What College Football Can Learn from Soccer

By Michael Citro on June 24, 2013 at 11:30 am
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.

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