Apr. 20—In light of the bombshell news that a dozen of Europe's richest and most famous soccer clubs planned to abandon a century of tradition and form a breakaway super league in pursuit of a gazillion-dollar media rights deal, a couple of thoughts came to mind.
This might be the most cynical display of sporting greed I've ever seen.
And, on that note, when will college football get the same idea?
When will Ohio State and Michigan — rather than sharing an equal slice of the Big Ten revenue pie with Northwestern and Rutgers — join forces with Alabama, Notre Dame, and the rest of the game's billboard brands, and form a gridiron Justice League that monopolizes all of the TV money?
Hey, never say never.
At the least, the tremors overseas got us thinking about how such a scheme would apply to the brand of football preferred on this side of the pond.
Which college football teams would make up a national super conference?
If you'll humor us — and for this you all deserve to be sainted — we'll follow the same format as the European Super League, which will include 15 founding members (including three to be named later) and a rotating cast of five more clubs to be determined based on their success the previous year. (At least that was the plan. Surprise, surprise, the proposed league already was on the brink of collapse by Tuesday afternoon.)
Here goes ...
Start with the historic royalty, the schools with traditions and brands so big that they transcend the lens of the moment. To me, there are eight true blue bloods, listed in the order of the darkness of their shade: Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Southern California, Michigan, Nebraska*, and Texas. (*Yes, Nebraska. Since 1970, only Alabama has more national titles than the Huskers' five. And, remember, this is more about the ability to move the needle, not the ball down the field. Nebraska has sold out every game since the LBJ administration and produced $94.3 million in football revenue in 2019.)
From there, throw in another five no doubters: Florida, Georgia, LSU, Penn State, and — given its powerhouse recent ascent — Clemson.
That leaves two spots and a raft of contenders, including Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas A&M.
I'm scratching Texas A&M. The Aggies may be a sleeping giant with limitless resources in a state with limitless prep talent, but we can't wait on Rip Van Goliath to wake up forever (A&M hasn't won a conference title since 1998 and a national championship since 1939).
Tennessee and Miami are out, too. The Vols have become Nebraska but with less tradition while Miami — despite a burst of five national titles between 1983 and 2001 — has limited fan support.
Good luck to them in the qualifying leagues! (Same goes for Big Ten friends Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, all places with tremendous fan bases.)
Ultimately, I'm going with new money in Oregon (we need a second team on the West Coast and the Nike factor wins the day) and old money in Auburn (we need the Iron Bowl), with Florida State the first team out. (You could flip a coin, but Auburn has the longer history and deeper pockets.)
So, there you have it, La Liga Super: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State, Southern California, and Texas.
Tell me you wouldn't watch that.
Of course, we would, and the TV networks know it.
Just like in Europe, where the idea is to cherry pick the most valuable teams from each of the top leagues, a collection of the top college football programs would command an obscene media deal.
Consider: As it is, the Big Ten is in the middle of a six-year, $2.64 billion deal with ESPN, Fox, and CBS. A breakaway league headlined by Ohio State, Alabama, and Notre Dame might command three times that amount.
The rich would get richer and everyone else would be totally screwed. It's the perfect plan!
Except, of course, it's not.
And, thankfully, it will never happen (we think).
While these thought exercises are fun — and schools like Ohio State and Alabama may privately bemoan that they create much of the value of their leagues' TV contracts while receiving an equal fraction of the payday — it is hard to imagine even college football becoming this cynical.
For one, it's a regional sport, including for the power brokers. Ohio State and Michigan may be national brands, but the Big Ten is seared into their identity.
The familiarity. The contempt. The history. The electrified scenes in Madison and Iowa City and East Lansing. It's all part of the deal.
Then there's the small issue of what to do with every sport that's not played with a spheroid.
Where would the schools in this football super conference park all of their other programs, including basketball? I can assure it wouldn't be in the leagues that they just decimated, if those leagues continued to exist at all.
As usual, the devil is in the details.
Which means the devil on college football's shoulder is unlikely to get its way.