Posted: Tuesday December 6, 2005 12:23PM; Updated: Tuesday December 6, 2005 12:52PM
That's right, even though the BCS was his ally this year, Brown is a playoff proponent. "Whether we like it or not, our sport is money driven, and therefore it's fan driven," he says. "I don't want to lose our fans, and right now I see more excitement in the Final Four than I see in the BCS."
But coach, what about the hardships that a playoff would impose on student-athletes? What about the travel, the difficulty of remaining abreast of one's class work on the road, unless one happens to be a fifth-year senior whose only class is ballroom dancing?
"Well," Brown says, "we're adding a 12th game next year, and we're adding it for money. Period. And we're taking away an open date [that players might otherwise use to rest and heal and catch up on schoolwork]. And we have championship games in half our leagues, and then a bowl game. Next year, if we're successful, we'll play 14 games. So I don't think we'd be extending the schedule all that much."
After getting Wally Pipped by Alex Smith at Utah, Brett Elliott transferred to Linfield College, a Division III powerhouse in Oregon. Last season he threw 61 touchdown passes while leading the Wildcats to the D-III national title, a journey that added five weeks to their season. "I went to bowls when I was at Utah," Elliott told me, "and they're fun. It's definitely a good time. But nothing can beat the excitement of preparing for a different team, then beating them, then preparing for another team, week after week after week. It was exhilarating."
I thought Elliott might be exaggerating, so I called my buddy Tom Linnemann, who quarterbacked St. John's of Minnesota to the 2000 Stagg Bowl. The Johnnies ended the season with five straight playoff games on the road. They went from Wisconsin to Tacoma to Pella, Iowa, to Abilene to Salem, Va. Did anyone flunk out? How did they handle homework?
"First of all," says Linnemann, "look at Division I basketball. Those guys travel a couple times a week. Does Coach K have a bunch of guys flunking out at Duke? You bring work with you. That's why we're called student-athletes."
But wasn't the travel grueling? "It was like a five-week vacation, paid for by the NCAA," he says. "Every time you won, you found out where you were going next."
Linnemann and the Johnnies saw fishmongers throw salmon to one another at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. They drank deeply of the cultural offerings available in Abilene; Linnemann returned to Minnesota with a vast belt buckle. His most indelible memory from the trip, he says, "was playing a game of six-on-six football in the hotel pool in Pella, Iowa." The game came to a temporary halt when legendary head coach John Gagliardi happened upon the scene.
"For Crissakes," he implored his players, "take your helmets off!"
It wouldn't do to take on the Central Dutch with waterlogged headgear.
"Talk about coming together as a team," says Linnemann. "That's an experience everyone who plays college football should be able to have."