This idea from the Wall Street Journal — modeling American college football on English professional soccer — sounds great in theory. I don’t think it would work in practice, though.
Here’s how English professional soccer operates: At the end of the season, the bottom three teams in the standings in the top division (the English Premier League) get demoted to a lower division (the Football League) for the following season, and the top three teams from that lower division are promoted to the top league.
Now, imagine that system applied to college football. It’s intriguing to consider what would happen if a Florida Atlantic had a great season and got to tee it up against big schools currently in the SEC the following fall.
But the Journal‘s plan would be doomed by the obvious difference between American college sports and English professional soccer — amateur university athletes in the USA graduate. Because the best college football teams are invariably laden with seniors, especially in the case of unglamorous programs that come out of nowhere to have great seasons, your small-college upstart that goes 11-1 one year and gets promoted to a higher division probably will have lost most of its star players when the next season rolls around. How long would a team with a decimated lineup last in the top level? Maybe one year.
It’s possible that a newly promoted team could get a boost in recruiting, but the best players will still gravitate to the biggest programs. Think about it. If you’re a high school all-star looking to go to the NFL, do you take your chances on an up-and-coming Florida Atlantic based on one great season, or do you just sign with the University of Florida? I’m pretty sure most players would still go with the elite football schools.
Compare that with an English soccer team that gets promoted to a higher division. If the ownership has the cash, it can go out and buy better players to ensure that the team is competitive in the more prestigious division. At the very least, management would spend money to keep the current squad intact.
For that system to work in college football, the NCAA would have to change its rules to allow colleges to either buy players or keep them on the roster past the end of their eligibility. Don’t look for that to happen anytime soon.
Still, give the Journal credit for creative thinking.