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A college football playoff already

November 11, 2008 - Steve Murch
For full disclosure, before I get going I have to admit to a love of college football. I watch hours upon hours of games. But then again, that’s the one guaranteed day I have to myself so I over-indulge.

That being said, the BCS doesn’t work in college football; that’s not breaking news. Nor is the NCAA in a rush to move to a viable solution — a playoff.

Everyone knows, it all comes down to money. The playoff supporters say the money will be there by the truckload. The naysayers say the money won’t be as much as school get from the current bowl system. I would tend to agree with the naysayers on this to a degree, but ...

There is the first problem — greed. The schools have made college football such a big business that there is never enough money. Don’t blame the fans, they are the consumers and will take what you offer. Yes, fans will ask for more and more, but that doesn’t mean milk it for all it’s worth. What happens if you reach the over-saturation point (and isn’t it better to not know where that point is than to abruptly hit the wall)? The schools and the NCAA saw way too many dollar signs and couldn’t ignore them.

Another part of the problem now is that so many Division I-A schools (I will never refer to it as the Football Bowl Subdivision), have Division I-AA schools (again, I can’t refer to it as Football Championship Subdivision — though they do settle with a playoff) on their schedules. Just look at the current AP Top 25.

Only three of the top 10 teams and six of the top 25 didn’t have a Division I-AA school on their schedule this year — No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 Texas and No. 6 USC are the top 10 teams. The others are Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Oregon State. Clemson, not anywhere near the top 25, had two of those schools on its schedule. And the Tigers were underachieving (mostly by fans standards) that the school fired head coach Tommy Bowden.

The NCAA screwed up a couple years ago when the schedules expanded to 12 games on a permanent basis. When it did so, the governing body allowed the teams to not only schedule D I-AA teams, but the wins could be counted toward the teams’ six wins needed to be bowl eligible.

Now this is not a slam against the D I-AA teams, but those schools have fewer scholarships available and in theory shouldn’t be able to beat a D I-A team (sorry Michigan fans, it’s like piling on). So what the NCAA was really saying is if a team went 5-6 it still would be bowl eligible because if it had a D I-AA team on the schedule it would get that sixth win (luckily for Michigan, last year’s team had more than enough wins).

Now look at how many of those schools play the top non-BCS teams? Few. Heck, by dropping that D I-AA game and forcing those teams to schedule teams from the Mountain West (four wins in one weekend against the Pac-10), the Mid-American (four wins against Big Ten teams), Conference-USA, WAC and Sun Belt, their schedules just get became legit.

Now that brings up another point — should a team that has six wins (and six losses) really be in a bowl game?

Another one of the arguments the bowl supporters like to point out is that with all the bowls, there are that many more teams that can end the season with a win. Sorry, but that argument rolls the other way too — there are that many more teams that end the season with a loss. On top of that, how many teams with 6-6 records play in a bowl game and lose, hence ending the season with a losing record if they don’t win their bowl game?

So the easy way to get past that would be to not allow teams that can end their season with a losing record to play in a bowl. That’s either achieved by saying you have to have seven wins in a 12 game season, or go back to 11 games and a team needs six wins.

Where does that leave us? With a playoff.

Now conventional wisdom, if there is such a thing, says eight team playoff. Why?

I’ve long advocated a 16-team playoff. At the end of the college football season last year, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports wrote a column that sounded like he’d been listening in on my conversations.

All 11 conferences should get an automatic bid into the tournament, and then the top five teams in the BCS (or whatever other method you want to use) get at-large bids. I can hear the Notre Dame apologists now. Sorry, but the Fighting Irish aren’t really the country’s team anymore (and this coming from a guy who’s grandfather was a proud alum). There isn’t one; the sport is incredibly regional — just listen to this year’s debates: preseason was whether the Pac-10 is as good as the SEC, and now it’s which is better the SEC or Big 12.

Under the full playoff system, every team has a chance to play for the national championship — just win your conference and you’re in the tourney. Conferences could determine their champion in any manner they choose, season-long schedule or tournament game.

Now everyone will say the season is too long. Well try this on for size. If you cut the season back to 11 games, a 16-team tournament would add four games to the last two teams standing — for a total of 15 games. And, in 2001 BYU played 14 games and hardly anyone complained. That was back in the days of those kickoff classics; the school played in one of those, it was a year with a 12-game schedule and the Cougars played in a bowl game.

Also consider this: Football season lasts four months and the teams play, for arguments sake, 12 games — about half on the road. College basketball lasts four and a half months and plays around 30 games with far more than six games taking them off campus. Yet there isn’t the same outcry about keeping the basketball players in class.

So where do we go from here? Institute the playoff system already.


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