The Case For A Playoff

College football fans, meet your Bowl Championship Series. It's new and…. New and…. Well, at least it's new, right? Last week, a committee of university presidents unanimously approved the latest in a series of meaningless tweaks to the BCS, adding a "double-hosting" model that will give non-BCS schools greater access to bowl games.

BCS officials called the step an improvement, or as Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer said, "the least disruptive to current relationships between individual conferences and the individual bowls."

I have an improvement for the BCS. It involves all seven computers currently involved in the BCS selection process, four or five sticks of dynamite, a lighter, a bomb squad and a remote location deep in the Nevada desert, right down the road from Area 51.

Once the clouds of smoke become visible from a safe distance, get college football's heavy hitters together at a table, get out the suitcases of cash and let the playoff process begin.

That's the only way to fix what has become a seriously flawed system. The muckety-mucks that run college football keep throwing solutions at the problem, hoping they'll luck out and solve the postseason without bringing in a playoff.

They say that if you lock 60 monkeys in a room with 60 typewriters, eventually they'll write the world's greatest novel.

Key word: eventually.

Eventually, the powers-that-be might solve the BCS mess and keep the bowl system intact. But it isn't worth messing around while controversies like last year's Oklahoma-LSU-Southern Cal national title fiasco pop up almost yearly.

There's only one real solution to the mess: a true playoff system.

It works in college basketball, baseball, and virtually every other sport the NCAA sponsors at a varsity level. It works on college football's Division I-AA, II and III levels.

So why can't it work on its highest level – Division I-A?

The answer? College presidents.

This year, they rejected a proposed "plus-one" model that would have matched the top two teams a week after the BCS bowls. Frohnmayer said on a conference call that presidents had "adamant opposition" to the measure, in fact.

Their concerns, of course, are based in beliefs that a playoff system – even a one-game system – will hamper players' – oops, student-athletes' – academic performances by increasing their time away from schools.

For the record, Frohnmayer said that only 23 percent of schools would be "affected" by a game played on January 9, which just happens to be about the time the BCS championship game will now be played thanks to the presence of the non-BCS piggyback game. It is also the time a "plus-one" game would have likely been played, but I guess college presidents were too busy patting themselves on the back for saving their bowl relationships to notice the similarity.

BCS officials say they're trying to preserve the traditional relationships between bowl games and major conferences. The Rose Bowl, of course, throws a huge hissy fit every time it doesn't get a Big 10-Pac 10 matchup; two years ago, Iowa and Southern Cal faced off in the Orange Bowl while Oklahoma waxed Mike Price and Washington State in Pasadena.

Are those "traditional relationships" worth preserving? Sounds to me like they're just keeping the current system around because they're scared of trying something new.

Back in the 1950s, Major League Baseball only invited the American and National League champs into the playoffs.

Seems to me divisional winners, wild cards and the League Championship Series have worked out OK.

Thirty years ago, only 32 teams were invited to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and only conference champions were welcome.

Funny. Last I heard, the tournament's 64-team format – known by one and all as "March Madness" – was the NCAA's most successful event, a moneymaker that rivets sports fans to their couches and barstools for almost a month of scintillating hoop action.

So why are BCS and major conference officials so vehemently against a major college football playoff?

In this case, status quo isn't necessarily the best option. What's wrong with turning the bowl system into a 16-team playoff played out over a month from early December to early January?

Imagine a team playing its first-round game in the New Orleans or Mobile Alabama Bowl, moving on to the quarterfinals at the Sun Bowl in sunny El Paso, playing the semis in Miami's tradition-rich Orange Bowl and wrapping a national crown on the bayou in New Orleans?

Critics say fans don't have enough money to follow their team around the country for four weeks. Have they ever paid attention to the three-site, three-week men's basketball tournament?

Nah, fans never follow their team in the tournament, right? Riii-ght.

Obviously, these critics have never seen Alabama's RV army roll into town for a big away game. And the Tide is hardly the only school with a rabid fan base.

Presidents have concerns about players missing class time during a potential playoff, too. What they don't realize is that most schools are out of session from mid-December through mid-January.

And plenty of college basketball players deal with academic pressures during the NCAA Tournament; Stanford players (who were on the quarter system) shrugged off taking their final exams in hotel rooms two days before Alabama bounced them from the tournament in Seattle.

There are other minor concerns, but with a little ingenuity and proactive thinking, a college football playoff could easily work.

Anybody got some spare dynamite lying around?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald and writes this column for BamaMag.com


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