Michael Adams was four years ahead of the game. In January 2008 the Georgia president offered a detailed plan for an eight-team college football playoff, and he believed his proposal would draw enough support to prompt discussion in the right places. Alas, his idea was hooted down at the NCAA convention later that month.
Flash forward to January 2012: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and NCAA president Mark Emmert conceded there might be a place for a playoff in the only sport that has resisted one, and the concept seen as fanciful in 2008 has taken on the look of a fait accompli. Obvious question: Why now if not then?
Said Adams: “I think three things have happened: The Big Ten and what’s now the Pac-12 have gotten on board; conference realignment has forced everyone to take a fresh look, and — much as I hate to give you guys [meaning the media] credit — the drumbeat from you and from the public has been constant.”
Back to the first of Adams’ three factors: The Big Ten and the Pac-12 were long the hardiest holdouts because they’d pledged allegiance to the Rose Bowl. Adams offered his proposal knowing it would meet resistance from those two conferences but believing he had the support of Myles Brand, then the NCAA president, and several key college presidents.
“I did what I did with the full knowledge of Myles Brand,” Adams said, “and I believed 35 to 40 percent of presidents felt like I did.”
What happened at the NCAA convention in Nashville? “There was a lot of pushing and shoving from the conference commissioners. … I had hoped for more encouragement from the [NCAA] board. Some of the support I thought I had backed off under pressure. It’s a lot easier to voice something in private than in public.”
That same year, SEC commissioner Mike Slive suggested a four-team playoff, with ACC commissioner John Swofford seconding, and that notion also was dismissed. It must be noted that Slive was frosted by Adams’ proposal, arriving as it did — in this newspaper, with this correspondent writing the news story — just after LSU of the SEC had claimed the BCS crown by beating Ohio State in New Orleans.
For some, the message couldn’t be separated from the messenger: Georgia had been passed in the final BCS standings by LSU and was dispatched to New Orleans not for the title game but for a ho-hum Sugar Bowl pairing with Hawaii. The belief in some circles was that the president of Georgia’s prime motivation was sour grapes.
Adams: “We got accused of it being a reaction to what had happened, but it really wasn’t. I just felt someone needed to say something.”
Four years later, many of those who turned thumbs down to Adams have joined the choir. Said Adams: “We were at the head of the train on this one.”
And now the questions: How might a playoff be staged? Will it be an eight-team tournament that incorporates, as Adams’ plan would have, the four major bowls? Guessing, he said he believes there’s “more inclination to a four-team playoff … but exactly how it would work will depend on what kind of deal there is on the Rose Bowl.”
Will the NCAA, which had washed its hands of the elephantine bowl system, step in and run the playoff? (Seeing that it runs the playoff for every other collegiate sport, it has a history.) Adams: “My own view would be to let the NCAA run it. With all [the NCAA's] warts and blemishes, it does do that better than anyone else. Reading between the lines, I think Mark [Emmert] will do whatever the leadership wants.”
With a playoff tacked on, will some of the 35 existing bowls get lopped to reduce clutter? Adams: “I think we just need to let the market work, and it is working. There may be more staying power for some bowls, but I think 25 or 30 will be in it for the long haul.”
Over his 15 years at Georgia, Adams hasn’t always been a champion in the arena of public opinion. He supported the hiring of Jim Harrick, who would leave in disgrace, as basketball coach and shoved Vince Dooley toward the exit at a time when the athletic director wasn’t quite ready to depart. But the early advocacy of a football playoff should have brought Adams a measure of absolution, and in the light of current events he stands revealed as a sage.
The temptation to gloat would seem immense. To his credit, Adams did not yield, saying instead: “Some ideas just need time to germinate.”
Germination time on this one: Four years.
By Mark Bradley