Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Will the College Football Playoff expand?

It seems as if it's on a path to do so:

The proposal for a 12-team College Football Playoff cleared another hurdle Tuesday when the 11 presidents and chancellors who have the ultimate authority over the format authorized the 10 FBS commissioners to "begin a summer review phase" to determine the feasibility of an expanded field and work on the details of how and when it might be implemented.

This was an important step in the process, as the playoff couldn't expand without the support of the presidents and chancellors who make up the CFP's board of managers. The group, which has "authority over all aspects of the company's operations," includes a representative from each of the 10 FBS conferences, along with the Notre Dame president, the Rev. John Jenkins.

With some of the most powerful people in college football now backing further exploration of the proposed 12-team format, it seems to be a matter of when -- not if -- the postseason will grow again, but those within the room continue to caution that this is a long, unpredictable process. The board of managers and management committee aren't expected to meet again until Sept. 28.

The CFP's working group unveiled the 12-team proposal earlier this month, and presented the proposal to conference commissioners last week. The conference commissioners, in turn, blessed it and presented it to the board of managers yesterday. 

As currently proposed, the expanded playoff would include the six highest-ranked conference champions – notably, there would be no limit on the number of participants from a single conference, and no league would qualify automatically – and six at-large teams. The top four seeds of the 12-team playoff would receive first-round byes while fifth through twelfth seeds would play the first round at the home stadium of the higher seed. The quarterfinal and semifinal games would be hosted by the current “New Year’s Six” bowls (Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose and Sugar) and the final would be at another neutral location.

By virtue of six conference champions being included in this proposal, at least one team from the so-called “Group of Five” conferences would be able to participate in the playoff. This is of obvious benefit to G5 schools (such as Houston), because up until now no G5 school had a realistic chance of participating in the playoff. Under these proposed rules, the Cougars would have made the playoff after the 2015 season, and last year two G5 schools (Coastal Carolina and Cincinnati) would have gotten in ahead of the Pac-12 champion.

Expansion of the CFP is long overdue. While it was definitely an improvement over the corrupt Bowl Championship Series, the four-team playoff has quickly become stale. The same teams seem to participate every year (such that it's earned the nickname of "Alabama-Clemson Invitational") and television viewership has declined accordingly. Expanding the playoff will make it more interesting to more people, and it will also give a sense of hope and inclusion to programs and players that have been excluded from the process so far. 

As John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times notes, "The first year will involve more teams than we’ve seen in the entire seven-year history of the current College Football Playoff monopoly:"

Yup, the current four-team format has had 28 openings since it was introduced in 2014 but, because the field is so limited annually, only 11 schools have gotten invitations. That means more than 90% of college football’s Division I-A programs have had their faces pressed to the window for seven long years.

To put that in perspective, only 3% of NFL teams have failed to earn a playoff berth during that same timeframe.

Ultimately, that’s what this proposal is all about. It’s about cash, too, of course. And television ratings, stadium expansions, athletic budgets, bowl games and cocktail parties, as well.

But for the average fan of the average program, it’s about hope and relevance. Two of the rarest commodities in college football.

Of course, just because there are more teams in the playoff doesn't mean that the same handful of teams (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio Stare) are not going to continue to dominate it. And it's also worth mentioning that, as long as the CFP rankings committee continues to rank teams through an opaque, closed-door process, G5 schools will likely continue to get screwed.

However, the new playoff proposal means that, if Boise State or Central Florida or Coastal Carolina or even, yes, Houston has a great season and wins their conference, they have a legitimate shot at the playoff and (theoretically at least) a national championship. That's more than can be said for these schools today, and that's also something they can tell recruits.

The expanded playoff proposal can still change between now and this fall, and the earliest CFP expansion can happen is 2023. But right now, things are looking pretty good for a more interesting, and  more inclusive, end to the college football season. 

Dennis Dodd lists the winners and losers of the CFP expansion proposal, and Jerry Palm adds his thoughts. Slate's Jason Kirk thinks the expanded playoff will transform the sport, while CFN's Pete Fiutak thinks the proposal "is a solid plan." Of course, the Supreme Court's Alston v NCAA decision, also released yesterday, might destroy college sports as we know it, therefore rendering all of this moot. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Is United bringing back supersonic flight?

Maybe, but I won't believe it until it happens:

United Airlines has announced it will purchase up to 50 Boom Overture supersonic jets for commercial use by 2029, heralding the return of supersonic passenger flights nearly 20 years after the Concorde was decommissioned.

Supersonic planes halve the time it takes to fly from New York to London, from seven hours down to 3.5 hours, but such airliners were abandoned following Concorde's final flight in 2003. Concorde had become financially unworkable after a high-profile crash in 2000, combined with excessive ticket prices, high fuel consumption, and increasingly high maintenance costs.

