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The American Super League Drama, Part 1: The Power Five/One

We already wrote a series of articles about the drama surrounding the formation and near-immediate dissolution of the Super League. Part 1 covered how European football became a “mass product”, in contrast to a “premium product”. Part 2 covered Newton’s Third Law of Premium: for every mass product, there needs to be an equal and opposite premium one. Part 3 questioned whether the Super League really was such a bad idea, despite the fervent and decisive public backlash. Part 4 discussed the need to fully commit to the premium direction; half-hearted or half-executed attempts only end in a “worst of both worlds” situation.

Are we writing yet another article about the Super League? Yes and no. We are writing about a different kind of super league, but we promise we are not beating a dead horse. That is because the matters we discussed surrounding the European Super League have now become extremely relevant in American College Football.

Much-needed Context

Based on experience, the Venn diagram of European Football and American College Football fans does not have a large centre. Since many of our readers are based in Europe, some explanation of American college football is necessary. When discussing anything about the United States, we always like to start with the money. From a financial perspective, college football is extremely lucrative. For example, one team we will discuss in increasing detail later is the University of Oklahoma, which has a three-year average revenue of 129 million USD. According to Forbes, their three-year average profit margin is even more impressive: 81 million USD. This revenue to profit ratio is absurd, and by no means atypical at the top, because the American college football system is inherently absurd because college football players are not paid (this will merit its own article), but the crux is that the nation’s top American football programmes are extremely lucrative. For comparison’s sake, Inter Milan, one of the clubs that intended to join the super league, had a revenue of 365 million EUR in 2019. Their profits are not so easy to access, but their operating costs are definitely higher because they have to, you know, pay their players.

The Power Five

In American college athletics, the “Power Five” conferences reign supreme. These conferences function as smaller leagues within the overall first division of college sports. In football, winning one of these conferences guarantees the winning team a spot in a prestigious end-of-the-season championship “bowl” game. Teams outside the Power Five struggle to gain the recognition and respect needed to appear in a bowl game. These teams also struggle to get the most talented recruits’ attention because their lack of attention means they receive less media attention, which translates to less revenue.

If you ask any college football fan, “which conference is the most competitive in college football?” you will hear one consistent answer: the Southeastern Conference (known as “the SEC”). Despite other conferences having competitive teams, the SEC is known for having an extremely deep set of football programmes. Since 2006, an SEC team has won the national championship every year except on four occasions.

Just last week, news broke that the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma, two of the top six most valuable college football programmes in the country and two of the historically best college football programmes, have made plans to leave the Big 12, their current conference, for the SEC. If this happens, the entire balance of power within the conference system will shift so heavily toward one conference that we will essentially be left with a College Football Super League. There will be very few relevant teams outside of the SEC, so naysayers are saying that this shift will signal the end of college football as we know it. That raises the question: will it really be the end, or have other changes occurred recently, such as the legalisation of player compensation, that will ruin this American pastime?