End of a college football era, and good riddance

One by one, college football’s old ways are fading into history. Good riddance.

It took only 155 years, but college football at last has a true, full-field, full-representation playoff to determine a champion. To get there, we’ll sacrifice some tradition, but we’ll get rid of a lot more “that’s the way we’ve always done it” customs that long ago faded into irrelevance.

There’s a difference between tradition and custom. In college football, tradition is marching bands, Saturdays at the alma mater, the rivalry game that determines how the next year will go. Customs are voting for a champion and claiming that’s good for interest in the sport, or boxing teams into paying for expensive and irrelevant bowls, or declining to pay players even as coaches earn millions and schools and conferences earn billions. Traditions warm the heart. Customs enrage the mind.

Sometimes, what starts out as fond tradition curdles into why-is-this-still-here custom. Case in point: the Rose Bowl. The Granddaddy of Them All has spent most of the past century as the centerpiece of college football’s marquee day: New Year’s Day, specifically the timeslot that allows the sun to set on the San Gabriel Mountains at the end of the third quarter. It’s beautiful, it’s magnificent, it’s inspiring … and it’s been a stubborn, infuriating roadblock to playoff expansion for years.

Finally, the powers that be in college football got up the collective huevos to tell the Rose Bowl to get with the program or get left out, and at last, the Rose Bowl knuckled under. As a result, the expanded, 12-team college football playoff will start two years earlier than projected. (Not coincidentally, this will earn all parties involved an additional $450 million in revenue; sunsets are nice, but cash is better.)

What does this mean? Well, we won’t see that lovely sunset every New Year’s Day. What we will see is an expanded playoff, an opportunity for the Tennessees and Penn States and Utahs and maybe even Tulanes and UCFs to reach the postseason. We’ll see the birth of a new tradition — playoff games on campus, for at least one round — and the end of bowl games holding power over an entire sport. We’ll see teams that deserve wider recognition get their shot at the spotlight, and we’ll see upstarts knock off blue bloods. We’ll see talent diversify across the nation, rather than concentrate in a few schools, as more paths to the postseason open up. It has taken way too long, but we’re here. We made it.

Times change, and not even college football could stay stuck in the 1950s forever. That’s the way of the world, adapt or die. Teams know it, and finally the entire sport figured it out.

Nobody better mess with the marching bands, though. Then there’ll be trouble.

The Michigan Wolverines marching band, led by Drum Major Kelly Bertoni, plays before a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium on Nov. 30, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)


Contact Jay Busbee at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.