2014-2024...What A Decade!
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As I prepare to watch the 2025 National Championship Game here in a couple of weeks between Wisconsin and Georgia, I am reminded of the events that took place 15 years ago to get us to this point. When Oregon and Florida tied for the 2010 National Title, the NCAA said "enough was enough" and they took control. At that point in time, a good thing got better - a rarity in life!
When the newly formed College Football Improvement Committee (CFIC) announced the plans for the "Field of 8" and "National Championship Stadium" (NCS) in the Summer of 2011, college football fans nationwide were in total disbelief - some glad, some mad, some wondering just exactly what it was all about and what exactly was going on. But no matter which side you were on, or whether or not you were in the group that had gathered the facts, you knew that starting in 2014, the world was about to change! For in the fall of 2014, an 8-team playoff would come to a finale in the greatest sports venue on planet Earth, a state-of-the-art stadium, centrally located, dedicated to one thing: the playing of college football's National Championship Game.
The BCS (Bowl Championship Series, evolving from the 1992 Bowl Coalition), founded in 1998, was controversial from its conception to its death. It produced a co-national champion in 8 of its 16 years in existence. So when the BCS contracts came to an end in 2013, the CFIC decided once and for all to lay an end to the play-off or no play-off debate, which was a hot and heavy topic in the early 2010's. The CFIC, a mixed group comprised of 12 individuals (who have been for the most part either active conference commissioners or school AD's, former head coaches or various other all appointed by the NCAA), decided to make a change in the summer of 2011 that would attempt to end forever the debating over who our champion was each year. As we all know, a playoff was formed made up of the 6 major conference champs and two-at large teams - the "Field of 8". The six best bowls would host these six "early-round" games, with the main-event taking place at NCS annually from 2014 to eternity. The remaining bowls have done just fine since then, as 62 teams still see the post-season each year in 30 different bowl games. Talks are currently under way between several bowls to form a second tier playoff of sorts, where 4 teams battle for the 2 at-large spots.
It seems like normal happening now to look forward to NCS each year. But lets remember it wasnt always that way. The National Title game used to skip across the country, remember? In addition to the formation of a playoff back in 2011, the CFIC also voted 9-3 in favor of allowing a corporate sponsor to pay the bills for the formation of "National Championship Stadium", a venue that would give college football a showcase permanent home. The idea behind it was based on college baseball's Omaha, and I think it is safe to say the CFIC hit a home-run with this one. The stadium needed to be centralized, and so Texas won the job. Lone-Star State based Exxon Mobile took zero time to jump on the opportunity. The stadium (still sparkling as we prepare to see the 11th Title Game within its confines) would be the pinnacle of the mountain for college football each season. Built at a cost of 1.2 billion dollars between 2012 and 2014, it has given college football a "home" of sorts as it houses a museum, emaculately landscaped grounds, "Heisman Park", and other features.
The stadium was built to be timeless, with architecture based on that of the super-competitive Romans. Huge, oversized columns were decided upon to be the theme throughout. NCS was also designed based totally on a "neutral site" concept, with each set of guests being treated to a nearly eaxct luxury experience while at the place. Each team is alloted an even 40,000 tickets to the game each season (expansion thoughts have been and always will be turned down - the stadium is what it is - forever.) and symettry is apparent throughout the design of NCS. No expense was spared in construction materials as Limestone, Marble, native mid-western stone, and other fine materials were chosen. This place was built to be a shrine, and it has indeed been that.
Features of the stadium have presented college football with memories that make its tradition second to no other sport. The crown-jewel has been "Champions Stage", the centerpiece of NCS. It sits 50 feet above field level on the 50-yard line of NCS. Above Champions Stage, an enormous banner displays the logo for one year of the current National Champion. In what has become perhaps the most widely watched ceremony in the world, the defending champion (whose huge logo is displayed during the game being played) stands side by side with the team that has just won, as the banner is lowered for the newly crowned champion. From then, for exactly 365 days, and through the following year's title game, the new champs' logo is on display for all to see (including roughly 2.8 million tourists a year).
"When we beat USC for the 2019 Title, it was like I had to grasp for memories. I had to turn to facebook and see all the pictures because I remember so little! When our team gathered at the bottom of the stairs to start the walk up to the Champions Stage, it was surreal. Walking up those stairs, with the Southern Cal fans on the left side congratulating us and our fans on the right side going absolutley bananas hugging us and tearing up and high-fiving us on our way up to the stage they were so overjoyed, as were we - it was crazy...I wanted to hug 'em all, but I had to keep moving up the stairs!," said Lamar Jenkins, former Michigan State defensive end during the press conference following the 2019 NCG at NCS. " When we got to the stage, and our feet were walking on that marble floor that only champions feet can walk on, that was it. I needed very little else in life."
Jenkins is not the only individual who had perhaps his greatest life memory in NCS. Take Texas Coach Mack Brown, who in his final game as a college head coach, delivered UT with the second national title under his guidance. After leading the 'Horns to the 2005 National Title, and then announcing his retirement in 2009 (when coach-to-be Will Muschamp opted for the vacant Notre Dame job) Brown did it again exactly 10 years later at the tender age of 68. In just the second game in NCS history, Brown and the 'Horns won a thriller over UCLA, 40-33, in 2015, with the game decided on a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown with less than 2 minutes to go.
"I'm glad we won" said Brown after the game, "But I'm more glad I didn't have a heart attack when Jamie (Watkins, former Bruin All-American QB) had 'em driving that last series. D (Dominique Craft, former Texas DB) didn't win the Thorpe for nothin', and now he has one of college footballs all-time great plays in his wallet."
So for those of you that remember that day back in 2011 when the CFIC announced the plans for the Field of 8 and NCS, I think it is now quite safe to say, " 2014-2024, what a decade for college football!" The 8-team playoff has brought us a clear-cut, non-debatable national champion 10 years straight, and the memories these 15 teams have experienced inside NCS are incredible. Who can forget the ACC's first title in 23 years when UNC beat Tennessee in 2022? Or what about Southern Cal winning the third, fourth, and fifth games in NCS under Hall-Of-Fame Coach Pete Carroll? And what about Florida, the measuring stick for all college football teams winning Titles 6 and 7 under Urban Meyer, in 2020 and 2021?
The success of the Field of 8 and NCS are profound, but the two have also had their objectors. Many liked having the title game move around each season, and many feel the "champion" may be that 9th team that is left out. But in life, everything has its haters, and this is no exception. For the most part, the Field of 8 and NCS have taken college football to the next level. The sport now has a permanent home, and it has an indisputable National Champion each season.
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