The Tulane Green Wave has accomplished many amazing things during their magical 2022 football season.
They won their first match against a Power Five opponent in a dozen years.
They recorded their first victory against a Top 25 team in 38 years.
And they got their first major bowl berth in nearly 80 years.
It was a season of unprecedented highlights, milestones and success.
But their most significant achievement might have been something more intangible. By winning the American Athletic Conference, beating Southern Cal in the Cotton Bowl, and fighting their way to the top of the national rankings, they changed the perception of Tulane football.
Tulane will be seen differently in the future. Willie Fritz’s program had long earned the respect of the college football community. But now it will be taken seriously by the masses. Tulane will no longer be known simply as the party school for Northeast nerds who couldn’t cut the academic mustard for Ivy League admission.
Tulane can be seen as something closer to Northwestern or Duke or Stanford — a school with high academic standards that also field a high-performing football team. These two missions do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.
As Green Wave defensive lineman Patrick Jenkins so aptly put it after the Cotton Bowl, “We’re a football school and a smart school.
The victory against USC was a paradigm shift. Beating Kansas State, Central Florida and Cincinnati is one thing. Beating the Trojans at the Cotton Bowl in front of a national audience is another.
By knocking down the Trojans, Tulane shattered the perception that they couldn’t play “to the level” of a Power Five blue blood.
For many, it was impossible to imagine Tulane competing on the same playing field with a powerhouse like USC. The Trojans list was full of five-star recruits. They had the Heisman Trophy winner and $100 million head coach. Their football budget eclipsed Tulane’s, more than triple its size.
And yet, when the schools lined up in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 in Arlington, Texas, the green wave battled the Trojans for four quarters — and ultimately prevailed.
Tulane’s effort came as no surprise to college football connoisseurs. Coaches, players and members of the informed media knew the Green Wave could play. And it came as no shock to the Las Vegas bettors, who had set up the Trojans as slim 2½-point favorites.
But it certainly surprised casual observers, who were brainwashed into believing that college football is played at “levels,” and Tulane was not worthy of the top.
And therein lies the problem with the way college football is run at its highest level. For too long the sport has been built on myth and perception, in large part because it has used an antiquated playoff system based on human perception and computer models to decide its champion.
It is the only sport that continues to adhere to such an archaic system. And Tulane, along with TCU, helped blast its flawed methodology.
Among the many ills of college football is its reliance on myth, brand and perception.
Tulane’s victory taught everyone – members of the CFP selection committee, Top 25 voters, scouts and fans – that football games, like any other sporting competition, should not be determined by eye tests, computer simulators or analytical assessments. They must be decided between the white lines, where effort and execution, not pedigree, decide the outcome.
Ask any college football fan beyond Willow Street if USC was better than Tulane and they’d quickly inform you that the Trojans were “on another level” from the green wave.
Tulane blasted that myth on Monday. Even if its comeback was not up to par, the Green Wave showed that it was at the same level.
“We felt like we could compete with anybody,” said senior linebacker Dorian Williams, who will play Sundays this time next year.
For too long, college football has stratified, literally and figuratively, into hierarchical levels: Division III, Division II, FCS, Group of Five, Power Five. And even now, the stratification continues as the high of the Power Five work diligently behind closed doors to excommunicate their bourgeois brethren.
Soon we will have 40 superpowers competing for all the marbles.
Instead of competing for titles, the powerhouses that run college football at its highest level increasingly want to decide them based on Q ratings and brand awareness.
The success of Tulane and TCU further validates the decision to expand the CFP playoffs to 12 teams. Hopefully that grows to 16 and 24 teams on the road.
“It’s huge,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said of the ramifications of the Cotton Bowl victory. “Going into the national playoff picture, you win a national league championship from the group of five. And I don’t like that language, but a lot of people use it.
Fritz doesn’t like levels. Or labels. He has coached at all levels of the sport: high school, college, Division II, Division III, FCS and now FBS. He knows that football matches should be decided on the playing field, not on the computer screen.
“This is a huge win for the program. … And I think we’ve seen this year what a great football season and top-level competition can do for an institution,” Fritz said. “So I’m very proud to be part of it.”
He should. Football seasons that change the perception and the paradigm do not happen very often. Tulane had one in 2022. What a magical season it was.