Long before the Big Ten had 14 teams and the Pac-8 had grown to the Pac-12, there were folks in college sports tossing around the idea of a national football conference.
Back in the 1950s, Pittsburgh athletic director Tom Hamilton proposed Southern California, UCLA, Stanford, California and Washington join up with Army, Navy, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Penn State and Air Force to form an Airplane Conference.
Nowadays, there is constant speculation about the Power Five conferences and their 65 member schools breaking away from the NCAA. Despite all the chatter and threats, the chances of that happening soon are slim. Though a broad restructuring of Division I and r e-imagining of the way schools align their sports programs is probably a good idea.
But what if college football’s most powerful programs tried to do what is happening now in European soccer, where a group of the wealthiest and most successful clubs are in the process of forming a 15-team Super League?
When decades of conference allegiance go out the window for the all mighty dollar, which schools would make the of cut?
“You’d want to architect a product with broad national appeal,” said Chris Bevilacqua, CEO of SimpleBet who was a longtime media rights consultant to college conferences and pro sports league. “I think you’d want big-name brands, and you’d want also to look at it over a long period of time. You wouldn’t look through the lens of the last five years, you’d look through the lens of the last 50 years.”
Bevilacqua made clear he didn’t think this type of breakaway would be possible in college sports. Nor would it be good for the game.
But it is a fun exercise with spring practice winding down around the country and the season still about five month way. So let’s form a 15-team college football Super League.
There are a few obvious picks, powerhouse programs with long histories of success and enormous followings. Come on down, Alabama (1), Notre Dame (2), Ohio State (3), Oklahoma (4) and Southern California (5).
Those schools have combined for 37 AP college football national championships, dating back to when the poll first began in 1934. They each have at least five, a number only Miami can match.
Ohio State in particular is a television ratings monster. The Buckeyes routinely play in some of the most-watched games of each season thanks to an huge alumni base. According to the school there are more 500,000 Ohio State alumni worldwide.
No college football program has won more championships than Alabama, which is currently in the midst of the greatest dynasty in the history of the sport.
It’s been a while since Notre Dame won a national title (1988), but the school that has its own major network TV deal is synonymous with college football all over the world.
Next up, Texas (6) and Michigan (7). Some fans will scream that the Longhorns and Wolverines are perpetually overrated and in recent years it would be hard to argue against that. But Texas’ burnt orange and Michigan’s winged helmet are recognizable anywhere and they are two of the four winningest programs in the history of college football.
Plus, they are part of two of the best rivalries in the sport: Ohio State-Michigan and Oklahoma-Texas.
Other than maybe baseball, no sport connects with its fans through tradition the way college football does. Yes, a 15-team Super League sort of throws that out the window, but a way to keep some of that is through maintaining a few storied rivalries.
That’s a big reason why Auburn (8) is in this Super League to match up with Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Florida (9) and Georgia (10) are in so they can continue to stage the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville each year — even though they don’t officially call it that any more.
Finding representation in the Northeast is difficult, though there are plenty of Ohio State and Michigan graduates in the New York Metropolitan area as well diehard Notre Dame fans who have never stepped foot in South Bend, Indiana.
Penn State (11) gets the nod as a traditional power with a strong following in major Northeast Corridor cities such Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore.
A state that produces more NFL players per capita than any other needs to be represented in the Super League, which means LSU (12) and its three national titles since 2003 is in.
Clemson (13) and Oregon (14) are the nouveau riche selections. The Tigers had a long history of football success before coach Dabo Swinney, but nothing like its recent run of championships and title game appearances.
The Ducks bring in the Pacific Northwest. And do you really think it would be possible to leave out the school most closely affiliated with Nike?
The last spot comes down to five schools: Florida State, Miami, Nebraska, Texas A&M and UCLA.
Regional balance wins the day and UCLA (15) gets an invitation, giving the Super League three West Coast teams and six games per season at the Rose Bowl.
The College Football Super League
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/