Most college coaches ( Alabama's Bear Bryant and Oklahoma's Barry Switzer, for two) are outspoken in their belief that playoffs are unworkable and unwarranted. John McKay is now an ex-college coach, having defected to the pros, and he remains adamantly against playoffs. McKay was invited to be on Casale's Feasibility Committee but did not serve. "I'm against it," he said. "I'm staying home."
"Why do we need playoffs?" McKay said the other day after his last USC team beat Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl. "Because the pros have them? We have something better. We have eight or 10 teams who win their conferences, win bowl games, have great seasons. Ten winners instead of one. Everybody's happy. The alumni are happy. Recruiters are happy. They all say, 'We're No. 1.' The coach gets a raise. The players have a good time and get a new watch. Has anybody stopped to ask the players what they think? They're the ones who do all the work.
"The thing that kills me about the NCAA the past few years is that every piece of legislation that came along wound up being against the athlete. 'We're going to save money,' they said. So no more $15-a-month laundry money. No more money for supplies, which is a big item in engineering and architecture. Now they've taken away some of the tickets the player gets. And his letter jacket. Now they want that. They cut the number of scholarships last year and told us we couldn't dress a boy for a home game, even just to sit on the bench, if he was lower than the 60th player on the roster. When we went on the road we could only take 48. So we took 48 players to Notre Dame—and a 250-piece band. You tell me how that saves money.
"Now they're saying, 'Let's have a playoff. Let's let the players work an extra two or three weeks and make us some more money.' And how much fun is a boy going to have in Miami if the next week he might be playing somewhere else for the national championship? I'll tell you how much fun—none. The coach'll fly him in the night before and out the next day. Phweet-phweet. Hello, goodby."
Wilbur Evans of the Cotton Bowl says he cannot imagine the bowls existing to be "stepping stones." Bowl people think of them as ends in themselves, a unique and traditional part of college football that once lost could never be duplicated. Tom Hansen of the NCAA shares that feeling. "All these years when college football wasn't getting $18 million a year out of network television contracts," he says, "the bowls were giving it exposure and a lot of financial help. Most of us genuinely appreciate the energy and money they have put into their games."
All the major bowls are the love objects of a handful of paid personnel and an army of volunteers, often men of high standing in the community. Presidents of banks run errands; newspaper publishers usher at bowl parades; trial lawyers serve on entertainment committees. One of Marshall McDonald's jobs for the Orange Bowl was to make sure Michigan coaches had access to formal wear for the coronation ball, and to make available flowers and corsages. McDonald is chairman of the board of Florida Power and Light. A vice-president of Southern Bell saw to it that all the players got daily papers. Would these men be anxious to serve college football if their game was relegated to secondary status? Not likely, says Armstrong. Take away the illusion of being No. 1 from any bowl and it will probably shrivel up. The fans would stop following their teams long distances, in large numbers. There would be less reason for pageantry—for parades, for auxiliary sporting events—and less reason to perpetuate tradition.
And if it is presumptuous to think the bowl committees would participate in their own demotion, it is downright dangerous to believe the networks would. A figure of $2.5 to $3 million was bandied about by the Feasibility Committee as the worth of a championship game to, say, ABC, which has first refusal rights because it carries the weekly college games and will do so through 1977. The proposal calls for the money to be added on to the season's package, in a renegotiated contract, and to provide additionally for expenses of teams and individuals participating in other NCAA championship events.
It sounds fine until you consider this: NBC pays more than $3 million for Rose Bowl rights and pays the Orange Bowl a bundle as well. CBS pays the Cotton Bowl enough for each team to take home $900,000. Orange Bowl teams get about that, and each Rose Bowl team gets $1.4 million to share with its respective conference schools. Networks are willing to shell out these enormous amounts because in their present status bowl games are prestige items. But would NBC and CBS be so generous if their games were reduced to preliminaries? For that matter, would ABC—which chafes at not being able to land a Rose or Orange Bowl game—be willing to pay as much as it does now for the Sugar, Bluebonnet, Liberty and Gator if it had a lock on both the regular season and a championship playoff? ABC is mum, but it is not hard to figure the answer: not likely. Indeed, why should it?
Casale believes the playoff plan has enough votes to carry in St. Louis, "though it'll be very close." Support will come from predictable places. Listed after Alabama in Division I of the Collegiate Football Guide is Appalachian State. Alabama's stadium capacity is 69,000; Appalachian State's is 10,000. Behind Florida, with 63,000, is Fresno State, with 13,000; ahead of Illinois, with 71,000, is Idaho, with 18,000. This is not to say how these schools will vote, only to suggest how the great disparity among them often influences their decisions. McKay says he has seen it happen many times: "They'll be sitting in the back of the room, nodding, and somebody will say, 'O.K., here's a plan to spread some of this big money around.' Up go the hands. Then they go back to sleep."
The proposal to subdivide Division I precedes the playoff vote on the NCAA agenda. Subdivision is likely, as well as necessary, to keep schools with modest athletic programs and no desire to go big-time from inflicting their ideology on schools that want to be big-time, and vice versa. Some of the football powers have threatened to pull out of the NCAA if decisions damaging their operations continue to be made, but this is interpreted as smoke.