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.
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.
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