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As Goodell as It Gets

roger goodell
The NFL doesn’t take a back seat to anyone—not TV networks, not Big Tech, not sponsors, and certainly not a C.F.P. that appears to be rudderless. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
John Ourand
February 22, 2024

The byzantine act of crowning a college football national champion—and, of course, fully monetizing that intricate process—has vexed even the most astute sports business executives over the decades. In the old days, of course, bowl games were money-making tourist attractions, allowing fans of larger, cold-weather conference teams to decamp to milder climes during the winter. This created the imperfect system in which there were multiple polls that occasionally crowned multiple champions. The advent of the College Football Playoff, a decade ago, created as many problems as it solved. Sure, it was better to select four schools to compete in a tournament for the top prize. But, of course, that limited number inherently meant that at least one Power 5 conference would be aggrieved, and some deserving school or other was likely to be left out.

The advent of the 12-team C.F.P., which debuts this year, has suffered through innumerable delays, including recent ones. The executives that I speak to enumerate the usual suspects: figuring out what the hell to do with those two orphaned Pac-12 schools; nailing an equitable way to distribute revenue to the conferences, which are increasingly becoming a duopoly; and perhaps the most prosaic challenge: scheduling. And yet, that final nit—the issue of landing upon a workable schedule, particularly for those opening-round games—is becoming an increasingly significant pain in the neck.