MULE': Let the "playoff debate begin - again

It could be a rousing get-together. A watershed meeting. History-in-the-making.

In a couple of weeks, at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., the word that has been taboo in college football circles for years – "Playoff'' – will be spoken.

 

Of course, it could also be shouted down, or the subject could just fizzle for lack of serious interest, which is what some suspect will occur.

 

But Dr. J. Bernie Machen is going to bring it up, to the delight of some, he says, and to the irritation of others.

 

Machen is the president of the University of Florida, the reigning – and unprecedented – dual champion of the NCAA's most visible sports, football and basketball.

 

That singular achievement of the Gators' athletic department gives him cachet, although there are also those who note the title of "Dr.'' before his name comes from a school of dentistry, and that he could be whiffing too much laughing gas.

 

"This is a case where there is plenty of room for comment and give-and-take,'' one member of the BCS, the cabal that runs the major bowl system now in place, said. "But I think anything coming out of this would be a longshot.''

 

Another said simply, "Machen is a loose cannon.''

 

The analogy frequently made behind the scenes is a comparison between Machen and tulane president Scott Cowen, who successfully pushed for teams from lower tier conferences to be considered for BCS bowl games under threat of law suit. That's what brought about last season's memorable 43-42 upset by unbeaten Boise State of the Western Athletic Conference over the Big 12's Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

 

Upsets of this magnitude, however, aren't likely to happen, the theory goes, with top teams with something tangible (like a national championship) to play for. Still, it did happen, meaning there should be some kind of process where every football-playing member of the NCAA gets a shot at the brass ring.

 

Machen proposes an eight-team playoff, run by a corporation separate from the NCAA and the BCS. The complete details would have to be worked out later, but the movement has to begin now, he says, before the BCS bowls and networks sign their contracts for the next round of games.

 

"It will take a conference like ours to get this moving in the right direction,'' Machen said in an interview with CBS Sportsline, adding he thinks he already has support from some other SEC presidents. "They said they'll listen,'' Machen said. "That's where we are. I could never get anybody to listen to me before.''

 

Before going to powerhouse Florida, Machen was at Utah, on the outside looking in at the big boys, which is undoubtedly where his sentiment grew.

 

But he'll have to do some mighty persuasive talking to convince a majority of SEC presidents. The league raked in excess of $30 million in bowl revenue last season, the slices of which will be divvied up at the Destin meetings.

 

That check alone is a pretty good argument for the presidents to think things aren't too bad the way they are now.

 

And even if there's some consideration for Machen's concept, there's likely to be stronger opposition elsewhere. The Big Ten and Pac-10, who both make bundles from their tie-in with the Rose Bowl, indicate they wouldn't entertain such notions. Last January, in Phoenix, site of the national championship game where Florida ran roughshod over Ohio State, Karen Holbrook, president of Ohio State, said, "For us in the Big Ten, we are against a playoff. Our coaches are against it, our athletic directors are against it.''

 

Machen thinks most conferences will see the wisdom of his concept. The Big Ten, where he once worked at Michigan, is simply in its usual crybaby mode when it's not running things, he indicated.

 

"The Big Ten fought the conference playoff (by other leagues), then they complain because Ohio State doesn't have a game for 48 days (actually 51, since the Big Ten regular season generally ends before Thanksgiving). Whose fault is that? What's happened is the world has moved, the Big Ten is no longer calling the shots.''

 

Stay tuned. This could get interesting.

         

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Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net.

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