece of the large pie in order to exist.  Imagine the turmoil created by relegating an Iowa or Auburn to a lower tier (Auburn sucked this year, and in such a system would be bumped to a lower league).   Also, the conference alignment is about academic sharing as well.  When stop and look at the the big picture of inner conference cooperation in the world of academia you have to understand that membership is much more that just "how your football team did last season". 
I don't mean to be a negative nellie here, but sometimes it is great to celebrate the differences between sports rather than wish they were more alike.  If there is one thing I dislike about soccer it is that the season seems to be perpetual.  It is very nice to anticipate football season coming.  It begins in Sept, and ends in Jan.  And we have the entire off season to debate ideas such as this along the way........ :)

Michael Citro's picture

I don't mean to be a negative nellie here

That's too bad, because if that was your intent, you'd have pulled it off spectacularly!

NW Buckeye's picture

Ha, that's what I thought after proof reading it.  I guess what I am really saying is that there are many reasons to question if the grass is really greener on the other side.  Most often you find that it is the same grass, just grown in different soil. 

hodge's picture

The only problem with relegation across conferences is that it kills the academic standards and politicking that goes into inviting teams into conferences like the B1G--especially regarding Delany's power play for ratings by going into the DC and New York metros.  For example, would the BTN still be beamed into New York if Rutgers gets relegated?  
The solution is to integrate the MAC and B1G into a cohesive athletic organization, and disassociate itself from the academic standards that most "conferences" place on their admittance.  The other issue is the lesser "haves", like Indiana; they stand to lose a lot more than to gain, as being demoted to the MAC hurts their boosters, recruiting, and attendance--as there's no marquee games to draw fans.  I think relegation would be really cool to see implemented, but I don't think there's any way lesser schools in good conferences would be willing to give up what the current system's already giving them.

Eye27's picture

The real problem with relegation has to do with the difference between a professional league and college football.  A professional sports team has many ways that they can attempt to change their team in order to avoid relegation or to get back to the upper division.  Trades and free agent signings are just two of them.  A team in NCAA football is very limited in how they obtain players for their roster (unless you want to break the rules).  Recruiting gets even more difficult when you are dropped to a lower division/conference and have to try to sell your position to recruits.  This is similar to what PSU is going through right now in attempting to bring in players who can't compete for a championship.  Relegation benefits the traditional power schools more than it does the marginal team that has a good season every once in awhile. 

NW Buckeye's picture

Exactly!  And, you think we have schools bending the rules now, just imagine what would happen with relegation.  Would make Cam Newton's deal look like small apples.... 

RBuck's picture

The real question should be  'What soccer can learn from college football'?

Long live the southend.

Michael Citro's picture

That is not a question.

RBuck's picture

It is now. Thanks.

Long live the southend.

Denny's picture

First up: jingoism!


cplunk's picture

As long as the championship game or playoffs have participants selected by either polls or a committee of humans (rather than objective criteria like winning your conference), nobody in their right mind would accept a friendly; the cost of losing could be public opinion when it comes time to decide who plays in the championship game/playoffs.
Imagine playing Alabama in a "friendly" and losing when the playoff committee is in effect. The game doesn't matter much at the time. Both teams play lots of backups and neither is focused on winning.
At the end of the season, an undefeated PAC-12 team (we'll say Oregon) and an undefeated B12 team (we'll say Oklahoma) exist, along with an undefeated Ohio State and a one-loss Alabama, whose one loss was to the SEC champ in the championship game (we'll say Georgia).
You can bet that the SEC champ is in. After that, three of the four remaining- Alabama (one loss), undefeated Oregon, undefeated Oklahoma, and undefeated Ohio State get in. In that scenario, with public opinion of the B10 and Ohio State's schedule being arguably as low as that perception has ever been, do you want to have lost a friendly to Alabama? It is entirely possible that friendly could cost OSU a playoff spot.
Friendlies work in soccer because nobody takes them seriously and because qualification for tournaments is based on objective, clearly stated criteria. 


School administrators do not want their players playing an 16-20 game schedule like the pros. That's what would happen if you add these "Friendlies" if you add 1 or 2 extra games to a 12-game season and a possible 2-game playoff or 1-game bowl game.
Football's not meant to be played at half speed so I am not convinced "Friendlies" would work in the dynamic as an exhibition, either. The entire game (or at least 2 quarters) would need to be played at full throttle or not at all. Otherwise we get the Pro Bowl. Not only do the pro players only go about 60% in that game but too many star players sit out for injury or over-blowing an injury so they don't have to play. People want to watch the stars play. I think you'll see a lot of stars held out of games like that which would defeat the purpose anyway. Hell, Roby, RDS, Mewhort, El Guapo and Rod Smith were held out of the spring game.
I do like the idea of separating the divisions not by school size but by caliber. That way if a Boise State remains competitive and continues to beat top tier teams they won't get shut out of the championship. Imagine the fallout (and fun) when a Texas or USC gets "Demoted" to a lower rung on the ladder?

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

dumpus's picture

another issue with "friendlies" is the fact that, for better or for worse, its going to be used by the media to further skew the pre-season rankings; i don't necessarily think that any program is going to be willing to expose themselves to the risk of being dropped out of the BCS picture before a real snap is even made because a coach wants to experiment with the playbook or depth chart in a scrimmage game.  it works fine in sports where winners and losers are determined by wins and losses, but not in sports where winners and losers are determined by judges (the media polls) - its like a judge instructing a jury to "disregard what they just heard/saw" - yeah right, the bias has already been planted.

sarasotabcg's picture

college football should not emulate one european soccer league; it should emulate UEFA (all european leagues).

in each conference you throw out the east/west divisions. Schedules are preset. 1st place team always plays the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 9th place teams (or whatever), and so on.

No conference champ games. Champ determined by record, then points against (or some other criteria).

1st and 2nd place from each conference plays in a single elimination tourney at the end of the season.

There are enough major and mid-major conferences that they could be paired. This would allow for relegation.

The governing body (NCAA) runs the post season and regular season, which IS SUPPOSED to keep revenues and rule application level across conferences.

BucksfanXC's picture

I think the power conferences should form a division, then they all get lesser conferences under them (as you suggest B1G to MAC, SEC to SunBelt could be one, etc) and we do relegation. Then we also do a Champions League which the top two teams from each power conference qualify for, complete with round robin, to determine the College Football National Champs. Even better than a playoff!

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

Another Jason's picture

I would much rather see some sort of in-season relegation/promotion, so when a mid-major or historically bad program gets a Ben Roethlisberger or a RG3 in their junior years, they can actually leverage that for the season that they have it.
What good does it do those programs to be "promoted" for the next season when all their best players are going to be gone? Ultimately, there's just too much roster turnover for this make any real sense in college sports.
But pros? Yeah, every league should do this.

T-Row Tail's picture

This is what happened the last time we tried to bring some soccer flare to college football.


Jelligrim's picture

I like soccer's no Mark May policy.