Dare we dream? A college football playoff might be at hand

The BCS title game: When SEC domination became overkill. (AP photo)

The BCS title game: When SEC domination became full-blown overkill. (AP photo)

I’d long since given up on the prospects of a college football playoff. The bowls were too powerful, I told myself. (Note that the word “bowl” comes before “championship” in “BCS.”) For all the hue and cry from the chattering class and the huddled masses, I figured nothing would ever get done.

Now I’m thinking something might.

Might, I said. Might.

I’m thinking the sight of two SEC teams playing for the BCS title was enough to push the leagues that didn’t want any part of a playoff into the we-need-to-reassess camp. I’m thinking that the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, the two leagues who persisted in seeing the Rose Bowl as the only postseason game that mattered, are getting antsy over being marginalized.

(The joke among college football writers has long been that this is the only sport held hostage by a parade. Meaning the Tournament of Roses thingy.)

Back in 2008, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, of all people, proposed a four-team playoff. ACC commissioner John Swofford seconded the motion. The other BCS league commissioners — of the (then) Pac-10, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Big East — all resisted. So did Notre Dame, that entity unto itself.

OK, that was then. This week Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told reporters in New Orleans: “Four years ago, five of us didn’t want to have the conversation. Now we all want to have the conversation.”

It’s not just that the SEC has come to hog the BCS title game to the extent that nobody else even got to play in the latest installment. It’s that the BCS has skewed the whole postseason. Attendance was down 2.1 percent through the first 31 (of 35) bowls this season, and anyone who was in Raymond James Stadium for Georgia’s loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl could tell something was off.

These were ranked teams that had won divisions in BCS conferences, and attendance was announced as 49,429, which would have ranked as the second-smallest gathering in the 17 years that Outback Steakhouse has sponsored the game. According to the Tampa Bay Times, however, actual attendance was 40,022 — the sort of gate that Georgia fans would mock if it occurred, say, in a regular-season game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Of those 35 bowls, 33 were carried by ESPN/ABC. The good news is that ESPN/ABC pays big for the rights. The bad news is that much of the bowl season has become a couch-and-big-screen sport. No fans are more rabid than those of big-time college football teams, but those fans have surely begun to ask: Why pay $1,000 to travel to a game that doesn’t even bear the BCS imprint?

Think of it this way: The NCAA basketball tournament includes 68 teams; imagine if 66 of those were summarily demoted to the NIT while the top two seeds got to advance directly to the title game. That’d be a form of madness, all right — just not the March variety.

The BCS “system” claims to enfranchise 10 of the 70 bowl teams, but only two of those 10 get to play a game that really matters. And now, with its latest championship game, the BCS pared the list of “haves” in college football to one: The SEC rules, and everyone else is left to drool.

Great for the SEC, but bad for overall business. While we here in the Deep South paid rapt attention to the doings Monday night in the Superdome, much of the rest of the nation looked elsewhere. Alabama-LSU drew the third-smallest rating of the 14 BCS title games. Apparently not everyone in the world delights in field goals.

(As the web site Awful Announcing notes, ratings for the five BCS games were down 13 percent from last season. And Clemson’s epic loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl was the lowest-rated BCS game ever.)

Headed into the 2011 season, it was hard to imagine the SEC consolidating gains. Given that it had won the previous five BCS titles, how could it get any bigger? Well, it did. It didn’t just produce the national champ this time; it also generated the runner-up.

There comes a point, however, when absolute power becomes obscene overkill. Big-time college football could have reached that point. The SEC already has one championship game. (For which, not incidentally, the eventual BCS champ did not qualify.) It doesn’t need another. If the Big Ten, long the most intransigent of the playoff holdouts, is willing to change, then change might indeed be at hand.

Might, I said. Might.

By Mark Bradley

214 comments Add your comment

Year of Vad

January 11th, 2012
2:12 pm

Mark Bradley

January 11th, 2012
2:14 pm

Kudos, Year of Vad.

j

January 11th, 2012
2:15 pm

Burbank Dawg not Dwag

January 11th, 2012
2:17 pm

I’ll believe it when it see it.

