Wright Waters Talks Playoffs

Crucial decisions face the powers of college football as a playoff looms. One who will be listened to in upcoming discussions is Wright Waters, the first executive director of the Football Bowl Association. The non-profit FBA represents post-season college football games. Waters, recently retired as commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference, has four decades experience in athletics administration.

Wright Waters is an alumnus of The University of Alabama and graduate of West Alabama, a former executive director of Crimson Tide Sports Marketing, and now lives in Tuscaloosa.

'BAMA Magazine/BamaMag.com asked the venerable Waters to shed light on the situation.

'BAMA: Will the bowls be incorporated into the playoff format by being awarded the semifinals and championship games or will some of the venues be put out to bid?

WW: "I hope they'll include the bowls in all of it. The bowls have proven they know how to put on these games and they know how to put it on so it's a positive experience for the student-athletes, fans and for coaches. They are located in great venues. I hope that when we get down to dotting the i's and crossing the t's that the guys will say ultimately we have a responsibility to the fans and student-athletes; not just for the money but also for the experience, and nobody knows how to do that better than the bowls.

"We have to be real careful and not let football become basketball. The beauty of football is we have to recognize that it is a unique sport. Some of the things we do in basketball work for basketball. Our football coaches, in my mind, need more than a week to prepare for these games particularly of that caliber. I still think the bowls are the best place. There is too much history and tradition which is a huge part of college football. I think you will see a four-team playoff and I hope they'll involve the bowls. I think it's good for football for the bowls to be strong. Nobody does it better than the bowls."

'BAMA: If the four-team playoff format is adopted should the semifinal sites be predetermined?

WW: "I think it's best if the sites are predetermined, particularly if it's rotated which I am assuming they would bid out and not have in the same game and same place every year. In the years a bowl would not have a semifinal game they would have a good competitive game and a good experience for the student-athletes."

'BAMA: Would the location of the semifinal sites be among the four current BCS Bowls – Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose - or opened up for bidding to other cities?

WW: "If you start bidding it out you will open it up to anybody who meets the specifications and has the money to bid on it. That is the other risk they face. The BCS has a contractual obligation to first deal with the four existing bowls. They have an exclusive negotiation period for a contract with them. There will have to be a discussion with those four first and if they can find comfort with those sites, I am sure they will stay where they are."

'BAMA: What are the pitfalls of the Plus-One model?

WW: "The problem is the bowls are contracted to different conferences so you could have a very good team end up playing another team that doesn't help them with their consideration in the rankings after the bowl season. A team may not be able to help its position because of the contractual obligations with a conference. I think if you go to a Plus-One, you've also got to at least manage the destination of the top ten teams to get a fair picture of who can compete against better competition."

'BAMA: Do you think the national championship game will be an open bid to sites outside the normal BCS venues?

WW: "If their objective is to get this game into different parts of the United States therefore increasing the exposure for the BCS, then that may be a goal of the group. Warm weather sites have lured fans for decades."

'BAMA: Does the FBA have any preference to the methodology for selecting the teams?

WW: "We want to make sure they make their selections in a timely matter so the other bowls can get about their business and have time for a meaningful experience for the student-athletes and fans. That is important. We have games starting the week before Christmas so ultimately they are all going to be impacted. Currently the bowl matchups are made on the Sunday after the SEC Championship Game."

'BAMA: What should the fans know that might be of interest?

WW: "The 11 conference commissioners and the AD at Notre Dame are really good people. They really do care and have the best interest of the game. But this is a very complicated process. There is no perfect solution. The parameters they've been given are such that there is not going to be a perfect answer. It's a matter of how much poison are you willing to take. People that understand how complicated it is have stepped back and said the bowl system has taken care of our issues. We are providing opportunities for student-athletes and fans. Let's don't mess up the bowl system. When you start getting into a playoff you put those two things sooner or later in conflict. There are so many problems with the playoffs, some people have said let's not mess it up."

Other ticklish issues yet to be resolved include revenue distribution and the method to select the teams according to Waters. If a committee replaces the current ranking system, which individuals would be courageous enough to be a member of the most scrutinized consortium in college athletics? In the event a four-team playoff format is adopted, there is a timing issue between the semifinals and championship game (see NCAA Bowl mandated dates listed below). Would coaches be amenable to accepting a condensed window of preparation? Will the quality of the game be sacrificed at the expense of calendar restrictions? "I think the coaches will tell you no less than ten days and two weeks are even better to get ready to have a good quality game," Waters said.

College football fans exude an unmatched level of passion distinguishing the experience from other sporting extravaganzas. The proposed changes should avoid morphing into the quintessential corporate event, the Super Bowl. Preserving reasonable logistical feasibility and access for season ticket holders and legions of supporters must be a priority.

Waters was the commissioner of the Southern Conference for a decade at the time they were the best league in the nation. He has experience with a 16-team 1AA tournament. The first week was an elimination of the pretenders according to Waters. Drawing the line will always elicit strong objections from the teams left out. Signing a long-term agreement would make an eight-team playoff possibility disappear.

Two important windows of negotiation exist. ESPN, the current holder of the broadcasting rights, has a time period to present a winning number to the deciders. Other networks are salivating to enter the fray. The four BCS bowls – Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose - also have an exclusive opportunity to prevent the bid becoming open to venues across the country. Double-hosting would be within the realm of options if the semifinals and finals are incorporated into the bowl system. Among cities anxious to present viable alternatives are Arlington, Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, East Rutherford, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Minneapolis, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Tampa.

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive has been proactive in protecting the league's ranking position if the Plus-One Model is adopted. Pairing the Big 12 vs. the SEC in the proposed Champions Bowl improves the chances of the winner receiving an invitation to the national championship game. The Rose Bowl partners of the Big Ten and Pac-12 are the two other conferences with a built-in hedge to seize a share of the marquee.

An expression coined by a relevant figure in the discussion summed up the prevailing sentiment responsible for initiating revolutionary change. "Jim Delany (Big Ten Commissioner) looked around at all the commissioners and said we all have BCS fatigue," Waters recalled. "He (Delany) said we are getting beat up for something that we want to do the right thing but we can't make it work. It's a difficult thing. It's not very easy."

The idea of a playoff to determine the champion has been smoldering forever. "People think this discussion started last October," Waters said. "This has been going on for years."

He said, "If you don't know what the questions are, it is easy to have the answers. There are so many moving parts. At the end of the day you are trying to keep a bunch of different people happy."

Bowls originally began as a tourist attraction to generate revenue during a slow time of year. Occupying hotels and exposing a host city to fans across the country was the simple goal. Complex is the dominant word for the pending discussions to establish the next generation of bowl games.

NCAA mandated dates to complete bowl games:

2014-15 bowl year between December 20th and January 12th

2015-16 bowl year between December 19th and January 11th

2016-17 bowl year between December 17th and January 9th

2017-18 bowl year between December 16th and January 8th

2018-19 bowl year between December 15th and January 8th

2019-20 bowl year between December 21st and January 13th

BamaMag Top Stories