Last night, I was perusing Chris Low's piece on the families of participating athletes being able to attend multiple games in a new playoff format (found here). While I want the parents of an athlete to be able to see their child in action, this led me to consider more seriously how this new format might impact us as fans. I personally think that for all the hoopla about "settling it on the field," its incredibly naive to think that the decision makers have anything in mind but the giant buckets of cash involved. Below the cash there is "the integrity of the game" and "crowning a true champion." And below that perhaps is the best interest of the athlete. Still below that might be prioritizing how this will impact the families of the competitors. And then deep down at the stinking, filth-ridden bottom are the unwashed masses: the fans.
In the last 10 years, I have attended 6 of Georgia's bowl games. Some were closer than others, but I have always made a point to budget enough money that I can attend the game if I want to. I'm a teacher, so a 2 or 3 day trip (gas plus hotel plus tickets) isn't a small amount of money for me to spend, but I could make it work if I planned it right. What I hate most about this new playoff proposal is that, should Georgia make the field of four, I'll have to make a very hard decision. Do I attend the 1 vs. 4 or 2 vs. 3 matchup or do I hold out and hope that Georgia makes the final game? Between the cost and taking off of work, I can't do both. And my guess is that, with the exception of some high level boosters and retirees, many of you can't either.
I've put back money every year and saved vacation days so that if Georgia ever makes that improbable run to a National Championship that we've all been waiting ages for, I'll be able to see every minute of it. That will no longer be the case.
What the decision makers seem to forget is that the reason they are able to look forward to a Brinks truck backing up to their conferences and schools is that average fans pump millions and millions of dollars into supporting and following their team. If fans can no longer be a part of the "championship experience," the money won't necessarily stop (mostly because TV revenues will remain sky high). But I happen to think that when average fans can no longer be there to watch their team compete at the highest level, a little bit of what makes college football unique and special dies. And over time, the average fan may start to drift away from the game. The crazy college football blog writing fanatics will remain, but the fan that follows casually may be less inclined to attend games or purchase merchandise. Then again, I also happen to believe that the way you turn casual fans into fanatics is by allowing them the opportunity to experience something amazing firsthand. People will watch on TV which is great, but the culture of fanaticism may suffer as a result.
Its entirely possible that I'm completely wrong. I tend to be somewhat idealistic and nostalgic about college football. Maybe this new wave of revenue masked as "settling it on the field" will take college football to even greater heights. But what I suspect it will usher in, instead, is an era of Super Bowl-like National Championship games in which the butts in the seats are those of corporate sponsors and dispassionate observers and not those of the countless fans that made college football what it is today.