Yes, it is time for the good folks at the National Collegiate Athletic Association to retake control of the monster that is college football and bring an end to back-door politics by ABC/ESPN and the Bowl Cartel. Every other single event run by the NCAA, every sport that is played in over 300 Division I schools alone (not to mention D-II and D-III), is run by the NCAA. Teams finish the season in a playoff and a national champion is crowned. Period. End of story. Marshall fans remember, win or lose, there was no doubt who won the national championship in I-AA.
How has football, especially at the Division I-A level, become larger than the organization that runs all other college athletic events in America (except for a dwindling few still in NAIA)? Watch out for this word...Tradition. You do not want to mess with the traditions of bowls--nearly 100 years of back-door bowl deals to sell winter hotel rooms to tourists from towns like Columbus, Ohio; Ann Arbor, Michigan; for states like Oklahoma and Kansas; to make trips to stay in hotels and eat in towns like New Orleans, Pasadena, Miami, Dallas and Phoenix, now do you?
Coaches are to blame as well. They love the fact that 52 of their 117 "brothers in football" end the season with a "bowl trip," sure to make the big donors happy and fill the media guide with vivid details. The rich get richer as 52 teams, two to eight per league, get an extra month of practice for the players already on campus and a recruiting video live from the bowl site for the players they are trying to recruit. At least 26 coaches will end the year with a win. Not so in a playoff, where one coach and two teams will reap these benefits.
College Presidents also share blame. They too like trips to warm climates in December and January, when many schools are closed for two-to-four weeks for the holidays. They make statements about "not extending the season" and "we do not want to have these athletes miss too much class." Baloney! Just last week, in the "dead week" Marshall students use for preparing for finals, Marshall basketball players were gone Monday (back 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning) and then gone again from Wednesday afternoon until 10:00 p.m. Sunday night, with finals on Monday morning at 8:00 a.m. for many. In the "Big Dance," the NCAA basketball tournament, teams may be in a town for Wednesday through Sunday. If they win, they will repeat this for another week, then go Thursday through Tuesday for the title game for four teams. Baseball, softball, volleyball, golf, you name it--they all miss more class time than football players.
Time for a change:
1) Only teams with attendance in 20,000 range will be Division I-A. Only leagues with teams ranked at least every three years will keep D-IA status.
2) The season will be shortened to 10 games, starting after Labor Day. The loss of revenue from one, and occasionally two, regular season games will be off-set by the BILLIONS...that's right, BILLIONS of dollars to be made from a playoff of 16 teams. All games end Thanksgiving weekend. Playoffs begin after a one-week rest for players.
3) Games are played on second Saturday of December at neutral, bowl-like sites. Teams arrive on Friday, just like away games. Second round the fourth week, just after Christmas (another week off for finals), then third round right after New Year's Day. These games can be Thursday, Friday or Saturday with no classes in session. Championship to follow about January 15.
4) All league champions are in: ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, CUSA, MAC (if they meet attendance and ranking criteria), MWC, PAC 10, SEC and WAC (see MAC). Sorry Sunbelt, but no one thinks you are a real Division I-A league. Ten champions, then six at-large bids. Lets see--Florida State, Miami-Florida, Michigan, Kansas State, Southern Miss, Miami-Ohio, Utah, USC, LSU and Boise State. Then, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington State, one each from the so-called "power conferences."
5) Now, you seed them according to a combination of polls and computers. Even if Oklahoma is still one and USC is three, they will get a chance to prove it on the field. 14 games for two teams, when many teams are playing 14 (Sooners) or even 15 (K-State) right now. So its #1 OU vs. #16 Southern Miss in Dallas; #2 LSU vs. #15 West Virginia in Houston; #3 USC vs. #14 Maryland in San Diego; #4 Michigan vs. #13 Utah in Memphis; #5 Ohio State vs. #12 Boise State in Atlanta; #6 Texas vs. #11 Georgia in San Antonio; #7 Florida State vs. #10 Miami-Ohio in Orlando; #8 Tennessee vs. #9 Kansas State in Nashville. Then use other bowl cities like for rounds two and three and rotate championships and semi-finalsbetween Pasadena, New Orleans, Miami and Phoenix (with one carrying a quarter-final game every fourth year).
Sure, not everyone that wants to travel to every playoff game will. But you split tickets three ways--local (20%) and each school getting 40% of the seats. There will not be any unsold tickets, I promise you. There may even be a minimum number of seats for a stadium to host a playoff event. Television and radio will bring it to everyone else.
Sure, some teams are left out. Iowa, Purdue, Florida, TCU, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Mississippi and Bowling Green come up short. You can add a first-round bye for the top eight if you want, it only adds one week for 16 of 24 teams and removes the week after Thanksgiving off. There should be a bonus for being a top team! Some leagues are stronger than others? Then on the right years, they will get three teams and others will always just get one team in the playoffs, just like in basketball.
College football is the big winner. Instead of a product that rewards 6-6 teams with post-season play (Kansas, UCLA, Northwestern and Georgia Tech, with 7-6 Cal not far behind and eight other teams at just 7-5), we get the best of each Division I-A league. We reward a season-earned championship over 10 games, not for a one-game roll of the dice. We weed out teams and leagues who do not belong at the D-IA level. And, best of all, the championship is won on the field. Not at a computer. By real student-athletes. Not underlings who vote for lazy coaches or sports media that only see their own game and vote along 100-year old party lines. The way it is done in every other sport in Division I. On The Field. What a novel idea!