Ready for a College Football Playoff? Ready for Irrelevance? [OPINION]
There is a growing din in college football, amplified over millions of brightly lit TV screens, computer monitors and phones, all braying a simple message: Playoffs good. Bowls bad.
Bowl games will suck away the school coffers if fans don’t buy their allotment of seats. Bowl games exist for a few lucky fat cats to wear ridiculous blazers and rake in six-figure salaries to glad-hand their way around college football. The sport’s landscape is littered with too many bowl games.
Playoffs would make more money for athletic departments crushed by budget demands and Title IX. Playoffs would benefit schools and conferences directly, cutting out those ridiculous blazers and six-figure salaries altogether. Playoffs are more fair.
Playoffs are more fair for the fairest of them all, which would leave the ugliest campuses to scratch and claw for a non-existent shot at a glass slipper.
Enough about Cinderella…for now.
The thing about that simple message is that there’s a lot of truth there. But not THE truth.
The greater truth is, college football’s inevitable march to a playoff will come at the cost of reducing more and more campuses to the derisive term used by some Californians and New Yorkers to describe everything else in between them: flyover country.
As college football stands now there are BCS haves and have-nots, and those at the top are already trying to isolate themselves. A playoff would seal the deal.
If you’re a fan or an alum of a school that doesn’t have a Bowl Championship Series bid, ask yourself this question: Do you really think the conferences and schools that invented the BCS would invite the sport’s smallest names to a playoff party?
Keep in mind, making things “fair” like the inclusive NCAA basketball tournament (where there is still controversy over who gets left out, even with 68 teams) is not a requirement for any who would fashion a football playoff, because the NCAA has nothing to do with college football. Nobody has to lift a finger to help the little guys.
Inclusiveness would just mean everyone’s slice of pie is that much thinner.
Interestingly, as BCS schools hold the line, the clamor for a playoff only gets louder. BCS-bashing books get published. Congress rattles its dull ceremonial saber.
You wonder if that’s the plan. Let them eat cake…until the time is right. Then, if your program is wearing the proper school tie, stand in the reception line to receive the praises of media and fans alike for finally seeing the playoff light.
When it happens — for those uninvited schools and the bowls, too — pack it in. Bowl sponsorships will shrivel and die, and so will the good bowls (the ones not owned by ESPN), killing incentive for prospective teams whose regular seasons would also mean exponentially less.
Not every bowl game is the Fiesta Bowl and not every executive director is John Junker. Not every bowl has access to its choice of some of the country’s best golf resorts to woo college presidents, athletic directors and coaches. Not to mention Junker’s bottomless expense account to pay off crooked politicians, because not every pol-on-the-make can be bribed as cheaply as El Paso’s can.
There are great bowl associations, like the Sun Bowl Association, that brighten a community with any number of events, big and small. The college All-America golf classic, a growing youth soccer tournament, the Holiday basketball tournament, the Thanksgiving Day parade — all of these would disappear without the event for which the association is named.
Frankly, El Paso needs to do all it can to keep and improve what it has.
I don’t believe the BCS is the end-all be-all for college football. It, too, is an imperfect system; but it’s a darn sight better than what was there before.
It’s ironic — no, hypocritical — that schools like Boise State rail against the unfairness of the system but leap at the first chance to join a BCS conference offering absolutely no geographic rivalries. Let’s see how the Broncos’ California recruits feel about playing their road games three time zones away from their hometowns.
I don’t say this lightly: the BCS made Boise State what it is. It has its Big East invitation because of one-off bowl games where it slew Oklahoma and TCU and made millions.
And TCU a Rose Bowl champion? Utah with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama? Thank you, BCS! It’s great to be in the Big XII and Pac-12, nowadays, isn’t it?
But a playoff? Making a school like Boise run a four-game playoff gauntlet would be forcing Cinderella to stay at the ball after midnight for her dance with the Prince. She’d be exposed before His Majesty could see her toes through the glass slipper.
If it has been 26 years and counting since the last real Cinderella (Villanova, 1985) won the NCAA basketball tournament — and winning is the only object of a tournament — no way Cindy ever shines in a football playoff.
One player can change the destiny of a team in basketball (see: Danny Manning, 1988). Football is very different — much more a team game, because every player has a fairly specific role to play.
This means you might sneak up on a team once. But three or four times? You would need depth to replace injured players, skill and speed to match your opponent’s.
In other words, you would have to be good. And if you’re good, you’re not Cinderella.
You think the SEC wins too much now? Should college football go to a full playoff, I can see an all-SEC championship game more often than not.
The comparisons with the excitement of March Madness are inevitable. But part of the NCAA Tournament’s allure are the 68 story lines at the beginning, and that the math of so large a tournament dictates there WILL be big upsets. It’s engineered that way.
At maximum, a football playoff could only take 16 teams. That would be fair — take every conference champ and a handful of at-large teams.
But a playoff won’t be fair. We see that plenty now.
Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird?
No, it’s the contrail of Alabama’s chartered jet.