Thursday, May 1, 2008

College Football Could Have Had a Playoff

The college football world, at least as represented by most league commissioners, has shelved for at least another several years the idea of a plus-one playoff system that would have matched the BCS-ranked #1 and #4 teams, and the #2 and #3 teams, against each other, with the winners playing in a national title game. Think of the proposal as the NCAA Tournament, but skipping the earlier games and jumping right into the Final Four.

It was a golden opportunity to make college football that much more exciting, and that much fairer. The fans were clamoring for it. Justice and fairness demanded it. But most of the league commissioners lacked the vision and courage to make such a system happen. Notre Dame A.D. Kevin White, whose football program isn't even affiliated with a BCS conference, said "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Tell that to Auburn University, who went undefeated in the SEC in 2004, and was not given the opportunity to play for a national championship. USC defeated Oklahoma that year to claim its place on the college football throne, but Auburn fans will always be left wondering "what if?" Tell it to Oregon in 2001, who saw Nebraska reach the championship game against Miami after getting annihilated in its final regular-season game against Colorado.

Those resisting the change cite a couple of major reasons for keeping the current system intact - (1) they don't want to extend the season and have their players miss too much class, and (2) they worry that a playoff-like system would minimize the relative importance of the regular season.

The first concern is fatuous in light of how other collegiate sports do this without blinking an eye - college basketball has its 64 team tournament, prolonging the season for many teams, whose players or school presidents never seem to fret about missed school time; baseball has the regional/super-regional/CWS system which does the same thing; Division II college football has a 16-team playoff. The second is simply not true - the plus-one playoff format would have every team fighting to not be #5, and thus left out of the Final Four that plays for the championship. Rivalry games will still be rivalry games. Big conference matchups will still be big conference matchups.

While not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, the plus-one format would have been an enormous improvement over the current regime, and the commissioners meeting in Hollywood missed a chance to make college football fairer and more exciting, and to earn the lasting gratitude and reverence of fans for being the pioneers who made it all happen. Major kudos to SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who proposed the plus-one system only to have it speedily shot down, and ACC commissioner John Swofford, who also expressed a willingness to change the status quo. UF, FSU, and UM are lucky to have such leaders.


ASponge said...

I don't know how to say AMEN any louder. How is this story not getting any more hype? (I'll have some thoughts on that later today).

Bryce Adams said...

What sucks is that money controls everything and the only way to break from the current BCS mold is to stop watching and going to the games, and what are the chances of that happening.

E.J. said...

Zero chance, at least for me, Bryce. But the thing is college football is so big nationwide, that there would be no money loss at all; only more money lining the schools' pockets.

Trust me when I say that with a plus-one system, stadiums will be as full as they ever were, bowls will be as full as they ever were, even if there's another game to be played after. Look at the Final Four. Is the game leading up to the championship not always sold out? It is. People care. I can't wait for the next generation of presidents, AD's, and commissioners. This current crop completely and utterly lacks vision.