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It’s Clemson. It’s Alabama. Then it’s the rest of the college football universe.

I have nothing against greatness. It’s a trait I admire. So if the Tigers and Crimson Tide happen to meet yet again come January 13 or the national championship in New Orleans, I’m OK with it. 

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Since the college playoffs started in 2014, Clemson or Alabama have participated in the last four of the five title games. And at this point, there’s nothing to indicate that won’t be the case yet again this year.

Of course, a key injury or a suspension could derail the anticipated best vs. best matchup. But both teams have plenty of depth to overcome such calamities.

But is this healthy for the game?

I’m not sure it is. But in college, players go where they can win rings, just like professional free agents do. Most FBS schools have wonderful facilities to train and practice. Everyone’s on TV one way or another so being far away from home isn’t a big deal. The traditions and game-day atmospheres that are attached to college football don’t change. And as far as going to a bowl game goes, you have to be pretty pathetic to not make it into a postseason game come December and get a free PlayStation or whatever other swag the bowl gives the players.

So what’s a college program to do to play true big boy football? How many tens of millions of dollars do you have to commit to try and be on a level playing field with Alabama and Clemson? 

Ultimately, it’s about the head coach. You may think Nick Saban’s an arrogant jerk, but the guy can recruit and he can coach and he can get his players to the NFL. Ditto for Dabo Swinney at Clemson. The best players want to go to the best schools. Yes, it’s about playing time too.

Players move on, hoping to get on the field, get some exposure which will eventually lead to getting drafted by an NFL team and cash in.

Never forget, it’s all about the money at every level. 

So while college football’s arms race continues, as schools build Oregon-style facilities to train and practice, while stadiums undergo massive upgrades with luxury boxes and club seats, all in trying to catch Alabama and Clemson, understand that the teams and players you’ll be betting on every week have a different agenda than your cashing your ticket.

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They are trying to get themselves in a position to be in the NFL someday. Sure, winning matters. Because nobody wants to financially back a losing program. But no matter what the Sabans, the Swinneys, the Jim Harbaughs, the Brian Kellys do, ultimately it’s about the players getting paid. And they’re going to the schools that can eventually get them their money. To them, this stopped being sport long ago. This is business, going back to when they were in high school and were going through the recruiting process.

And it’s not just players and schools chasing the almighty buck. Conferences are in on the act too. The Pac-12 is considering playing morning games on the West Coast in order to try and drive up TV ratings and viewers back East and in the Midwest. More viewers, more advertisers, more money. 

The ACC will have its own network on ESPN, joining several other conferences in controlling their TV coverage and generating more exposure for their schools.

Still, there’s a side to college football we can still wrap our arms around and even reach into our pockets and wager on. We watch a Central Florida go undefeated or see a Boise State rise up and battle the big guys and it makes you feel good.

Mind you these schools are also in the arms race. And since Alabama can’t dress 400 players for a game, there are places for some very talented football players to go outside of Tuscaloosa. So UCF gets better players. Utah gets better players. They try to close the gap and maybe fight their way into the playoff conversation or at the very worst make a New Year’s Day bowl game and recoup some of their financial investment.

In the end, though, the elite programs prevail. And that’s why the sportsbooks across America (who ever thought I’d write that?) are onboard with Clemson and Alabama to meet again at the Superdome come January and have put the appropriate price tag on the two schools in their future book wagering. 

Round up the usual suspects? Indeed.

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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