I promised myself I would read the book with an open mind and I did. There is a lot I don’t agree with in the book but Dan Wetzel’s “Death to the BCS” is required reading for college football fans.
Wetzel’s book, which hits the store shelves on Thursday, makes the case through exhaustive interviews and research that many of the accepted truths about the BCS are simply not true and have been perpetuated by the major conferences who want to remain in complete control of post-season football.
Example: That the BCS is “lucrative” because it receives about $125 million per year from ESPN to show the games. Wetzel points out through numerous interviews that the a 16-team playoff would generate well over $750 million per year. So conservatively, he argues, the power structure is willing to leave $500 million on the table per year in order to stay in power.
Another example: If the BCS goes away, then the conferences will go back to the old bowl system: Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has suggested that if the BCS is forced out of business, the major conferences will simply go back to the system of conference tie ins (SEC to Sugar, Big 12 to Fiesta, Big Ten to Rose, etc). The Big Ten might be able to afford to do that, but few others could. They could not go back to the pre-1998 bowl system because they don’t have pre-1998 budgets any more. They need more money.
Wetzel says that while the entrenched power structure of the six major conferences and the bowls looks like an immovable object, the inevitability of a playoff is an irresistible force being created by a new, better-informed, internet savvy, generation of college football fans. These fans have grown up with more information and more exposure to college football than ever before. Wetzel makes the case these fans see every institution around them evolving at warp speed while college football stays in a system that was created before 24-hour news and sports was available on a handheld device. They want more from college football and are empowered to demand it.
Wetzel proposes a 16-team playoff to determine the national championship with all 11 winners of the Division I-A conferences getting an automatic berth with five at-large teams.
Here are his first-round pairings if the tournament had been in place in 2009:
No. 16 Troy (Sun Belt) at No. 1 Alabama (SEC)
No. 15 East Carolina (C-USA) at No. 2 Texas (Big 12)
No. 14 Central Michigan (MAC) at No. 3 Cincinnati (Big East)
No. 13 LSU (at-large) at No. 4 TCU (Mountain West)
No. 12 Penn State (at-large) at No. 5 Florida (at-large)
No. 11 Virginia Tech (at-large) at No. 6 Boise State (WAC)
No. 10 Iowa (at-large) at No. 7 Oregon (Pac-10)
No. 9 Georgia Tech (ACC) at No. 8 Ohio State (Big Ten)
A selection committee, not the BCS Standings made up of poll voters and computers, would pick the five at-large teams. And Wetzel makes the point that the competition for and the speculation about those five at-large slots would be riveting in the final month of the season.
The first three rounds of the tournament would be played in the home stadium of the highest seed. The championship would be on a neutral site. So the competition to be one of the top four seeds, and thus be guaranteed at least two home games, would be enormous, Wetzel argues.
Wetzel’s position is that the value of having all of the conference champions included outweighs the exclusion of a third or fourth team from one of the power conferences. It wouldn’t cheapen the regular season, he argues, because seeding would become so important. Having the little guy playing the big guy in his home stadium (Appalachian State at Michigan) would add drama of the first two rounds of the football playoffs similar to the NCAA basketball tournament.
Again, it’s compelling reading. But here is my rebuttal to just a few of these points:
**–I have been involved in college athletics long enough to know that we can’t get from where we are right now (a two team playoff) to a 16-team playoff in just one step. College athletics does not do radical change. The NCAA basketball tournament started with eight teams in 1939 and grew in increments to its current 68. That is why the next step in the evolution of post-season college football in Division I-A will be a four-team playoff.
**–I remain unconvinced that enough presidents want something like this. Georgia president Michael Adams put an eight-team playoff on the table in 2007 and wasn’t able to get a whole lot of support. The presidents I talk to just don’t want to open up this can of worms. Wetzel, however, believes that when the economic reality of a playoff and its value hits schools that are already strapped for cash, the presidents will change their minds. He also believes that the current power structure keeps the presidents from being completely informed on this issue. I don’t know about that. There are some pretty smart guys and ladies sitting in these president’s offices.
**–Using this 16-team format that includes all 11 conference championships, teams like Troy (No. 69 in Jeff Sagarin’s rankings), East Carolina (No. 51), and Central Michigan (No. 42) would have gotten in the tournament. Teams like No. 14 Nebraska, No. 15 BYU, No. 16 Pittsburgh, and No. 17 Oklahoma would have been left out.
**–College football and basketball are so different. It’s one thing to let the MAC champion into a 65-team basketball tournament. It’s another thing entirely to tell a 10-2 SEC team that it didn’t get into a 16-team playoff because Central Michigan beat Ohio U. on a Friday night in Detroit before 23,714 people. The economic difference between Duke and Butler basketball, who met for the NCAA championship last April, is not that great. The economic difference between Georgia football and football at Central Michigan has to be measured in light years.
If you put the best 16 teams in a playoff, some of the big conferences might listen. But I can’t see them going for a system like this. I could be wrong.
So what do you think? Do you like Wetzel’s 16-team playoff? If you were a college president, would you vote for it?
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