Football's Future Up for Discussion

The Southeastern Conference is holding its annual spring meetings with SEC coaches and athletics administrations in Destin, Florida this week to split up the money the conference earned this year and discuss its own role in shaping the future of college athletics.

It is expected to be a record financial haul again from the league, higher than last year when the total distribution was $110 million, give or take a few pennies.

A big topic of discussion will be the future of college football post-season. According to the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Florida's president, Bernie Machem, whose Gators won the college football national championship in 2006, will push for a playoff system after the current BCS contract expires. He wants to hire a corporation to run the playoff system, rather than the NCAA or BCS.

Hopefully these coaches and administrator will keep the big picture in mind during their discussions, and hopefully they will see that a "Playoffs vs. BCS" is not the most productive framework for a discussion about the sport's future.

If anyone conducted a scientific poll asking college football fans if they preferred a playoff system to the current system, a majority of them would undoubtedly answer yes. But that's no different than asking a game-show contestant if he would prefer a mediocre prize to whatever is behind door number two. If he switches, there could be a shiny new car behind door number two, or there could be a jackass.

The devil is always in the details.

The more specific one gets about a potential playoff system – how many teams, how teams are selected, where and when games would be played, who gets the money and so on – the less a college football playoff looks like the Utopia some see it as. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't, perhaps.

The BCS is the devil we know.

A main tenet underlying any discussion about the future of college football should be "First Do No Harm."

The best team throughout the year almost always has a chance to win the national championship. It doesn't always work out cleanly, and when it doesn't it is terribly devastating for the odd man out – people in Tuscaloosa know something about that.

College football has the most exciting regular season of any major sport in the nation. Games played in August and September can be just as important as the national championship game itself. This is unique to college football, and because of it, the Southeastern Conference has an incredibly profitable and entertaining television package. Fan attendance is excellent, too, whether it's August, September, October or November. It should be a priority to preserve that sustained excitement for the long-term good of the sport.

Conference officials, presidents and athletics directors should do as much as they can to keep it that way. By definition, as more teams are included in any theoretical post-season championship tournament, regular season games will lose importance proportionally.

Perhaps there is a playoff system that could preserve most of the excitement of the regular season while ginning up even more excitement than the current BCS structure. The BCS has shown enough flaws that significant changes should be made.

But they must be made wisely, and preserve the uniqueness of college football.

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