Time For a College Football Preseason?

The first weekend of the college football season always brings a ton of excitement. After months of anticipation, fans get their first true look at the teams they cheer for. And, whether it happens in front of a friendly, hostile, or neutral crowd, it's the first time these squads test out the true speed of game action.

I do understand that these programs practice in the Spring before heading to Summer workouts. But it isn't the same as seeing live competition after a nine-month layoff. Because of that, this weekend has always held a special place on the calendar. However, not everything is rosy about the action on Labor Day weekend.

Nothing is perfect right away. Like anything else, time and practice are needed to provide the best overall execution of the product. In college football, time and practice do exist, but not on the same level as other entities. So, what are the main problems with how it currently works?

Sloppy Play

I'd be shocked if this weren't at the top of anybody's list. No matter how good a team is, how long they've played together, or how overmatched their opponent looks on paper, there's always room for mistakes. If you're team is turnover-prone, how would you know it? If they have a problem committing unnecessary penalties, how could you see that? What about a struggling offense, a hole-ridden defense, or a lack of team chemistry? It's something you'll find out pretty quickly once the minutes count on your record. But shouldn't you have a chance to find that out earlier?

Uneven Scheduling

In the land of college football, not all resumes are created equal. Let's forget that it will shift as the season goes along (that's for another argument). I get that creating a 12-game schedule with 130 FBS teams will create an imbalance between neighboring schools. And this doesn't even count the opponents competing at lower levels. For example, out of the 2018 composite non-conference schedule for all 14 Big Ten members, there are two games featuring FCS competition. In contrast, eight of the nine other FBS conferences passed that total this past weekend alone (don't worry Pac-12, you'll get by that number this coming Saturday).

Unequal Circumstances

So, knowing that all openers aren't created equal shouldn't matter in the overall scope of the season. However, with only 12 opportunities to provide a showcase, getting off to a good start and gaining momentum is more paramount than in other sports. Games like Washington/Auburn, LSU/Miami, and Michigan/Notre Dame give a great chance to bolster an image, but losing them means turning a tide that teams like Southern Miss (Jackson State), Fresno St. (Idaho), Memphis (Mercer), and Buffalo (Delaware State) already have against lower-level competition. Yes, the first group of teams will have their shot at overmatched competition. They won't, though, get to walk into that the same way other squads will.

So, with these perceived issues in my mind, what's my implausible remedy to the problem? I think it's time that the NCAA implement a preseason for all levels of this sport. All of the professional sports have one (and, yes, those leagues have money and a restricted pool of franchises). More importantly, other college sports (basketball, volleyball, soccer) have one. Those exhibitions aren't near as extensive as the ones in the pro ranks, but at least it's a chance to dust off some cobwebs.

With Labor Day weekend now established as the opener for most FBS teams, why not allow the Saturday before that (which acted as Week 1 for six FBS teams in 2018) to be the exhibition week for many squads? You could have FBS play FCS, while Division II and Division III teams could meet up, as well. This would give most programs an opportunity to find out where they stand going into a season. For those that say it would be a money-gouging move for an already greedy NCAA organization ... just look to stadiums that are consistently full for spring practice.

I'll quickly argue for the "lose-lose" setup of the current system. While the vast majority of FBS teams win matchups with their FCS opponents handily, you're not sure what to expect once stiffer competition comes along. For the ones that just get by with a victory, questions might emerge about bowl eligibility being a possibility. For those that taste defeat, the shame will last several lifetimes. In any of these situations, everything counts. Whether its making the College Football Playoff, winning a division tiebreaker, or making that next bowl appearance, those wins and losses are one-twelfth of a total that wraps up all too quickly.

An exhibition game could also help out regarding overall play. Imagine having game officials presiding over the event to dole out penalties, helping teams figure out what they need to work on from a discipline standpoint. It might also help both players and refs figure out newly-introduced rules from the NCAA, like the recently-implemented targeting and celebration rules.

Putting this initiative in play should turn those FBS-FCS matchups into a showcase rather than meaningful. This way, the trending Big Ten model of playing all-FBS opposition would become more of the norm. Not all FBS programs will stay on an even playing field through one particular season. Some with high expectations will undersell. Some with low expectations will overachieve. But, basically, all of them will have the same floor as a base to build on.

In this era, conferences have realized the importance of impression when it comes to the CFP selection committee. For the first time, every league at the FBS level will have a championship game. But those folks that scream about the integrity of the game's regular season put no stock in those "cupcake" FCS games that provide just as much importance as a division title showdown will. In my mind, creating a one-game preseason would be beneficial on several levels. And regarding that ramped up excitement for the season, I think that'll stick around.

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