If Boom's supersonic aircraft (pictured above) is to succeed, it will depend on overcoming these issues that derailed Concorde. So can it be done?

While it is intriguing to see a major airline like United give support to the idea of supersonic flight through this purchase order,   right now it amounts to little more than a publicity stunt. A lot has to happen between now and 2029 for these airplanes to begin carrying passengers. While Boom has built a prototype aircraft and expects to begin testing it this year, there's a lot of work yet to be done if this effort is to succeed where the Concorde failed.

The Concorde's demise was the result of a variety of factors; among them, the the noise it created (e.g. screaming afterburners and sonic booms), the vast amounts of fuel it burned, and (most importantly) its cost. While technology has advanced since the Concorde's time such that these factors might be mitigated, supersonic flight is still unlikely to be cheap:

Boom will be optimistic that it can overcome fuel efficiency challenges by the time its aircraft begins carrying fare-paying passengers in 2029. Those fares look set to be high, with Boom anticipating a £3,500 ($4,930) price tag per seat. In 1996, British Airways charged around £5,350 -- £8,800 in today's prices -- for round-trip tickets from New York to London.

This means that, like Concorde before it, the Boom Overture looks aimed at the luxury market -- beyond the reach of even business class passengers. It is likely to be frequented only by those who currently travel via private jet, who may be enticed by Boom's claims to be a sustainable aircraft manufacturer.

Therein lies the biggest obstacle for supersonic flight: the market for this type of service is extremely limited. Generally speaking, people don’t really want to pay that much just to save some time on their flight. This is especially true nowadays, considering all the amenities a private jet or luxury class seat currently provides - lie-flat seats, in-flight wifi - that make the "time" factor less onerous than it was in the Concorde's day. 

In order for this service to be successful, Boom and United are not just going to have to overcome the technical challenges that doomed the original Concorde; they're also going to have to make the case to an extremely small and wealthy set of people that the time savings provided by these airplanes is worth it.

Ben at OMMAT is also intrigued, but also skeptical.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

The USFL plans to return in 2022

We've reached peak '80s nostalgia, folks:
The USFL is relaunching in 2022, four decades after the spring football league's short-lived run that featured such stars as Reggie White, Herschel Walker, Steve Young and Jim Kelly, as well as future President Donald Trump as an owner.

The new USFL announced Thursday that it will play next spring with a minimum of eight teams and will "deliver high-quality, innovative professional football to fans."

Although the teams, cities, head coaches and schedule won't be announced until later, the league said it retains the rights to "key original team names." The USFL also is using the same red, white and blue stars-and-stripes logo it did from 1983 to 1985.
Before you go rummaging through your attic for that four-decade old Houston Gamblers or Chicago Blitz t-shirt, however, be aware that this may be little more than an attempt to re-brand The Spring League, a developmental league that doesn't even pay its players. In other words, don't expect to see it go head-to-head with the NFL for top football talent, like the original USFL did. 
"I'm extremely passionate about football and the opportunity to work with Fox Sports, and to bring back the USFL in 2022 was an endeavor worth pursuing," said Brian Woods, co-founder of the new USFL and founder and CEO of The Spring League. "We look forward to providing players a new opportunity to compete in a professional football league and giving fans everywhere the best football viewing product possible during what is typically a period devoid of professional football."
But wait... Isn't another star-crossed spring football league supposed to be returning in the spring of 2022 as well?
The USFL's return could result in two pro leagues playing football in the spring. The XFL has been targeting a 2022 resumption of play after owners Dany Garcia, Dwayne Johnson and RedBird Capital Partners purchased the league out of bankruptcy in 2020. Planning for the XFL's 2022 season has been on pause since March, when it entered into negotiations regarding a collaboration with the Canadian Football League.
Spring football has a poor track record as it is, so the chances of two leagues being able to thrive simultaneously are nil. However, the longer we go without hearing anything from the XFL regarding a 2022 season, the less likely it is to happen. The Spring League, on the other hand, is already established and is currently playing its 2021 season (although you probably didn't even know it existed). It's easier to rebrand an existing league than it is to start a new one. 

Even though there are still a lot of details left to be worked out, at least the new USFL knows what doesn't work:
The USFL was launched in 1983 but crumbled after three seasons because of out-of-control spending and an ill-conceived push led by Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals, to compete directly against the NFL with a fall season.
Yep... Donald Trump was just as clueless at owning a football team as he was at owning airlines, owning casinos, owning universities, or being President. 

Fox Sports, which currently broadcasts The Spring League and which has a minority equity stake in the USFL reboot, will be the league's official broadcast partner.