Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Colleges

All of a sudden, a college football playoff seems likely

Some arguments are eternal. They can be recognized by their volume, by their fierceness and by the coincidence that no one ever convinces anyone of anything. They are generational debates, and they will continue as long as there is religion, as long as there is politics, as long as there are opinions.

Once, college football used to be like that.

After all, why should a sport actually bother to decide a champion when it could argue about it?

For a long time, it seemed as if that was never going to change. College football seemed quite happy to turn its scoreboard over to computer jockeys and make-believe and a weak compromise called the BCS. It defended a flawed system with such vigor that you half-expected the rest of college athletics to turn their sports over to football's way of deciding a champion.

And now … peace is at hand.

Finally … playoffs.

The shift has happened suddenly and silently. Suddenly, the arguing has stopped. For the first time, the odds of the NCAA adopting a I-A college football playoff are greater than the odds against it. We are down to the details now: How many teams, and where will the games be played, and how will the teams be chosen, and how many bowl games will be affected, and when will it all start, and who will meet in the first game?

All of those are window tinting. The important thing is a playoff is coming, finally and thankfully. Yes, the conferences and the university presidents still have to approve it, but anything else means a lot of powerful people wasted their time last week in Hollywood, Fla. Anything else would be a failure.

This is huge. A college football final four would immediately be on the short list of great sporting events. Maybe not quite the Super Bowl, but it might be larger than anything else.

"If this were to happen, it would be remarkable,'' said Bill Hancock, executive director for the BCS. "It would be the biggest change in the history of college football.''

Administrators such as Hancock have defended the BCS for 14 years. But even he acknowledges it is time for a playoff.

"If you count the Bowl Coalition (the precursor to the BCS), we've been doing this for 22 years,'' Hancock said. "Over a generation, things change. Perspectives change. This was evolutionary instead of revolutionary.''

So how will it work?

It starts with four teams. Period. Yes, you and everyone else seem to have a marvelous way to draw up a 32-team bracket. But that won't work. For one thing, the larger the proposed playoff, the harder it will be for presidents to agree.

The biggest advantage of a four-team playoff, Hancock says, is it doesn't lessen the importance of the regular season. If only four teams make it, then winning every game will still be vital.

"The commissioners do not want to take away from the regular season,'' Hancock said. "They've seen what the power of March is doing to basketball in January and February. They don't want to see that repeat itself in football.

"There is a sense that a four-team playoff would not affect the regular season. The regular season for football is the most important thing in college athletics. It drives the fan bases. It drives revenues, and it's the focal point of campus during the fall. If you had eight teams, 16, 24, it would put the regular season at risk.''

Already, there is a concern some might rush to a quick expansion from the four-team playoff. Don't be surprised if the NCAA announces a long contract, perhaps more than a decade, with a four-team format.

Yeah, but where do the teams play? There is talk of incorporating the existing bowls, for instance. There is talk of allowing neutral-site bids. Then there is this delicious idea: play the games on the campus of the higher-seeded teams.

That idea makes a lot of sense. Why not reward the teams that have had the best season?

Granted, there are concerns. Weather, for one. Small stadiums, for another. Small towns with limited hotel space for another. But wouldn't you love to see a Southern Cal-Florida State playoff game in Tallahassee? Or Ohio State-Florida in Gainesville? Or TCU-Boise State on Smurf Turf? Frankly, home sites sound like a lot more fun than each team playing 1,000 miles from home.

So who gets to play? Are the four teams picked by the BCS standings? Do you pare college football down to four super conferences and pick the champion of each? Do you pick the best two SEC teams and let the rest of the country fight it out for the next two spots? (Kidding, mostly.)

Just a hunch, but some sort of poll still seems to be necessary to separate one 11-1 team from another. Just a guess, but only the super conferences would be interested in a playoff for only the super conferences.

When is kickoff? Right now, most of the guesswork is it would come after the 2014 regular season.

Does this hurt the regular season? Of course not. Auburn will still want to beat Alabama, and Michigan will want to beat Ohio State.

Will it affect the bowls? Also, of course not. Most bowl games don't have anything to do with the national championship; they're studio shows for ESPN. The Papajohns.com Bowl would still be a place where 6-6 teams gather to compare disappointment.

Does it end controversy? No, because someone is still going to howl after being left out. If you like arguing, there will be ammunition.

That said, isn't it preferable to step on the toes of the fifth-best team in the country rather than the third-best? This kind of system would have kept Miami from getting robbed in 2000, not to mention Oregon in 2001 and Auburn in 2004 and TCU in 2009 and Oklahoma State last year.

Give me the top four teams in the BCS standings. Give me home games in the semis, a neutral site for the championship. Give me them as soon as possible. Give me something in writing before the presidents put things off again.

It sounds like a playoff. And isn't it time college football seems interested in having one?

Not only that, but it just might happen in your lifetime after all.

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