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College football: Is it time to blow it up and start over?

Rife with problems, change is needed. The question is, how long will it take?

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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, second from right, walks with players before the Cheez-It Bowl against Iowa State, Dec. 29, 2021.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, second from right, walks with players before the Cheez-It Bowl against Iowa State on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. The popular and successful coach recently spoke about his concerns regarding the current state of college football.

Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press

Here’s a solution for all that ails college football: Hit the reset button and start over, from scratch. That’s what Dabo Swinney, the Clemson football coach, says. “I think there’s going to be a complete blowup ... especially in football, and there needs to be,” Swinney told ESPN.

And this is from one of the winners, a coach who has won two national championships in the last six years. Imagine how the losers feel.

Swinney is right. The powers that be in college football could begin by inserting the NCAA rulebook into the shredder. The second step would be to write another rulebook that is half its current size and doesn’t include mandates against athletes running in fun runs or accepting a slice of pizza from a coach, as it once did. That’s part of the reason we got where we are today.

College football is a mess that grows messier every year. The evolving world of college football is disjointed and fractured, and it doesn’t help that the NCAA lost oversight of the sport a long time ago. Nobody is in charge; college football is a rudderless collection of fiefdoms with everyone looking out for their own interests.

The game that was once a frivolous distraction for universities and their students and alumni has grown exponentially into a billion-dollar industry. One of the biggest side effects is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

“I think eventually there will be some type of break and another division,” Swinney said. “Right now, you got everybody in one group, and it’s not feasible. Alabama has different problems than Middle Tennessee, but we’re trying to make them all the same, and it’s just not. I think you’ll have 40 or 50 teams and a commissioner and here are the rules.”

Something has to change. The elite schools can offer more NIL (name, image, likeness) deals and use them as a recruiting lure. The transfer portal is turning some schools into farm teams for the elite schools. And on and on it goes.

The national playoff is unfair to the have-nots. There are just four playoff spots offered for a 130-team field, and the entire system is stacked in favor of the Power Five conferences — which represent only half of the FBS competition (what is this, the NBA?). Only Power Five schools have real access to the playoffs. Thirty-one of the 32 spots in the national playoff have been filled by Power Five schools, and it’s mostly the same old crowd. Only 13 schools have been included in the playoff in its eight-year history.

Not only have Group of Five schools been largely excluded from the CFP, they’ve also rarely appeared in New Year’s Six bowl games. Out of 48 berths, the Group of Five has claimed just seven of them.

The simple solution is to increase the size of the playoff field and offer more access to it for the Group of Five. Or, as Swinney suggests, create another division.

Something must give. The Power Five schools will likely initiate a break, but there’s nothing to prevent the Group of Five schools from doing the same. They could make a bold preemptive move, as suggested in this column four years ago. They could revolt and form their own playoff. That might force the hand of the powers that be to expand the playoff and open it to the Group of Five because the CFP could no longer proclaim its winner as the true national champion; or it simply would start the divide that Swinney foresees.

Swinney specifically targets two tectonic changes to the sport that have caused the growing pains. The coach said NIL is out of control and “not sustainable,” an “absolute mess and a train wreck.” He told ESPN that the NIL rule will hurt the athletes mostly “because there are going to be a lot of kids that end up with no degrees and make decisions based on the wrong things.”

He also railed on the transfer portal, saying he won’t use it unless there is a gap on his roster. The most important thing he said about the transport portal is what he said next:

“My transfer portal is right there in that locker room because if I’m constantly going out every year and adding guys from the transfer portal, I’m telling all those guys in that locker room that I don’t believe in them, that I don’t think they can play,” Swinney said. “We’re also not doing our job as coaches and recruiters if we’re bringing in a bunch of transfers.”

Why aren’t other coaches saying this?

It’s obvious that more dramatic changes are inevitable as college football continues to evolve. Something has to change soon.