How to End the South’s Stranglehold on College Football

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(AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
Braden Gall @BradenGall Jan 05, 2022, 5:11 PM

College football has grown into a national power and the United States’ second-most popular sport behind only the NFL. But as the business of college football has gotten bigger, which included wagering aficionados interested in college football betting odds, the circle of teams capable of winning the national championship has shrunk.

Monday’s National Championship game between Alabama and Georgia, with college football championship odds cementing the Bulldogs at -3 as of January 5, is just the latest example of how the South continues to dominate the sport.

Since the Bowl Championship Series era began in 1998, a team from the southeast or the SEC footprint has won all but three or four of the 23 national championships — depending on what is the definition of “southeast.”

The SEC footprint — states which house Southeastern Conference schools — has won 19 of the last 23 national championships, with another coming Monday as either Georgia or Alabama is set to win yet another title. If future SEC program Oklahoma counts as the southeast as well, then the south will have won 21 of the last 24 national titles by Tuesday morning.

The SEC alone has seen five different schools win 13 national championships since 1998, and that number could grow to six and 14 if Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs win on Monday night. They are currently a slight three-point favorite in the game.

Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Texas all reside in “SEC” states and have won a combined six championships since 1998.

The only two schools outside of the southeastern region to have won a national title in the last quarter-century are Ohio State (2002, 2014) and USC (2004).

Why has this happened, and, more importantly, can anything be done about it — especially, if it is causing apathy toward the sport from a national perspective.

Around the turn of the century, a few critical market forces began converging on college football, and it has led to one region’s domination.

First, the rise of internet coverage of college football recruiting through websites like rivals.com and later 247Sports elevated the value and science of recruiting. With brighter spotlights on high school prospects, the focus on spending to acquire talent has gone up.

Second, the dollars inside the sport soared as athletic department budgets, coaching contracts and broadcast rights fees sky-rocketed from the 10’s of millions to the hundreds of millions. ESPN just paid billions of dollars for what amounts to one SEC football game per Saturday. Where does that money end up? In SEC recruiting budgets.

Lastly, population trends over time indicate a broad and slow but definitive migration of people from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. More of the best players are coming from southern states, while fewer are coming from the midwest or northeast.

With more money, more focus and more access to talent, the South has taken over the sport by stockpiling the best talent in America in an unprecedented way.

So what needs to happen to change all of this?

First, the Pac-12 needs to get its act together, hire great coaches and learn how to recruit like the cutthroat SEC. College football has to be relevant west of Texas for this sport to be at its healthiest. Hopefully, this is what Lincoln Riley will do at USC and what first-year head coach and former SEC assistant Dan Lanning will do at Oregon. Ideally, new headman Kalen DeBoer has what it takes to return Washington to the playoff as well. Basically, the West Coast needs to keep the best West Coast talent on the West Coast.

But it will take much more than that.

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh has to build off his best season yet at Michigan. Former SEC assistant Mel Tucker has to lure talent to Michigan State. First-time head coach Marcus Freeman at Notre Dame has to establish an SEC-style recruiting culture. Former SEC coach James Franklin has to recapture his recruiting magic at Penn State. Nebraska has to find its glory of years past. The new Big 12 has to be strong enough without Oklahoma and Texas to maintain playoff relevance.

If all of that can happen, then maybe a sea-change of power could be coming to college football. 

With the right coaches and financial investment at power programs outside of the South, maybe this sport could find some geographic balance. Maybe new forces like Name, Image and Likeness, the transfer portal or playoff expansion could actually help the sport rediscover some semblance of competitive equilibrium.

Because if something doesn’t change soon, the South will only continue to tighten its grip on college football. 

After all, it does just mean more.

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About the Author

Braden Gall

Read More @BradenGall

Braden Gall is a writer for BetMGM, works as a radio host for ESPN Radio and is the owner of the 440 Sports network. He also hosts the Cover 2 college football podcast for Athlon Sports. He's a Nashville, Tennessee native and loves live music and brown water almost as much as football.

Braden Gall is a writer for BetMGM, works as a radio host for ESPN Radio and is the owner of the 440 Sports network. He also hosts the Cover 2 college football podcast for Athlon Sports. He's a Nashville, Tennessee native and loves live music and brown water almost as much as football.