Is it Really Time for a Playoff? (Part II)

In part two of our feature discussing the impact of a playoff system on college footballwe, we refute the arguments that were given in favor of maintaining the status quo, give our take on the real reason roadblocks continue to be thrown in the path toward a playoff, and provide our own model for a playoff system that would solve many of the current issues.

For those that missed part one, click here.

Picking up from where we left off yesterday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney offered a four-pronged answer that, in his opinion, explains why a playoff would be detrimental to college football.

1. A multi-game, NFL-style playoff will likely harm the bowls.
2. A multi-game, NFL-style playoff is inconsistent with the goal of maximizing post-season opportunities for our student-athletes.
3. A multi-game, NFL-style playoff would have a detrimental impact on the regular season in the Big Ten and in all of college football.
4. The bowl system is consistent with the academic missions of Big Ten universities.

Those arguments sound good, but none really holds water.  Here's why.

A playoff system does not eliminate postseason opportunities.  If implemented correctly, it only clarifies the current bowl picture… it doesn't replace it.  A playoff would do nothing to further harm the failing bowl model. (How many of the lower tiered bowls are losing money or have become extinct already?)  Therefore, the commissioner's assertion that elimination of bowls would be a byproduct of a playoff is nothing more than a scare tactic.

The diminished regular season argument is even more laughable.  The BCS has totally trivialized the non-conference scheduling approach of many of the nation's top programs.  A playoff would prevent a single loss from being as detrimental as it currently is.  According to some models, it would also place an emphasis on winning the conference.  That would encourage teams to play more formidable opponents in the non-conference, thus increasing the interest in the regular season instead of taking away from it.  Furthermore, the increase in the number of teams with legitimate chances to factor into the National Championship race would spark interest in games that non-affiliated fans might not otherwise watch.

Traditionalists often cite rivalry games like Oklahoma/Texas, Auburn /Alabama, and Michigan /Ohio State as the true victims of a playoff.  However, a man that has had a role in almost thirty such contests disagrees.  "I don't think anything is ever going to water down the Michigan-Ohio State game," Carr said.  "I think that rivalry is such that it's never going to be impacted."

Michigan's headman was even more dismissive of the utterly disingenuous academic argument.  "They didn't seem to have too much concern about academics when they added the 12th game," he said.  "So we've just gone down a road where I think eventually we're going to have a playoff system. How soon that's going to be, I don't know. But I think it's inevitable. Whether it will be in my lifetime or not, remains to be seen."

Carr's "in my lifetime reference" is very apt because the stall tactics show no sign of stopping.  "It definitely is possible," BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg said of a playoff. "We have chosen not to go down that path because of the value of our regular season. Because in [Division] I-A football, to move fans and teams from playoff site to playoff site ... would be detrimental."

If those that continue to offer these types of excuses are to be effectively combated, the veil must be taken off of the rationale for their position.  The real issue holding back progress is control. The NCAA has no voice in BCS, thus leaving the bowls, the major conferences, and television to split the cash pie.  A playoff likely would generate more money just as Commissioner Delaney stated.  The difference is there is no guarantee that those accustomed to the big payoffs will get the same size slice.  The money, while more substantial, would likely be split amongst a greater pool.  You'd have smaller conferences having a greater say in what happens on the college football landscape and a greater stake in its lucrative business.  There is even the potential for sharing of the revenue with all 119 teams.

The power programs followed the party line for years, but as the teams within the respective conferences each get their turn grabbing the short end of the stick, the level of discontent will grow.  It has never been clearer that a playoff is needed and that the difficulties of implementing one are overblown.  A 16-team format would allow for the conference champs from the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, Pac 10, ACC, Big East, Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt, WAC, and Mountain West to get automatic bids.  That would leave five at-large bids to be dispensed among the remaining teams.  Though this system places an emphasis on winning the conferences, it also allows for highly ranked teams in the power conferences to still have opportunities. There would still be teams that complained about being left out, but the arguments of a team seeded in the lower teens just won't be considered compelling.

Logistically, home games for the higher seeded teams in the first two rounds would ease travel and assure sellouts.  With those rounds set to take place the second and third weekend's in December, southern teams would have to face the possibility of playing at a northern site in the winter for the first time in the modern era.

Two weeks later, on New Years day, the semifinal games could take place in the two of the current BCS bowls.  Then the championship game could be played a week or two later at a third BCS site. As for the other bowls, they could draw from the pool of eliminated teams in a tiered format similar to what exists now.

The specifics of any system would obviously have to be hammered out, but the point is clear…a playoff is the fairest course of action for all of college football.

"I think you'd have to incorporate the bowls," Carr said.  "I have the same reservations I had before. I just don't think that the commissioners, the bowl people, and the TV people should be making decisions about who plays where. The truth is, when you choose teams based on their ability to sell more tickets or fill more hotel rooms, I think that's unacceptable. I think we've gone down a road in college football.  College athletics, I think, have changed dramatically in the last ten years. I think that a lot of the tradition has been impacted. And so I'm just joining with a lot of coaches in the past who are calling for a playoff because I think ultimately if you're going to have a National Championship game, there's going to be years as there was a year ago, where Auburn got left out.  I think you're going to continue to have those scenarios. So let's do it on the field."

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