In full disclosure, and at the risk of ostracizing myself from seemingly all except those who fondly recall memories of the inaugural 1902 Tournament East-West game in Pasadena — where admission was 50 cents, plus $1 for the family’s horse-and-buggy – here goes:
I like bowl games. I like tradition. I like the idea of an end-of-season reward for two college football teams, players and their families. It probably helped that I grew up in the shadow of the Rose Bowl (which the East-West became) and not the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. But there was no urgency for a playoff, and the arguments over rankings were considered part of the fabric and charm of college football.
We’re past charm, of course. I’m not completely past the thought that bowl games serve some purpose, but I don’t want them anywhere near a college football playoff. Do you know what the dysfunctional combination of bowl games and a “playoff” has gotten us in the past 20 years? The BCS. It has created one oft-debated matchup and rendered most other games unwatchable.
College officials and conference commissioners finally agree we’re headed for a four-team playoff. But for some reason they appear unwilling to cut the cord with the bowls, which have contributed to the BCS mess and succeeded only in making money for their occasionally corrupt executives (see: Fiesta Bowl). This was reaffirmed Wednesday when ACC commissioner John Swofford, echoing the sentiments of his brethren, said his conference would like bowl games to be used as sites for playoffs and for the BCS structure to be kept for non-playoff teams.
Why … and why?
It makes no sense that the NCAA, which runs a successful basketball tournament, would allow outside contractors to stage potentially its most profitable venture. Imagine the NFL going through the regular season and then telling a start-up company, “OK, you take it from here. See if you can make the Super Bowl work.”
So here’s my plan. It won’t please everybody, but no plan will:
• The top four teams will be picked before the bowls get involved. Semifinals will be played on New Year’s Day. The championship game the following week.
• The semifinals will be held at campus stadiums of the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds. The thought of a game in Baton Rouge, Austin or Ann Arbor blows away the sterile atmosphere of a neutral-site dome. The home team obviously will have an advantage, but higher seeds should have an advantage in playoffs. I’m also not convinced that the fan bases of two college football teams can afford to travel in consecutive weeks in the postseason. This eliminates that problem. And please, no more whines about logistical issues and there not being enough hotel rooms. I’m in the media and even I don’t care about logistical issues. Every college has hosted major games of national interest.
• The championship game should be put up for bid, just like a Super Bowl. If Phoenix wants in, fine. But the host should be Phoenix, not the Fiesta Bowl subcommittee of “Dewey, Cheatem and Howe.” (Copyright: Three Stooges.)
• There will be no automatic qualifiers, not even from the mighty SEC. Sports are cyclical and with realignment Armageddon ongoing, nobody can be certain where the power structure is headed. All four teams will be at-large berths and can come from any of the FBS conferences. We can’t just assume that Middle Tennessee State can’t inexplicably field a great team in 20 years and eke in as a No. 4 seed.
• Playoff teams do not have to be conference champions. No other sport, college or pro, mandates this. This should be about the best four teams, period. That also means no cap on conference participants. That 1985 Final Four with three Big East schools — Georgetown, St. John’s and little ol’ Villanova — seemed to work out OK.
• The four teams will be picked by a panel. If the NCAA can come up with a tournament selection committee for basketball, it certainly can do the same for football. Wire service and computer rankings will not be part of any official criteria, even if it’s assumed everybody on the panel will be peeking at them.
• The bowls have free reign of participants after the four playoff teams are picked. The Rose Bowl can have its Pac 12-Big Ten matchup every year. The Sugar Bowl can take an SEC school. Let bowl officials scramble for teams again. The games are better. Everybody’s happy. The only mandate: All games must be played by New Year’s Day. Only the championship comes after.
College football gets a true champion. The bowls return to function as they should’ve all along. The BCS gets hit by a wrecking ball. What could be better?
By Jeff Schultz