Michael

January 11th, 2012
2:19 pm

I’ll believe it when I see it.

Matt

January 11th, 2012
2:19 pm

Don’t get your hopes up. Mark, the B1G is the only conference that is against a playoff, and Jim Delaney still weilds a big stick – if he doesn’t want a playoff, there won’t be one.

DawginLex

January 11th, 2012
2:24 pm

A + 1 would be a great start.

Would have solved a lot of problems and limited the complaining if Okie state had played Bama with the winner playing LSU.

Old Dawg

January 11th, 2012
2:26 pm

Until D-1 has a 16-team play-off like 1-AA, it will be a sham, and a shame.

Some writers etc will put in the academic issue, but if that was actually the case there wouldn’t be all of the travel for basketball, lengthy baseball seasons etc.

The entire system is sick and the prescription of more cow bell will fix it!

Silly Bloggers

January 11th, 2012
2:28 pm

It is pretty funny that the SEC owns the BCS the last six-years and we are screaming the loudest for a playoff. I think the B1G had the ingenious thought that they could wait to play conference games until October, have no Championship game, and have their good name get them into the big game. I think at that point, they didn’t like their chances of actually navigating a playoff.

Well, things have obviously changed. The B1G has a Championship (funny on the lack of attendence) and two of their poster children have been dragged through the mud (tOSU and Penn State). If Delaney wants to play ball, it will likely only take the Pac-10 to join the fray. We know the SEC wants one, as does the ACC. The Big 12 should be primed for one after getting left out of the big game and not having a second team sent.

While I would love an eight-game playoff, even a Plus 1 would add some much needed credibility to the sport.

Steve Spurrier

January 11th, 2012
2:30 pm

“And Clemson’s epic loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl was the lowest-rated BCS game ever.”

Tweet that Dabo!

Hal

January 11th, 2012
2:31 pm

This was a very predictable game . The football season has momentum. Bowls do not . LSU beat them once that’s all you should have to play a team in one season. Now they both have a win. Let’s go for two out of three. Yes it’s the BCS way but it proves nothing to me and many others. The regular season is the true measure of a national champion. A playoff would carry on that momentun but not the bowl system the BCS has now.

peacengrits75

January 11th, 2012
2:33 pm

I love football…but the bowl season is irrelevant to me. Unless you’re in the championship game, it’s worthless. Tired of hearing its great for the kids to see another city. Who cares? Gotta play for something right? I like an 8 team playoff…

Falcons4Eva

January 11th, 2012
2:37 pm

Can’t Wait ! !

Ted M

January 11th, 2012
2:38 pm

Lets go straight to a 16 team playoff.

Falcons4Eva

January 11th, 2012
2:39 pm

Might as well make all FBS conferences 16 teams each. Season being 10 games plus their conference championship game.

I suppose the Plus 1 would be the first step. Then 10-15 years later, these slow tortoises will move to the more preferable 8 team playoffs system.

Bob in SF

January 11th, 2012
2:40 pm

I think the new commish of the Pac-12 would be on board; he is much more forward thinking and in the 21st century than his predecessor and knows they have at least 2 strong competitors for the next few years in Oregon and USC. It’s a win-win for everyone but I still think we will see an “And One” format before a true playoff.

DawginLex

January 11th, 2012
2:40 pm

Hal

Dead on correct. Great point.

LSU lost its momentum and mojo and moxie during that 40 day layoff.

Falcons4Eva

January 11th, 2012
2:41 pm

Speaking of cleaning up these Bowls – they should do away with about 10 and make qualifying for the bowl 7 wins and not 6.

Abnerish

January 11th, 2012
2:44 pm

A playoff system is so overdue. Essentially, if your team isn’t in the National Championship game then your team is essentially playing a glorified scrimmage in December/January. As a UGA alum, I wasn’t that upset by the bowl loss. It had no bearing on us winning an SEC Championship or a national championship, so as long as we came out of it without any significant injuries and we don’t embarrass ourselves (like last year), then I was happy.

