Bowl system changes not around corner
Jan. 3, 2002
The bowl season ends tonight, to be followed by several weeks of the usual self-serving fan and writer comments about the unfairness of the BCS system and the need to change it to a true playoff.
The argument will be, as it always is, to take the champions of the six major conferences, the Southeastern, Pac-10, Big 10, Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Big East, add an independent such as Notre Dame or two champions from the so-called lesser conferences such as Conference USA, Western Athletic, Mountain West or whomever, set up an eight-team playoff and may the best team win.
It isn't going to happen.
One reason is money. Another is the raging interest in college football as it is today. The third is the kids who play the game.
First, money. Last season the 25 bowl games distributed almost $150 million to NCAA schools. More than $1 billion has been paid out in the past 10 years and the estimate is the payout will rise to $1.5 billion during the next 10. Do you really think the seven games necessary to determine a "true" national champion could raise that kind of money? Television has deep pockets, but they don't reach from the hip to the cuffs.
Sure, some of the games are dogs with little or no interest nationwide. But the local sponsors bully businesses in their town for sponsorships, force the competing teams to agree to buy large blocks of tickets whether they will be used or not add some television money and finish in the black. But no matter how much or how little the interest, there would be less if they tried to compete against a projected National Playoff.
Eighty (out of 114) different schools have participated in at least one bowl game in the past five seasons. Why should eight teams enjoy all the glory rather than spreading it among 80?
The bowl season started this year Dec. 18 with the New Orleans Bowl and continued through Jan. 3 with the Rose Bowl. That's 16 days with 25 games involving 50 teams. If you went to a playoff system it would take three weekends to play the series eight teams reduced to four, four teams reduced to two and two for the championship. Every minor bowl would have to compete against one phase of the playoff series for attention or haven't you noticed the once untouchable Jan. 1 date for the final bowls has been stretched to Jan. 3 because no one is allowed to go head-to-head with the BCS matchup of No. 1 and No. 2.
Now as for the interest in college football as it is today. Look at what the national tournaments have done to college basketball and baseball. Does anyone really care who won the SEC basketball championship last year, other than the players and that team's fans.
All the interest is concentrated on making the 64-team field and after that the Sweet 16 and then the Final 4. If you're not one of the 64 selected by committee, you've had a bad year, no matter your won-lost record..
As for baseball, is there any goal other than making the College World Series? If a team finished 50-8 would they think they had a great year if they were knocked out in the conference tournament and didn't make it to Omaha?
In college football, interest continues to the end of the season because of the bowl games. Eleven teams played in bowls with 6-5 regular season records. Without possible bowl bids at stake, do you think there would have been as much interest in Alabama or Georgia or Ole Miss at the end of the season, all of whom were out of the race for the SEC title game?
Finally, the kids themselves. Because of the vagrancies of the calendar, college teams will be allowed to play 12 games next year. A bowl game will make 13. With a national playoff two teams would play 15. Can we really seriously call them student-athletes if they face 15 weeks of long, hard football practice prior to going back to their dorms and studying. Actually, it would be 16 weeks because open date weeks are also practice time. No wonder there are crip courses, understanding professors and look-the-other-way administrators.
At the end of the season schools will trot out four or five players who also made good grades and point to them as a typical example of
combining academics and athletics. They are as typical as your payday compared with Nick Saban's new $1.6 million contract for coaching LSU football.
Schools don't say anything about the other 80 who are also on scholarship but who were forced to take clay-modeling and first aid plus making "A" in football to remain eligible. Or didn't you know the players get a grade in their sport which counts in their overall grade point average?
Lute Olson, University of Arizona basketball coach said this to reporters prior to the 2001 national championship Final Four game: "I've told college football coaches if they ever go to a national playoff system, they're ridiculous. The NCAA tournament has gotten to the point where nothing else counts any more other than to win the whole thing."
He's right and college football knows it. The fans should too.