A Solution to a Problem College Football Doesn’t Have

[To listen to the audio, click here: Bacon_final-__with_intro_-_football_playoff-7-13-12]

Well, it’s finally upon us.  No, not the apocalypse – the Mayan calendar be damned – but a bona fide, Division I, college football playoff.   A committee of 12 university presidents – not coaches, or even athletic directors, but presidents — recently approved a plan to create a four-team college football playoff, the last major sport to have one.

So what if college football somehow survived without a playoff since its inception in 1869?  That’s 22 before James B. Naismith invented the game of basketball, 34 years before the first World Series, and 51 years before the National Football League was even formed.

But yes, we need a playoff now.  Because clearly, the first 143 years of college football were pointless, meaningless and worthless — because they didn’t have a playoff.

It’s true that college football’s popularity – in attendance, TV ratings, merchandise sales, and just about any other way you want to measure it – has never been greater.  But yes, we need a playoff now.

It’s also true that in the past forty years the game’s leaders have tacked on a bowl game for virtually every team still standing, more than tripling the number of bowl teams from 22 to 70 – which is more than half Division I schools currently fielding football teams.

But that wasn’t enough, so they added a 12th game, which schools use to play tomato cans like Southwest Missouri State, solely to grab another payday on the backs of unpaid players.  Then they piled on conference title games, too – increasing the total games a good team could play from 11 to 14 – just two shy of the NFL’s regular season.

But we need a playoff now.  Why?  To take the competition out of the hands of computers and pollsters, we’re told, and settle it on the field.

So how are they going to fix that?  Instead of picking two teams based on polls, strength of schedule and computerized rankings, they are going to have a selection committee pick four teams – based on polls, strength of schedule and computerized rankings.  Problem solved!

So, instead of the third-ranked team complaining that it got screwed out of a title shot, the fifth-placed team will do all the whining.  Another problem solved!

A four-team playoff won’t end arguments, just expand them.  It won’t heighten the regular season, it will diminish it.  It won’t shrink the schedule, but extend it.  It won’t reduce injuries – especially concussions – but increase them.

Here are a few other sure bets: the playoff will result in more insane incentives in coaches’ already insane contracts.  Last year, LSU’s head coach Les Miles would get a $5 million bonus if his Tigers beat Alabama in the title game – which would have doubled his salary for coaching 60 minutes of football.

But LSU lost, and maybe that’s not bad thing.  How many coaches, faced with a star receiver who got caught plagiarizing a paper, or a quarterback with a concussion, would have the integrity to do the right thing and bench those players – and forfeit a five million dollars pay day?  Save your breath.  We already know the answer.  (And if you think football coaches already have too much power — you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.)

I’m still dumb enough to believe in amateur athletics, and yes, even the ideal of the student-athlete.  I’ve met too many to dismiss the idea that it can be done, and done well. But the argument against paying players is getting pretty hard to make given the millions and millions everyone else is making on their labor.  And who wants to bet these same leaders will be able to stop at a four-team playoff?

College football decided to do at least one thing with transparent honesty: sell the rights to the title game to the highest bidder.   It’s that obvious, it’s that crass.

Enter NFL Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of the more shameless people in sports – which is saying something.  He somehow got Texas taxpayers to chip in $325 million dollars for his Jerry-World Domed Stadium.  Now he’s boasting he’ll happily outbid everybody else to host the college football title game to fill his stadium – if not his insatiable ego.

After this year’s title game, I wrote, “Do not ask for whom the buck tolls.  It tolls for the adults, not the kids.”  I’d love to tell you I was wrong then – or I’m wrong now.

Years ago, Notre Dame athletic director Father Edmund Joyce said that, sometimes college football gets so over-heated, we need to throw a bucket of cold water on it.

If only.

After this playoff comes to pass, we’ll need a fire hose – but the fire will be out of control by then, and we’ll be too late.

Problem solved.

* * * * *

Like this story?  Please feed the blog, and keep ’em coming!

Radio stuff: I’m back to my original normal of 9:05 Friday mornings on WTKA (semester’s over!), and sticking to my new normal on Michigan Radio of 8:50.  And yes, there will be a quiz, so “stop what you’re doing, and listen!”

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon. Closing in on 5,000.

“Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football” can be ordered now.




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11 comments Leave a comment  

  • Don Farrand July 12, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    I enjoy your comments. This is one of your best (at least because I agree with so much of it). I’m Lauri Bourne’s father. Don Farrand

  • Rick Meader July 12, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I’m with you, John! First, why the heck do we need a “champion” anyway? What does that solve? And, what percentage of the time has the #1 team going into the NCAA basketball championship won the whole thing. And, if it doesn’t, does that mean they weren’t that good anyway? It’s all a waste of time and other people’s money.

  • pat greeley July 13, 2012 at 6:06 am

    i never saw a problem with spending 9 months of the off season arguing who had the best division 1 football team. especially made for good conversation before spring training, waiting out another michigan winter. oh well…

  • Dan Lord July 13, 2012 at 7:28 am

    The only way a playoff works in my opinion is to get rid of the non-conference games. Just base the playoff on conference champions period.

  • Robyn July 13, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I suppose I am in the norm here. I an in favor of a playoff… not necessarily the format proposed above though. I think we have far too many meaningless (unless it is your school involved, of course) bowl games and a rather pathetic way to determine the top team(s).

  • Steve Graves July 13, 2012 at 10:53 am

    John: I’ve had similar thoughts to yours regarding a Div I football system.. I makes no sense and will solve nothing.

    However, I don’t see how a “Pay the Players” plan could ever work out. As you already know, about 30 minutes after the NCAA announces that it is OK to pay “revenue sports” athletes an extra stipend, the Title IX people will file suit saying that such a stipend is illegal under Title IX unless all female athletes are also paid. (And they’ll win their suit in Court.)

    If that is in fact what happens, there will only be 10 or 12 College programs wealthy enough to pay all of their collegiate athletes said stipend. Thus we will have created a “Super Conference” which only a few can afford to play in.

    I don’t think that will benefit anybody, including the athletes.

  • Dr. Ed Kornblue July 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    You make some good arguments for going back to the year, (1997), when Michigan was last to be voted #1, along with Nebraska, in the other poll. But all that is in the past.

    Have you thought about Div I having a sixteen team playoff, as has been done for years for all the other collegiate divisions of football? Most of it can be accomplished during the month of December, and some of the major bowls can be used for the quarter and semi-finals Perhaps the Final game can be put off until early Jan, although the other divisions usually finish before the year is over.

    Following the years of success, as well as the minimum “of bitching about it all”, has proven that this mode of a playoff system had met the needs of declaring a #1 in every other NCAA football division. Why not for the big boys in Div I?

  • jean matthews July 14, 2012 at 6:17 am

    This plan limits the “academic year” to the month of JUNE…no more subterfuge…no more “24 ACT scores” wink…no more….falsehoods committed by,supposedly, honorable men…I think it is a moment of truth…now the Title IX participants can climb this same ladder in their sports….I mean…throw in the Olympics, et al…I had a 3.6 and studied just to achieve THAT …MENSAN…….

  • Herb Bowie July 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I have to agree with your position, John. There is definitely a line there somewhere we don’t want to cross. It’s hard to tell exactly where the line lies, but if you go too far, you’ve reduced college football to a junior NFL that has little to do with students or schools, and have lost everything that made people love college football in the first place. It may be hard to tell exactly where the line lies, but a playoff system definitely takes us too far on the other side of it for my tastes.

  • Matt Henderson July 16, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Could not agree with you more John. Great piece of writing.

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