If Michigan football was going to have a preseason game, would you go? Here’s how it could help the Wolverines and other college football programs.
The NFL has its first full week of preseason over the weekend and it got me thinking about college football. While college football does not have any preseason games, it does have spring football, though intrasquad scrimmages. I have always thought college football could use one preseason game as a regular season tune-up, but even moreso in the wake of another round of conference realignment.
Power Five programs schedule Group of Five programs for “guarantee games” that they often should win and pay the Group of Five 5 programs to host them. The payouts are often six figures and in some cases exceed $1 million. For the Group of Five programs, those payouts fund their athletic budgets for the calendar year.
However, the Big Ten now has 16 teams with the addition of USC and UCLA and the SEC has 16 as well with Texas and Oklahoma joining the conference. Neither conference may not be done with various programs rumored as potential additions for each league. In the next 10 years, each conference could exceed 20 members. With more teams in each conference, it would make sense to play more conference games as well, potentially conference-only schedules.
From an optics standpoint, it would make sense to have more conference games on the schedule so members do not go years, potentially a decade without playing one another. For example, Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012 and it has played Georgia just once (2019). Adding more conference games would also create increase the value of the television contracts, which are already rising astronomically. Television revenue is what is driving this wave of conference realignment anyway.
As the power programs get richer, the Group of Five programs will be the ones to suffer. As a Michigan football fan, those programs may not be important to you, however, the Group of Five is important to the fabric of college football.
Many coaches begin their careers at smaller schools, including some of the best in the business. Nick Saban played at and began his career as a GA at Kent State. Brian Kelly started at Assumption College before becoming the head coach at Grand Valley State and later Central Michigan. Jim Harbaugh’s first head coaching job was at the University of San Diego in the FCS.
If those smaller schools do not bring in enough revenue to fund the football team, they may have to drop it altogether.
That will lead to fewer scholarship opportunities for players to extend their careers beyond the high school level. It will also shrink the pool of future coaches as well. That will eventually affect the big programs as well when their hotshot coach is 22-17 and fans want a replacement.
Personally, I do not see much difference between when Michigan football plays a directional in-state school compared to Illinois, Indiana, or Rutgers.
As a Michigan native with friends who are alums of Western, Central, and Eastern Michigan, those games are more fun. If college football teams played one preseason game, it could very beneficial to all parties.
For the Power 5 programs, they get one more tune-up to get ready for the regular season along with the opportunity to get game reps against another opponent.
How a preseason could help Michigan football
This season, Michigan football could use that opportunity to split reps for J.J. McCarthy and Cade McNamara before the regular season starts. It could also use to integrate that will be contributors like Colson Loveland, Derrick Moore, Jimmy Rolder, Will Johnson, and Zeke Berry.
It would give conferences the option to put additional conference games on the schedule if they choose. One nonconference game would move to the preseason and for the Big Ten, that could help open up a 10th conference game or more. It would also be another game of gate revenue for the home schools.
For the Group of Five and other smaller programs, they could still benefit from those guarantee games. Their players would also still have the opportunity to play in iconic venues like the Big House, Death Valley in Baton Rogue, The Horseshoe, etc.
To cut it down on travel, it could work regionally as well. Michigan and Michigan State could cycle through Western, Eastern, and Central Michigan.
Miami could have local options with FAU and FIU. Auburn and Alabama have Troy and UAB nearby while Georgia and Georgia Tech have Georgia State and Georgia Southern as options.
Ohio State and Cincinnatti would have many options among the Ohio MAC teams like Akron, Bowling Green, and Kent State. For the most part, the NFL schedules its preseason regionally as well.