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.
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.
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."
"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