Frankly, a +1 or 4 team playoff does not go far enough. They need to make the leap to either an 8 team or a 16 team playoff. An 8 team playoff would be ideal as it would limit the impact to the bowls.

laugh

January 11th, 2012
2:49 pm

rduck

January 11th, 2012
2:51 pm

An even bigger problem is the fact that ESPN now holds the rights to the BCS games. ESPN has made it’s bed in the SEC. That is the league they promote and advertise as the end all be all. They are almost in complete control of college football with thier TV deals and now they own the rights to the big bowl games. Who do you think they are going to support to be in these games?

RxDawg

January 11th, 2012
2:52 pm

I think it’s due. It’s obvious that not even all of the players really care about the bowl games they play in. Sure they like the trip and the stuff. But honestly it’s just a fancy exhibition game. I still remember when whatshisface at Notre Name left Cinncy before they played thier very first ever Sugar bowl. That one move right there spoke volumes to me about just how much the bowls really mean.

1. You have to keep the regular season vital. It’s what makes college ball. How do you do that? Don’t let half the league into the playoffs. In fact, you allow very very few. 4-8 at most.

2. 4 team playoff would be nice, and is more likely because it’s the slowest rate of change. And we all know college presidents like things slow, just ask their wives (BOOM!)

3. 8 team playoff is best IMO. 6 big boy conference champs, and 2 at large. The reason I like this is because it would make winning your conference such a big goal. It would mean everything. You win your region, then you win your nation. It’s simple and it would work.

RxDawg

January 11th, 2012
2:52 pm

ughgasdgahsdghgasdghasdg….. I hate pac man eating up my posts :(

rduck

January 11th, 2012
2:53 pm

Falcons4eva- i totally agree. it is way to easy to get into bowl games these days.

Mark Bradley

January 11th, 2012
2:57 pm

About the bowls: More football teams play in them (70 of 120) than basketball teams play in the NCAA tournament (68 of 325.)

Beast from the East

January 11th, 2012
2:57 pm

Silly Bloggers,
Good post. I agree. If the Big 10 and the Pac 12 come on board, I think we’ll see it happen in the near future. Let’s hope!

Nodawg

January 11th, 2012
2:59 pm

College football doesn’t need a playoff. It doesn’t even need the bowl games to determine the National Champion. Judging from the last three years the winner of the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs Auburn) should be declared the National Champion.

Matt Ryan's Dad

January 11th, 2012
3:00 pm

I think we should take all the teams that play for BCS conferences and make getting to the championship game the qualifer for a playoff spot. Have two spots for each conference and rank them accordingly sort of like the NFL does. Even if the SEC gets the top two seeds every year, it will at least make December and January more interesting.

Beast from the East

January 11th, 2012
3:00 pm

RxDawg,
I agree with the premise that you must win your conference. I don’t even think at large teams should be considered. Let Notre Dame join a conference or just play their 12 game schedule on NBC until their contract expires.

Stinger2

January 11th, 2012
3:00 pm

GT fans should not care if its playoffs or the current BCS.
We won`t be in the mix no matter what.

Steve

January 11th, 2012
3:04 pm

Mark, regarding the attendance at the Outback Bowl. At least 20,000 UGA fans traveled to that game. Not to shabby for an average bowl. Not a lot anyone can do about local fan interest in Tampa as well as Michigan State being so far from Tampa.

Dawgdad (The Original)

January 11th, 2012
3:09 pm

Well, what should we expect from the college intelligensia (presidents), a stupid system hated by the common fan but praised by the creators. They thought we were just too stupid to understand their brilliant system. Well, they got enough rope eventually to hang themselves.

Now, they will try to save face by coming up with something that doesn’t completely repudiate their previous system, but gets them out of the crack. Instead of doing what we all know needs doing, a eight or 16 team playoff.

Dawgdad (The Original)

January 11th, 2012
3:11 pm

Oh, Aaron Murray, step up to the plate, son, and move on like Orson. Don’t be scared, Gruden said you were a Heisman Trophy Candidate after all.

SSIgator

January 11th, 2012
3:12 pm

Stinger2 -

Ditto for UGA fans

7576DAWG

January 11th, 2012
3:13 pm

The SEC had 3 teams end up in the top 6 and 4 in the top 9. If we have a play off Arkansas and South Carolina would have been excluded and that wouldn’t have been fair or right. If we have a play off all team’s should be considered and the SEC should have the right to make up as many of the playoff slot’s as they deserve.

