Episode 8: The dumbest college football fight until the next one
Good morning! I’m going to try tweaking the publishing schedule a little bit here, so I can see what gets more #engagement. If you have a strong opinion about when you’d like your newsletters, y’all know where to find me.
There’s a bigger, Serious Professional College Football Journalist topic being discussed right now, but before we get to that, I want to talk about something very stupid.
Our story begins with the most Middle of May of all college football stories, a routine scheduling announcement
On Tuesday morning, the University of South Florida confirmed it reached a three-game scheduling deal with the University of Miami. The teams will play in Miami in 2025 and 2028, and in Tampa in 2027. We are currently in the Year of our Lord 2019, so it should be difficult to muster a really strong opinion about this development beyond “huh, that makes sense. Good for USF!”.
After all, who the hell knows who is coaching Miami OR USF in 2025? Or even what conference USF will be in by the end of this deal? Or will we even have college football then?!?
So if you scrolled past the news without much thought, you’re in good company.
But you won’t be in the same company as some UCF fans. They’re MAD about this.
A quick glance at Twitter will turn up dozens of tweets like these:
Can South Florida be kicked out of the American? Another embarrassing 2-for-1 deal that harms forward thinking schools like UCF. twitter.com/flasportsbuzz/…
— Brandon Helwig (@UCFSports)
May 14, 2019
or this one:
BA-LONEY. Aren’t you the 2017 national champs? Poor ol’ USF’s scheduling philosophy has no bearing — zero — on yours. Bottom line, @MKellyUSF has compiled a solid non-conf slate, albeit with some 2-for-1s, and as the rival you feel obligated to discredit it. twitter.com/ucf_problems/s…
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls)
May 15, 2019
In case this isn’t clear…Joey Knight is in fact a reporter with the Tampa Bay times, not somebody who actually sets scheduling policy for the South Florida Bulls.
But it isn’t just a UCF Twitter thing. That’d be a little understandable, because UCF fans on Twitter are some of the most INSUFFERABLE in all of college football. Their athletic director, Danny White, threw shade at USF too! Via the Miami Herald:
I don’t know what I would do if I was in that (AD) chair,” White said. “(USF AD) Michael Kelly and I talk about a lot of different things ... I’m sure that gate is meaningful for them for that single-game sale for those games. It’s a precedent I don’t like being set in our conference for schools to start doing a lot higher volume of 2-for-1s. We haven’t as a conference been that kind of place. We’ve been successful, historically, of getting home-and-homes with Power 6 opponents, and I’d like to see our conference peers continue to do that as we intend to do.
Why are UCF fans so angry about this? Well, seeing as they have recently won* a national championship and earned back to back New Year’s Six bowl bids, the program is looking for home and home arrangements with Power Five (I don’t work for the American Athletic Conference, I refuse to use Power Six, that’s bullshit) schools. They haven’t been especially successful in this endeavor yet, so there’s plenty of slots still open in their future schedules.
The thinking, according to UCF fans, is that taking a 2 for 1 deal undercuts UCF in the marketplace, making it harder for UCF fans to get the games they so richly deserve, and need, in order to become a regular, respected, college football power.
So. Two things about this.
Does this argument have any merit? Absolutely not, it’s completely stupid. Every league, from the SEC to the Sun Belt, has schools with different scheduling philosophies, needs and priorities, and one school taking one deal doesn’t restrain any of the others. Indiana, for example, signing a home and home agreement with Western Kentucky (which they did), does not mean Ohio State suddenly has to play a road game against a Conference USA opponent. Miami played a road game against Toledo in recent memory. This does not mean Clemson is obligated to do the same. If UCF is the top dog in the AAC, and boy they sure think they are, then why should they give a crap what UConn or USF or anybody else does? You set your own market.
Furthermore, USF, or any other school, getting P5 programs on their schedule is a positive for UCF, since it would make their conference wins look more impressive by comparison. Nobody cares outside of interstate 4 if UCF pummels a four-win South Florida. But if USF knocks off a Miami in September, well, that matchup gets a bit more sizzle.
In a perfectly just and meritocratic college football world, UCF would probably deserve some home and homes against bigger name opponents. But that has never been how college football has operated. Historically, when an upstart program tries to challenge the established order, they have to play a lot of road games. That’s what Florida State did. That’s what Louisville did. And that’s what Boise State did. That’s the game.
If UCF wants better opponents than mid-level ACC teams (after 2019, their future P5s are Louisville, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, all squads that could be in for multi-year rebuilding projects), they’re going to probably have to make some concessions. And if they refuse and don’t get what they want, it isn’t USF’s fault, or UConn’s fault, or anybody else in the league.
So this argument is stupid. But on the other hand, I absolutely love it.
