So the Good Lords of college-affiliated sports grant us a four-team playoff to determine a college-affiliated football champion. For a minute or a few decades there, I thought you had lost your talent for following the money.
Amazing, isn’t it? All those previous alleged impediments — missed class time (during holiday break?), too much travel for fans used to one bowl game (yeah, that stops the real yahoos), devaluation of the bowl system (that’s already been devalued) — shrunk into pylons to be negotiated once the money got big enough.
They heard the fans. They heard the hype machine already revving. They heard the sounds of the free market, saw TV gold in them thar hills and only NBA groupies dig for gold better than the powers behind college football.
ESPN reportedly will get first crack at the TV package, which isn’t surprising. You go to the needy first. Disney’s sports network pays big money for live events because it needs to justify the fat fees it charges cable system operators for the privilege of having ESPN as part of its basic package.
Make no mistake, this continues the Bowl Championship Series philosophy of the rich getting richer. An impartial committee will select the teams based on record, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and whether or not the team wins its conference. Surely said committee won’t take into account national appeal or fan following. Only as a tiebreaker, of course.
Theoretically, this gives the Boise States of the world a shot to get into the mix. In practice, the committee might throw such teams a bone every two or three years, when the howling at the door gets loudest.
I say, what the heck? In for a penny, in for a pound, don’t give us just bacon and pig’s feet, let’s go whole hog.
There’s 11 BCS conferences overall if the WAC gets whacked by the time the Heat finishes taking their deserved victory laps. Why not make it a 12-team tournament? The conference champions plus an independent or wild card conference team to be chosen by the committee. The top four teams of the current playoff get a bye into the second round while the other eight play the first round. The whole thing could start the week before Christmas and run through the normal bowl season.
Already I can hear, “What do you tell the second best team in a conference, say, the SEC, who’s clearly three touchdowns better than the champion of Conference USA?” Same thing you say to the No. 5 team now: tough spit.
The men’s NCAA basketball tournament used to be that way. It became March Madness when its expansion in teams met college basketball parity and some wildly exciting upsets and championship games ensued. A 64-team, 63-game football tournament is impractical. But a 12-team, 11-game tournament would expand the college-affiliated football playoff to its maximum density of games.
An upset or two in the early rounds would lead to both immense blowouts and monster upsets in the second round, as some of those top four seeded teams come in rusty and have their maturity tested. Those who get it together win big and roll into the semifinal round. Those who don’t find themselves listed with great teams that didn’t win it all like 1983 Nebraska.
That reminds me: Now that we’ve got a playoff system in place, can we acknowledge how ridiculous the polls were and retroactively eliminate calling anyone a “national champion” if they played before, say, 1979? That’s when ABC, the only network broadcasting college football weekly at the time, really opened up its TV schedule. Before that, voters, whether coaches or media, saw only a handful of teams live, on TV or via highlights.
It has been a long road from there to here. Let’s finish the journey. The cash can be counted along the way.