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Can You Say Playoff?
AUSTIN MURPHY
December 10, 2007
With all due respect to Ohio State and LSU, if ever a season screamed for the BCS to be blown up, it's this one. But that won't happen until the folks at the Rose Bowl come to their senses
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December 10, 2007

Can You Say Playoff?

With all due respect to Ohio State and LSU, if ever a season screamed for the BCS to be blown up, it's this one. But that won't happen until the folks at the Rose Bowl come to their senses

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2. Preserving the bowls. The assumption is that a playoff would toll the death knell for the vast constellation of bowls capping the season. Once a school gets knocked out of the playoffs, this gloomy theory holds, its fans will have no interest in going to watch the team in some consolation bowl. Really? Michigan's fans traveled en masse to the Rose Bowl last January, despite the Wolverines' having lost their previous game, in a playoff-type atmosphere, to Ohio State. Nebraska fans outnumbered Auburn partisans at the last Cotton Bowl, even though the Cornhuskers were coming off a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

Besides, the bowl system doesn't need protection—it needs a flamethrower. We now have 32 of these games, meaning that more than half the teams in Division I-A will go bowling. What was once a reward for an outstanding season has devolved into a celebration of mediocrity, showcasing 6--6 teams in games that are too often played in half-empty stadiums for indoor-soccer-sized TV audiences.

3. The academic/attrition argument: A playoff will force the lads to miss too much class time and absorb too much physical punishment. The proper response to this argument: Give me a break. If the presidents and chancellors were that concerned for the well-being of their student-athletes, they wouldn't have green-lighted a 12th game for Division I-A two years ago. "Do they understand how hypocritical that makes them look?" asks one network TV exec. Lose that 12th game and Division I-A can do what Division I-AA does: have a 16-team playoff.

Wringing their hands about the missed class time is even more asinine. Baseball players, basketball players and golfers all miss substantially more classes. "Football players miss four or five Friday afternoons a year—on a day most of 'em don't even have classes," says DeLoss Dodds, the athletic director at Texas, who believes the buzz created by a playoff would equal if not surpass the excitement of the Final Four in basketball. "If we had an eight-team playoff," says Dodds, "it would capture America."

In the next sentence he explains why it can't happen. "The plus-one won't work," he says, wearily, "because to do it, you've got to seed the [top] four teams. And if you do that, the Rose Bowl won't accept it."

Confirming that is Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen, who replies, "Uh, no," when asked if his conference is open to the possibility of a plus-one.

"If you seed the teams, and that's the only fair way to do it," he says, "then you're going to seed the conference champions out of their traditional bowl games. And that would be very injurious to all those games."

So "injurious" and abhorrent do Hansen and his ilk find such crime-against-nature bowl matchups that they are only too pleased to block the path to a playoff. And so tied to tradition is the Rose Bowl that, having lost Ohio State to the title game, it invited 13th-ranked Illinois, the only three-loss team to get a BCS bid, to face USC. The sport is being held hostage, as one frustrated AD puts it, "by the Rose Bowl parade."

Springing to the defense of his Pac-10 counterpart is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who together with Hansen forms a kind of Axis of Obstruction. Pointing out that their conferences already compromised once, back in 1998, when they joined the Bowl Alliance—later christened the BCS—Delany says, "We gave up a lot. I don't feel like we're takers. I feel like we're givers."

It is the rest of college football's problem that they are no longer in a giving mood. That nine-year-old decision to play ball with the Bowl Alliance "was not a first step toward a playoff," Delany emphasized last Friday, "but a last step." The Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl recently signed an eight-year deal with ABC. (Fox has the rights to the four other BCS bowls in a contract that runs through 2014.) Says Delany, "We intend to honor that commitment."

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