7576DAWG

January 11th, 2012
3:13 pm

The SEC had 3 teams end up in the top 6 and 4 in the top 9. If we have a play off Arkansas and South Carolina would have been excluded and that wouldn’t have been fair or right. If we have a play off all team’s should be considered and the SEC should have the right to make up as many of the playoff slot’s as they deserve.

collegeballfan

January 11th, 2012
3:13 pm

I did not watch the LSU – Alabama joke. Why watch the SEC champion play the team that finished 3rd in the SEC?

In fact, I only watched the Clemson, GT and UGA bowl games. The rest I just dismissed because they were match ups that I was not interested in watching.

Zing

January 11th, 2012
3:15 pm

Not a surprise. I don’t pay attention to the bowl games at all, except for the one that my team plays in. At least pre-BCS, any of the top 5 or so teams had a shot to be voted #1 at the end of the season, depending on their competition and what the other teams in other bowls did. Now, only one bowl game matters, and it’s debatable every single year as to whether the right teams are actually playing in it. In constructing the BCS, the NCAA created a system that was the exact opposite of what they were trying to do (match the actual best team against the actual second-best team). The fact is, NO ONE KNOWS who the actual best and second-best teams are– which is why a playoff system is used for virtually every sport there is. It’s not perfect, but it at least seems to point towards a deserving champion.

Beast from the East

January 11th, 2012
3:17 pm

7576DAWG,
I disagree. I think you should have to win your conference. That is what will make the regular season so important to everyone.

GTBob

January 11th, 2012
3:21 pm

I could be on board with an 8 team playoff even though I prefer 16. Make the 6 champions of the BCS conferences automatic qualifiers into the playoffs and select two wild card entries by committee (not ranking). If a conference champion from a smaller conference finishes high enough in the rankings then they should get an automatic bid to the playoffs as well.

DePort

January 11th, 2012
3:24 pm

I think 4 team playoff could work… They could play the 4 teams around the new year and then a week later the championship game… where the championship game is anyway… and lets just keep most of the BCS in tack… let it choose the 4 teams and be happy it is better than it was!

Dink

January 11th, 2012
3:25 pm

Good article MB.

Time for a plus one. Move all the bowl games back to New Year’s Day (and before) with two “semi-final” bowls, say Rose & Sugar. The 2 winners meet a week later.

Whatcha think?

LADawg

January 11th, 2012
3:29 pm

I used to think the BCS was a mythical championship. Now, I’m sure the SEC is a mythical championship. The football gods smiled on Alabama yet again! The Tide actually benefited by NOT being the SEC champion.

GTBob

January 11th, 2012
3:30 pm

If we have a play off all team’s should be considered and the SEC should have the right to make up as many of the playoff slot’s as they deserve.

The only problem with this is you leave it up to human interpretation who deserves to be in. ESPN will make sure 3-4 SEC teams are in every year to protect their investment. College Football will never have a real postseason until they have an objective way to decide a champion.

Jacket99

January 11th, 2012
3:31 pm

Shug

January 11th, 2012
3:31 pm

Hate to break it to you, but college football is a dying sport. When decisions are based solely on tv ratings, the jig is up.

Bronko Nagurski

January 11th, 2012
3:33 pm

“college football is a dying sport.”

Now that is funny!

Steve

January 11th, 2012
3:34 pm

Shug = Moron.

David Granger

January 11th, 2012
3:35 pm

Well, a four-team playoff would definitely move the argument down the ratings list. Instead of arguing between which team is #2 and which is 3#, we’d be arguing between who’s #4 and who’s #5.
It would give the final champion a little more acceptance, though there would still be an occasional year now and again when fans of one team or another would be mad that their favorite wasn’t in the playoffs over a less worthy (to them, at least) school.

Shug Supporter

January 11th, 2012
3:36 pm

Bronco and Steve, I assume you two are following the Supreme Court decision on the validity of certain types of marriage closely.