I’d given up. I’d gone from believing a college football playoff was inevitable to believing it was … the opposite of inevitable. The bowls were too powerful, I conceded. There was no belief among the movers and shakers that any moving and/or shaking was warranted. What we had was, give or take the occasional BCS tweak, all we’d ever get, and what we had was awful.
My surrender came in January 2008. The BCS had been more of a mess than usual — two-loss LSU wound up playing for (and winning) the national championship in a sport where every game was supposed to matter — and, bang on cue, the Georgia president Michael Adams went public with a plan that made sense: an eight-team playoff overseen by the NCAA.
I had some small part in this: I wrote the story for this newspaper that outlined Adams’ proposal and rationale. It appeared Jan. 8, hours after LSU had won the BCS title in New Orleans. I’d covered the game, and in the lobby of the Marriott the next morning I was approached by SEC officials and even some SEC-loving writers who were irate — irate, I tell you — over Adams’ gall. They questioned his timing and his motivation (LSU had bunny-hopped over Georgia in the final BCS standings), but mostly they were miffed because they thought: Why change what had, at least in their minds, just worked?
My thought, then as now: You call that working?
Let’s recall the date: Jan. 8, 2008 — roughly 4 1/2 years ago. Adams’ proposal died a quick death at the NCAA convention in Nashville the next week, and that, I figured, was that. If an insider like Adams could offer a reasoned alternative that gained no traction among his presidential peers, what chance was there?
Here, as reported in the AJC on Jan. 9, 2008, was Wisconsin chancellor John Wiley’s not-exactly-measured response to Adams: “Are you kidding me? Isn’t there anyone out there who cares more about the student-athletes than about the preferences of sportswriters? Playoffs are a sham/fiction, anyway. Look at the upset statistics. On any given day, there are probably dozens of teams that can beat any other team in the collection. What’s so special about winning once in a single matchup?”
So it is with equal parts surprise and satisfaction that I note: As of June 26, 2012, big-time college football has a playoff. It’s not the one Adams advocated — it’s only half as big, and the NCAA has no part in it — but it is a playoff. And not a sham/fiction. Cold reality.
I wish I could tell you what changed over those 4 1/2 years, but I honestly don’t know. To say the BCS kept getting worse was to ignore the obvious: The BCS was lousy from the start. Obviously the SEC’s dominance had something to do with it: With two teams from the same conference (guess which) playing for the 2011 national title, the marginalization of other leagues was complete. Surely in a four-team playoff, the Big Ten/Big 12/Pac-12/ACC had to think, there’ll be room for some of them … won’t there?
To say that conference commissioners were motivated more by the will of the people than by craven self-interest would be to disregard human nature. (Those same conference commissioners had gone decades ignoring the will of the people.) But the bowl system, which is the cash cow for all big-time conferences, had begun to buckle under its own weight. Only the BCS title game came to matter, which is a big deal when you note that 35 — yes, 35 — other postseason games exist.
Earlier this month, SEC commissioner Mike Slive told me, “We want to take back New Year’s.” And that’s what the playoff will do: The semifinals will be held on either Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, with the title tilt to come a week (or so) later.
Left unclear is … well, pretty much everything else. What will happen to the bowls that aren’t staging semifinals? Will the New Year’s Eve/Day schedule be big enough to accommodate non-playoff games? (The NIT doesn’t play its semifinals on the same day as the Final Four, does it?) Who’ll pick the four teams? How many of the four can come from one conference? How many league champions will be guaranteed playoff invites? Will a Boise State ever get a sniff?
But enough. I reserve my inalienable American right to gripe about process for another time. For now I’m content to be shocked and happy. (Yes, happy. Yes, me.) I thought the day would never come when I could type these words, but here they are:
We have a playoff.
By Mark Bradley