Super Regional atmospheres offer a glimpse of what CFP should become
There was no reason for any sane person to still be at East Carolina’s Clark-LeClair Stadium.
A game that began in the afternoon was still in progress after midnight. The hometown Pirates were helplessly out of contention, trailing Texas 10-1.
Yet in the outfield section known as The Jungle, things were rowdy as ever. The game may have been out of reach, but the party was going to extra innings.
They didn't make it to Omaha but nothing but respect for the relentless trolling by ECU fans over the weekend, even while trailing 10-1 in an elimination game. pic.twitter.com/3ivGp0dvla
— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) June 13, 2022
It should be no surprise this was the case, though perhaps it is to some.
Outside of the SEC and select outposts, college baseball spends most of the season flying under the radar. But Super Regionals — the best 2-of-3 series where the winner punches a ticket to the College World Series — are the best atmosphere in all of college sports.
It’s a matter of simple calculus. In no other sport are the stakes this high for an on-campus event.
The basketball equivalent, the Elite Eight, is settled at a predetermined arena that could be thousands of miles away from either participating team. Every level of college football’s postseason, from the conference championship games to the College Football Playoff, is also played at neutral venues.
There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting will be officially launching on January 1, 2023. Ohio will join other Big Ten states where sports betting has become legalized such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and more.
The beauty of Super Regionals is that there is no pretense of neutrality. And it’s only enhanced when a program like East Carolina can host a behemoth like Texas. College sports should always aspire to be this.
They don’t, of course. There are always paychecks to chase.
But it would be wise of CFP leaders to pay close attention to Super Regionals. Because when their event inevitably expands, college baseball (and softball) provide the template for how to do it right.
Campus games vital to successful CFP expansion
We’re going to watch anyway. So there’s no obligation for an expanded CFP to include on-campus games in the opening round or quarterfinals.
But for once, consideration should be given to those who are compelled to attend a game in person. There would be no better atmosphere in sports — college or pro — than high-stakes college football played in front of people who are fully invested. Rob Lowe ain’t showing up in a referee’s hat for these games.
If the CFP expands to 12 teams, both the opening round and the quarterfinals should be played on campus. And in the unlikely case they settle on 8, it’s even more vital to protect the top-4 seeds by allowing them to play in their home stadiums.
This also allows the CFP to provide a carrot to anti-expansionists who are concerned with diluting the most important regular season in sports. There will be tremendous value attached to earning a Playoff home game — both financially and on the field.
It goes without saying that the Big Ten would potentially benefit from this development more than any other conference, which makes commissioner Kevin Warren’s heel-dragging all the more baffling.
Yes, the SEC is almost always going to have the most entrants in a 12-team CFP field. But if 4-5 SEC teams get in, 1-2 of them will be sent on the road in the opening round. And the B1G should be more than willing to find out how a Florida or Texas A&M would fare in Ann Arbor, Columbus, East Lansing or Madison in December.
Or if one really permits themselves to dream, a Minnesota home Playoff game. The Gophers could bring back the guy who eats Dilly Bars in the snow for cold-blooded intimidation.
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 15, 2014
B1G should drop Power 5 demands
If you gain something in negotiation, it’s only fair to give something in return. And the Big Ten’s tradeoff in a world with on-campus CFP games should be to drop its insistence that every Power 5 champion should be granted an automatic Playoff berth.
To go back to college baseball for inspiration, sometimes the best teams are not from power conferences.
Clearly things didn’t work out for East Carolina against Texas, but ECU earned the right to host that series. The Longhorns grinded out a road win that was far more memorable than a series played in Austin. That experience will likely prove far more valuable to them in Omaha, as well.
The top 6 conference champions should be in the expanded CFP, period. There’s no need for the B1G to provide cover for its doddering cousin, the Pac-12. If they somehow can’t churn out a better conference champ than the American and Mountain West in a given year, that’s their own damn fault.
With a 12-team CFP in 2021, Cincinnati conceivably could have hosted Notre Dame in a quarterfinal. That would be a once-in-a-lifetime scene at Nippert Stadium.
The bracket also set up where Michigan might have hosted 10th-seeded Michigan State in a quarterfinal. The atmosphere for a Wolverines-Spartans CFP game is unimaginable.
Except that we can imagine it. College baseball’s Super Regionals show us the way. And the College Football Playoff has a chance to multiply that by a factor of 10.
Let’s hope they don’t squander it as badly as they did the most recent expansion talks.