From the moment Pat McAfee, Desmond Howard, and Joey Galloway let out a sigh of relief after Rece Davis said „naysayer“ on College Gameday, the college football playoff semifinals were in full swing. With Michigan taking on Alabama and Washington facing Texas, there were high expectations for the final playoffs before expansion.
The games did not disappoint. Both were decided in the final play. Jalen Milroe was called for Michigan’s 4th down and goal in overtime, and Quinn Ewers‘ pass attempt in the final play of regular time was deflected by Elijah Jackson. Two thrilling contests to close out the four-team system before the 12-team saturation playoffs in the next season, with a 13-0 Liberty qualification game.
Diluting the process of crowning a champion with too many playoff teams is a common practice in major professional sports leagues. The adoption of this revenue-enhancing strategy by college football is just the latest way in which it allows money to taint the spirit that makes it great.
Naturally, in the version of college football that existed before 2021, there was widespread injustice. Players were subject to amateur rules while conference commissioners, schools, sponsors, and television networks participated in the free-market of professional profit.
While college football was more fun when the transfer portal wasn’t an ideal way to assemble a roster, the realignment of conferences in the early 2010s began to strip the sport of its specialness. Syracuse went to the ACC, Maryland to the Big Ten, and Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M nearly destroyed the Big 12 through defection. When players have the freedom to transfer programs, it makes college sports worse, but not nearly as much as when the fire igniting regional rivalries is extinguished.
However, on New Year’s Day 2024, college football felt like 1994 again. The Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl were the main events of the day. Washington would have played in Pasadena, and Alabama in New Orleans, it would have felt more right, but Monday was not a day to be choosy.
This fabulous sunset in the second half went down over the Rose Bowl, making room for a loud night at the Superdome. With the tradition of these New Year’s classics, combined with the impact on the national championship, the excitement from the days when college football players were exploited was back.
Great plays, massive mistakes, and civic pride kept the audience’s eyes glued to the games like on a must-see franchise. These two competitions were not necessary edible mascots or coaches getting a branded product thrown on their head to give a game something the neutral observer was interested in, next to point spreads and over-unders.
Only college football’s long halftime show gave viewers time to leave their seats and stretch on Monday night. When the Rose Bowl went to overtime, the Sugar Bowl was just about to start, almost as soon as Jim Harbaugh finished his post-game interview on the field. The day began at 5:00 p.m. EST and ended at 12:45 a.m. It wasn’t seven hours of uninterrupted football, but almost eight hours of non-stop adrenaline as the nation’s four best teams fought for the chance to win the signature events.
However, between Alabama defeating Michigan and Michael Penix Jr. starting the victorious Huskies with a 430-yard run, a Tide defender made a reminder of college football’s new capitalist reality. Dallas Turner is considered one of the top pass rushers in the country. He still has eligibility, but definitely told Alex Scarborough of ESPN that his college career was over.
„I’m gone,“ Turner told Scarborough. „There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.“
An honesty that he probably wouldn’t offer without college football in its current form and that I would have appreciated more in the past. Don’t give me the canned response that I need to talk with family, coaches, and others about the future. Embrace everyone on the team and when asked about the future, say it’s time to get paid.
New Year’s Day 2024 was something else. Rece Davis got his colleagues‘ hearts racing when he described what Milroe meant by the acronym LANK, and two of college sports‘ holiest traditions started the year with a bang. The games were great. The environments were spectacular. And for a few hours, sports fans could experience college sports as they used to, with just the best parts of what’s yet to come.