Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: Why the Heisman Needs a New Timeline

“College football has changed a lot since the 1930’s.” That’s a loaded sentence with an infinite number of statements that could follow it up. Whether its scandals, emerging teams, grade requirements, coaching, recruiting, or Lee Corso, that made college football into what it is today, its changed (hopefully for the better). It’s a whole new beast we’ve come accustomed to watching every Saturday in the fall.

The factors listed above, along with many other changes forced an evolution inside the college football system for its most important event. In 2014, the College Football Playoff was added into post-season bowl games. This was added to better dictate which two teams would play in the National Championship, giving four teams the possible opportunity instead of two. This was a substantial modification that shook up the system and was announced years before it was actually implemented. Not only did adding a semi-final widen the opportunity for teams to play and win the National Championship, as receiving a 3rd and 4th seeding gave you a shot at the title. This new motion also kept teams in the top ten more competitive throughout season, to fight for a spot in that prestigious top four. There are still many, large and unsolvable holes that exist in the FBS system: from bias selection voting to talent unevenly based across eleven main NCAA football conferences, there’s a problem to anger every fan. But this change was a large step in the right direction to even out the playing field.

As the College Football Playoff has been such a recent change to the system, it’s still working out it’s kinks, and will over time influence other adjustments in the league. One of the most prevalent and important topics that needs a facelift in the College Football Playoff world is: The Heisman Trophy. Usually an award given out to a running back or quarterback, The Heisman is awarded annually to a NCAA football player who shows “great ability combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work.” The award is presented every year in early December before the post season bowl games. However, with so much riding on post-season action in recent years, it’s time to rethink that time frame to announce a winner and push the ceremony to after the College Football Playoff has taken place.

Saturday night, University of Oklahoma’s quarterback, Kyler Murray won the 2018 Heisman Trophy. This made it a repeat year of winners for Oklahoma quarterbacks, with Baker Mayfield taking the title in 2017. But as soon as celebration broke out for Murray, there seemed to be a growing counter argument for the runner-up, Alabama Quarterback, Tua Tagavailoa. Many Alabama football players and fans took to Twitter posting statements such as “Tua got robbed” and “Dec 29 its up”. Murray’s win was a shock to most spectators as Tagovailoa was the favorite to win all season. The only thing that must have pushed Murray ahead in the voting was Tagovailoa’s unfortunate ankle injury that took him out for most of the 4th quarter of the SEC Championship, the score at that moment was Georgia 28-21. Where Tagavailoa leaving the game with his team down left a bad taste in the selection committees’ mouths, the absolute opposite rang true for Murray. Oklahoma pulled out a stunning 39-37 conference win over Texas. The competition was closer than it’s been in decade, for the first time since 2009, there was no clear winner as the ceremony started.

But what if the voting, the ceremony and the announcement, all happened after the College Football Playoffs, would we see the same fate? In a college football world where semi-finals exist and some of the best football of the year is played during them, doesn’t it make sense to push back this award ceremony. It almost feels like giving out an MVP before the Super Bowl or even the NFL playoffs. This has been a debate that’s been conversed since the College Football Playoffs started. It would mean accounting for 15 games, which may initially seem like too much. However, this is also one of sport’s most prestigious awards. By the time the semi-final and National Championship roll around, the Heisman feels like old news. Extending the voting could make it a very important aspect of the game, for fans and bookies alike. If the Heisman voting were to be pushed back to after the playoffs for any season, this seems like the most suitable year. Murray and Tagavailoa will match up when Alabama (#1) faces Oklahoma (#4) in the semi-final Orange Bowl on December 29th. It’s rare to have a Heisman winner and runner up play each other at all, none the less at a playoff. If Murray plays underwhelmingly or Tagavailoa dominates in the Orange Bowl, it may take away from the Heisman’s prestige. This won’t matter this year, as its still one of the most coveted awards in sport. However, the College Football Playoff era we are in has only recently begun. If non-Heisman winning quarterbacks start and continue to have knockout playoff games, outplaying Heisman winners in the semi-finals and/or National Championship, we could see a decline in the power and respect this award brings.

As the college football system has changed since the 1935 launch of the Heisman Trophy, including opening up the playoff  to let more teams compete for the National Championship. There has to be an expected follow up of changes, with the Heisman selection timeline being one of them. It may end up with the same verdict and winner, but it seems haste and unreasonable to decide the most important player of the year without playing the most important games of the year.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

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