This new system
would address most of the BCS supporters' concerns, disingenuous as some of
them may be:
A playoff would
extend the season and cut further into the time players can spend in class.
Academics didn't seem to be a concern when the NCAA voted last year to increase
the maximum number of regular-season games from 11 to 12, a move that affected
far more players' class time than a playoff system would. The season wouldn't
end a day later than it does now, and the only additional games would be the
four first-round matchups in mid-December, a period when most schools are on
holiday break and bowl teams are cooling their heels at practice and growing
stale. By the time Ohio State plays on Jan. 8, the Buckeyes will have gone 50
days between games. They may be the best team in the nation, but they might not
look like it after the equivalent of a seven-week bye.
A playoff format
would diminish the tradition and importance of the bowls and perhaps drive some
of the minor ones out of existence. Incorporating the BCS bowl games into the
playoff system would enhance their importance, not diminish it. As for the
lesser ones, it's hard to believe that a playoff would steal some of the
attention normally showered on games like the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas
Bowl. The bowl system, up to 32 games this year, has already been diluted by
the creation of so many new ones over the last decade that mediocre seasons are
rewarded with invitations. When Miami goes 6--6, engages in one of the ugliest
brawls in recent memory and gets invited to the MPC Computers Bowl, perhaps
it's time for some of the minor bowls to be abolished.
games would be less meaningful. "I hate to use the word playoff, but in a
sense, the BCS makes every weekend a playoff," says Slive. That's not quite
true. If anything, this year has proved that the regular season isn't as
unforgiving as BCS supporters make it seem. USC's surprising loss to Oregon
State on Oct. 28 was thought to be a crippling blow to the Trojans' title
chances, but after Michigan lost to Ohio State three weeks later, USC was back
in contention. Arkansas absorbed a 50--14 whipping by USC in its opening game,
yet the Razorbacks were in the running for a title-game berth until their loss
to LSU on Nov. 24.
In some ways a
playoff system would make the regular season even more meaningful. Consider
last Saturday's dramatic action: Wake Forest edged Georgia Tech 9--6 for the
ACC title; Florida beat Arkansas for the SEC championship in a game full of
lead changes and shifts of momentum; and West Virginia beat Rutgers in a
triple-overtime classic. Those games would have been even more thrilling had
the stakes been even higher--if a playoff spot (and not just a BCS berth) had
been on the line. Under SI's playoff system, winning the conference title would
be the only sure way to reach the playoffs, ensuring that league games would
still be crucial. Playing a strong nonconference schedule would also be
encouraged, both as a way of preparing for the all-important conference season
and to help a team's BCS standing in the event it is fighting for an at-large
Fans may not be
willing or able to travel to multiple games to support their team. This
argument against the playoff system may have some merit. The bowl games count
on the participating teams to bring a sizable contingent of fans. That's
reasonable when the fans have only one bowl to attend, but it becomes
problematic if they are expected to crisscross the country for two or three
weekends with their team. "The fans have to make decisions on whether they
think their team is going to make it past the first round," says Ohio State
athletic director Gene Smith. "And then are they going to go to the second
round? Or both? And then the championship game? A lot of people aren't thinking
about the practicality of what a playoff system would be at the I-A level."
But the first-round games would be at home stadiums, and the added significance
of those games and the semifinals being playoffs would attract more local fans
not associated with the schools. What's more, considering the fan bases of the
schools that would normally appear in these games, any seats left untaken would
likely be grabbed by those who usually get shut out of their school's single
There's also the
likelihood that increased television revenue would help offset any shortfall
from a potential drop-off in out-of-town attendance. Fox paid $320 million for
the rights to BCS bowls except the Rose for the next four years, and a true
playoff system would seem to be even more marketable to a television network.
This season's elongated BCS bowl schedule--the Rose and the Fiesta on Jan. 1,
the Orange on Jan. 2, the Sugar on Jan. 3 and the BCS Championship Game on Jan.
8--may be a trial run to test the ratings in a playofflike format. Television
money may be the only force capable of putting a playoff system in motion.
For now, the
playoff movement seems to be spinning its wheels. Two weeks ago Florida State
president T.K. Wetherell told reporters that he was working with Florida
president Bernie Machen on an eight-team playoff proposal to present to the
NCAA, but both men have since said that no such proposal is in the works.
" President Wetherell and I have discussed the general concept of an
alternative to the BCS system," Machen says, "but there have been no
serious discussions nor are there any plans in place to overhaul the
Griping about the
BCS has become as much a part of college football's culture as marching bands
and tailgating, and supporters of the system seem immune to the constant calls
for a playoff from fans and media, or even coaches and athletic directors.
"The BCS this year has helped make a great regular season of college
football," Slive says. "Attendance is up, ratings are up, interest is
also up among those who want to see a champion emerge from surviving a gantlet
of the top contenders, as in every other sport. "Looking at USC on paper,
there's no way anyone would expect us to beat them," Cowan, UCLA's
quarterback, said after the Bruins' upset. "But we just wanted to get on
the field with them and see what happened. That's why they play the games."
In the end, that's what the cluster of teams at the top of the BCS standings
deserves. Give them a real postseason. Just let them play the games.