College Playoff? Be careful what you ask for


The BCS is flawed, but it does meet the goal it agreed to accomplish – pitting #1 against #2. I think it needs major reform, but if you think a playoff is the answer to fairness, be careful what you wish for. Either way, I think it is not the business of government to interfere.

Right now, the NCAA is an organization with voluntary membership which allows each member organization to vote on the rules and regulations – including how it picks champions. The member schools, voting in their own interests, have voted almost unanimously against a playoff for a reason. A playoff would severely harm most of the member institutions and damage some permanently.

The first question is: how do you pick the teams? By using the polls, which people already think are flawed? Or by forcing all conferences to add a game to get a conference champion and then add wild cards to fill out a bracket? Does anyone think every conference champion is really one of the best 16 teams in the country? Boise beat UC Davis this season, a 6-5 Conference champ. Some conference champs did not even finish in the top 25. Why should they be there instead of teams with tougher schedules? Even Boise St, media darlings of the awful blue turf, went undefeated on a schedule that featured two teams with respectable records and 3 teams with a combined 6-31 record. Most of the teams they played were losing teams in weak divisions. Hardly worth jumping over anyone.

Let’s look at the SEC as an example. This season, 10 teams made it to bowl games. While that may be too many, there is a lot of money in it for those schools. Football money pays for academic programs at the schools. These are schools, after all. Bowl schools share revenue with each school in their respective conference, so Alabama making a bowl game (or Auburn) paid for programs at schools that did not go to bowls. So, Alabama winning the BCS gave lots of money to the MSU English department (hypothetically). In a 16 team playoff, at best two SEC teams would participate in post season action. Why on earth would the SEC vote to voluntarily harm the majority of its schools by removing bowl money? Don’t fall for the argument that we could maintain the bowls. All tv contracts have a clause releasing them from bowl coverage in case a playoff is in place. There would be no money to share by maintaining both systems.

Some people argue that it works in the lower divisions. They would have a point if they were correct. However, those schools have few, if any, traveling fans. They lose money on the playoffs, have to subsidize their sports with academic budgets (instead of the opposite), and who remembers who won that epic matchup between Ithaca and Frostburg State? I love football, but this is about the schools and the fans. They probably have more band members traveling to the games than actual fans.

A typical SEC game can have 80,000 fans or more on a given Saturday. The logistics of planning for that many people to travel in a week’s time to another playoff venue is impossible to fathom. There is almost no fan travel in lower divisions. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good football game at any level and I have been to many Div II and Div III games, but they are not the same. Never will be.

But, what about the NCAA basketball tournament you might ask. It is what it is. They play tournaments in central locations and schools in the tournament get very few tickets to the dance and they almost never sell out of the 1000 or so tickets allotted to them. That would hardly work when you have 80,000 fans waiting to travel on a moment’s notice in football. Logistically, it makes no sense. Fans want what they are being told they want.

What about the host cities? With the bowl system, the city makes millions of dollars in hotel, restaurant, entertainment, taxes, etc. In a playoff, that crowd is largely gone – or does the Stagg Bowl pump millions of dollars into wherever it is now that we don’t know about? Bowls donate money to charities in host cities. Every bowl has a contract clause that releases them from their financial responsibilities in the event of a playoff. Why, because they will make no money because TV networks also get released from covering those bowls in the event of a playoff scenario. All of a sudden, most schools will find that football loses money for their schools and there is no reward for achievement.

Finally, the vast majority of players, like coaches and school Presidents, do not want a playoff. They get paid expense bonuses for bowl games and they get bowl swag that they will no longer get. On top of that, they will have to go through four more weeks of physical abuse, screw up their schedules for finals, and there is still no guarantee that the best team will win – even in a playoff.

A first round game in a 16 team playoff would have featured exciting matchups like Troy vs Texas. In the case of Alabama, they beat the previous four national champions last season on the way to winning their conference title and an undefeated season – should they have been forced to play one more game so that a 9-5 East Carolina could take a shot and try to claim a championship by winning one game? How is that more accurate than #1 vs #2? How would fans like it if, during the Iron Bowl, Saban benched all of the starters and decided the game didn’t matter because he had to get ready for Florida in the SEC championship? Fans would be irate! However, Indianapolis did it during the final week of the NFL season so as not to risk injuries before the playoffs. I like the fact that every game counts in college. That’s why the stadium is full every Saturday in the fall. Why try to ruin an amateur sport that everyone enjoys? Some fans cry about a playoff, but they show up and fill the stadium every week because the games mean something to them.

So, the question is – if a private governing body decides it wants to pit #1 and #2 in a game and call that a champion – and all member organizations agree to that goal – what purpose does the government have in sticking its nose into it? Can we agree on that point?

Some people will also point to the 2004 Auburn team and their “people’s champions rings” as an example of a team who might have deserved a shot. They had a fantastic year. I do understand the frustration of Auburn fans (remember, Alabama had an AP title yanked out from under them in favor of Notre Dame in the late 70s), Auburn was in control of their destiny in 2004 and they shot themselves in the foot at the administration level when they let Bowling Green out of their contract at the last minute. The BCS game came down to two undefeated teams, USC and Oklahoma. Throw out the fact that USC beat Auburn at home 23 – 0 the previous season and that still leaves Oklahoma as a question mark. However, Oklahoma picked up Bowling Green from the Auburn schedule and Auburn had to scramble to get 1AA Citadel, which finished the season 3-7, to fill the slot. Oklahoma then went on to beat an undefeated Texas team, while only four Auburn opponents finished the season with winning records. So, while they can rightfully claim they got a bad break, it isn’t the fault of the BCS.

A playoff could work in one scenario. The top 12 or 16 schools should break away from the pack and form a new league, play each other, crown a champion, and keep the money for themselves. Unfortunately, most people would never agree which elite programs in the nation would break away. There would likely only be one team from Alabama in that new super conference, for example. No one would be happy with that either when their teams were formally relegated to a second tier.