A Real-Life Version Of “Fantasy Football”

A few weeks ago, after Alabama had beaten Georgia in the CFP Championship Game, some of the folks in and around Orlando, FL sought to convince folks that UCF as the only undefeated Division 1-A team in the country was the “real national champion”.  They created awards for themselves that they handed out to UCF and the school participated in the charade by paying the team coaches the bonuses they would have received had UCF actually been in the CFP and won the Championship Game.

  • [Aside:  The next time UCF raises its tuition or student fees, parents should rise up and demand to know how the school found money to pay bonuses to coaches for something the coaches did not achieve but still has to raise tuition and/or fees.]

This was a nice idea that seemed harmless at the start, but it caught on in the Twitterverse and the blogosphere and some people took it seriously.  That took the train off the rails.  Forget about who beat whom this year in terms of scheduling and think about the situation this way.

  • UCF plays the majority of its games in the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
  • Alabama and Georgia play the majority of their games in the SEC.

Rather than look at stats and rankings and all that stuff, let me turn to the NFL to see which conference is the stronger conference.  The NFL has no dog in the fight when it comes to naming a college football national champion.  The coaches and the “personnel folks” in the NFL simply and straightforwardly seek to put the best players they can on the field in their uniforms.   What does that tell us?

Now that we know the two teams in the Super Bowl making the counting process feasible, I looked at the rosters of the two teams – the active roster plus the injured reserve members.  (Each team has 11 players on injured reserve so the total “population” here is 128 players.)  Here are some numbers:

  • 25 players on the Pats and Eagles went to SEC schools.
  • 8 players on the Pats and Eagles went to AAC schools.

The folks who put together the two Super Bowl rosters this year found “NFL-caliber talent” in 3 times as many players from the SEC as they did from the AAC.  I know; these are only 2 of the 32 NFL teams so it might be premature to draw any conclusions here.  Moreover, I am not about to take about 3 hours out of my life to make a spreadsheet representing this kind of breakdown for every NFL team.  However, the data from the Eagles and the Pats indicates in a different way the talent gap between the “Power Five” conferences (SEC, Big10, PAC-12, ACC, Big-12) and the “Group of Five” conferences (AAC, MAC, Sun Belt, C-USA, Mountain West).  For the Eagles and Pats look at the breakdown this way:

  • 97 players from Power Five conferences.
  • 20 players from Group of Five conferences
  • 10 players from schools not in Division 1-A
  • 1 player from an Independent school.

Please do not get hung up in the exact numbers here; the point that I think is important is that an “independent evaluator of football talent” has concluded that there are more exceptional players on teams in the Power Five schools than there are in the Group of Five schools.  If you were to sit and watch a bunch of games involving those conferences, you would also probably come to that conclusion; there is good reason to be shocked and amazed when a team like Appalachian St. beats a team like Michigan; it does not happen often.

Nothing from the above should be taken to mean that it would have been impossible for UCF to beat Alabama had the schools met on the field.  What I think it means is that the folks who got to hyperventilation stages about UCF as clearly the best team in the nation in 2017 need to gather themselves and prepare to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere prior to landing back on the planet’s surface.

Jacksonville, FL is only about 150 miles from Orlando, FL.  I can only hope that the fantasy contagion that hit Orlando regarding UCF does not spread to Jax causing people to declare that the Jags are the rightful participants in the Super Bowl vice the Patriots.

I have written before about the importance of perspective regarding the prevailing narrative that the NFL has peaked in popularity and that it has begun to decline.  I think that the NFL is not the juggernaut that it was 5-10 years ago and that the league has some very serious social issues to juggle.  I also know that TV ratings are down – – although the numbers of people watching on streaming platforms is not counted and it is, therefore, impossible to know if the numbers of eyeballs watching NFL games has changed all that much.

Here is something I think is interesting to watch with regard to this question:

  • The Thursday Night Football package is up for bids now.  What is the interest level in securing those rights?

The latest reports say that 5 networks (Turner, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC) expressed initial interest but Turner and ABC have decided not to submit bid proposals for these rights.  [Aside:  I doubt Turner had a ghost of a chance in the first place; the NFL wants its product on network TV and not on cable TV where possible.]  The three networks that televise most of the NFL games all remain interested in Thursday Night Football – – and remember, those are the games that most people do not like nearly as much as the weekend games.  It will be interesting to see how much those networks are willing to pay for Thursday Night Football and how long a deal they are willing to sign up for.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Twitter has begun allowing users 280 characters. I’m not sure if this represents progress but Husker fans can now trash players in complete sentences after games.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………