There is nothing more college football than getting furious over stupid minutiae that your rival is doing. I used to run an Ohio State blog. Do you know how many articles we ran about Jim Harbaugh’s satellite camps? BYU and Utah fans will argue about anything from tiny TV rating shifts to the Old Testament. There’s NOTHING too small for Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans to freak out over. Don’t show them this newsletter. They’ll fight about that, somehow.
To me, this is a sign that the USF/UCF rivalry has blossomed into the proper, stupid hatred required for a great, top-tier college football rivalry. We haven’t had enough new ones recently. It’s great for the sport. I hope USF schedules a three game road series at Case Western Reserve, just to trigger UCF. And then I hope UCF tries to cancel their rivalry game or something to try and schedule the Oakland Raiders. Let’s get even dumber. You are both universities full of Florida Men. I know you can do it.
By all means, holler about this, throw shade over stadium sizes and research endowments and ACT scores or whatever. Just…for God’s sake, stop doing it in my mentions. I’ve already muted like, 40 UCF fans.
Let’s quickly chat about the Transfer Portal
This dispatch from The Athletic ($), that attempted to crunch some numbers around the mass of players who have recently entered the transfer ortal, really got me thinking.
The central tension in this story isn’t new ground. Lots of coaches hate the transfer portal, or anything that gives them less control over players, or their program. This isn’t surprising to me, and I have a hard time feeling too much sympathy for them. Yes, I’m sure roster management is more difficult now, but y’all make $3 million a year, I’m sure you can figure something out.
Nor am I shocked that tons of these players haven’t found new homes. The Athletic says that “Of the more than 450 looking to leave Power 5 schools, only 20 percent have ended up at another Power 5 program”, and that sounds about right to me. You figure most of the kids leaving a P5 program are doing it to find a more clear path to playing time, and they probably won’t find that at an equal, or better, program.
But The Athletic also says only 65 players, of the more than 400 P5 players who entered the portal, less than 70 found a spot at a G5 school.
The biggest reason? There just isn’t room.
FBS programs can keep up to 85 players on scholarship at a time, and everybody wants to get as close to that max as possible. But they can (generally) only sign 25 a year. If a ton of players graduate, transfer, get kicked out of school, etc all at once, even if they’re far under the 85 total limit, they can’t add more than 25.
It reminded me of a story I read a few weeks ago about Kansas football. Kansas football has sucked for the better part of a decade, and in a desperate attempt to salvage their jobs, their last two head coaches went heavy on Junior College (JUCO) signees. That didn’t pan out, and suddenly, they’re nowhere near the 85 scholarship limit, and because of the 25 a year rule, they can’t plug that gap quickly. It may be four years before Kansas gets to 85 scholarships. Arizona State, mentioned in The Athletic story, is two years away from getting to 85. They aren’t the only one.
This tension is what’s really interesting to me. If you’re below 70 scholarships, realistically fielding a competitive team seems almost impossible, especially in a power conference. That’s just too big a depth disadvantage, and even practicing can be difficult.
But a solution may not be so simple as just “let schools take more than 25 kids a class”. Harsh scholarship limits are perhaps the most effective way to provide a tiny modicum of parity in college athletics. The more kids a school can take in a class, even if it’s flexibility they can’t use every year, the more the biggest programs, your Alabamas, your Clemsons, etc, will benefit. The sport may feel top-heavy now, but it was even worse when Nebraska or Alabama could sign 100 kids and horde them, just so their rivals couldn’t take them.
I’m not sure if there’s an easy way to give a Kansas (or a Marshall, or a New Mexico State) more flexibility, without also giving Texas another Infinity Stone, (or without making it even easier for a new coach to just straight up “cut” scholarship athletes) but I’m interested in reading and learning about other proposals.
Perhaps one idea could be to institute a Stepien Rule of sorts to save programs from themselves, and limit the number of JUCOs they could sign in a class. Reckless recruiting screwups from previous coaches can completely handicap what future coaches can do, and pro leagues realized there may need to be some rules to keep teams from screwing things up too badly.
The thinking around limiting JUCOs would be, the more four-year players you sign, the harder it is to screw up and find yourselves 20 scholarships in the hole four years later. You can’t really redshirt most JUCOs, but you can for high school kids. Would anybody go for that? Probably not. But it’s a thought.
How the NCAA legislates around the portal is going to be a fascinating story to follow over the next season or so. The era of totally restricted player movement is probably over. But there’s also some kinks to be worked out here. Hopefully those solutions don’t have more dramatic unintended consequences.
Thanks again for your support of Extra Points. Got a question, comment, request, or hot take? Lemme at it. I’m at [email protected], and @MattSBN on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you, unless you’re a UCF fan angry about scheduling or the * I put around your national title. Go watch some Tacko Fall highlights and leave me alone.