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Raise your hand if you don’t want to see at least some sort of playoff in college football. Those of you who are college and university presidents and/or Athletic Directors are excluded from voting due to your obvious financial self-interest. The fact is, most fans of major college football are in favor of at least some kind of playoff for what is known as the Football Bowl Subdivision (a.k.a. FBS or Division I-A). Even President Obama has gone on record as saying that he supports at least an eight-team playoff format at the end of the college football season. For as long as most college football fans can remember though, the National Champion for major college football has been decided through the bowl system. Then – as if things couldn’t get any more complicated – the powers that be decided to implement an even more confusing system involving some sort of combination of human polls, computer polls, and schedule strength in order to implement what is now known as the Bowl Championship Series or “BCS.” I’m not sure anyone really understands the BCS (and if they say they do, they are probably lying); however, the general gist of it is that at the end of the regular season, the “BCS formula” spits out a ranking and based on that ranking, the team ranked #1 in the BCS will play the team ranked #2 for the national championship. The problems with this system should seem fairly obvious. Take this past season for example. You had five teams that at the end of their respective regular seasons were all undefeated. Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, Boise State, and TCU all finished undefeated, and yet only two of them (Alabama and Texas) got to play for the National Championship. Granted, after the bowl games, only Alabama and Boise State remained undefeated, but that misses the point. The fact is, three of the five undefeated teams never had a chance to prove or be part of the spectacle (let alone the financial windfall their schools would receive) that is the National Championship game. Since its inception, the BCS has been a firestorm of controversy. From potential antitrust suits, to Senate Congressional hearings, it seems that anyone and everyone has had an opinion on the BCS’s validity and ability to determine a National Champion in college football.
But perhaps finally there is change in the air. If you frequent college football websites, blogs, and message boards like I do, you know that all the talk right now is about conference realignment and expansion. For a little while, it looked like the Big 12 was headed for extinction, and the Pac 10 and the Big 10 were going to look more like the Pac 16 and the “new” Big 12 (not to be confused with the current Big 12). However, with the recent announcement coming from the University of Texas at Austin that it was going to stay in the Big 12, it now appears as though the original Big 12 is safe and the Pac 10 and Big 10 are left looking for different conferences to feast upon in order to feed their hunger for expansion. Rumors have abounded as to which schools are next in line. Schools ranging from Notre Dame to the University of Utah are all seen as possible candidates now that the Texas schools are off the table (Note: the so-called “Texas schools” were UT-Austin, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and possibly some combination of Baylor and/or Texas A&M. They became known as the “Texas schools” because it was widely understood that UT-Austin was the catalyst here and whatever it chose to do would affect all those other schools, as well as the nature the conference expansion would take on).
What does all this mean with regards to a possible playoff? As it currently stands, the BCS bowl games are required to allow the conference champions from those BCS conferences to play in what are designated the BCS bowl games. There are right now five BCS bowl games (one of which is the national championship); however, outside of the National Championship, the other four bowls have specific conference ties. But if we continue to see this shift towards mega-conferences which would inevitably mean a smaller number of major conferences, then those bowl games will be left without conference ties to fill their stadiums and, more importantly, their wallets. The fact is, no one wants to watch a major bowl game with the third place team from the “Pac-75″ (or whatever it ends up referred to) and the eighth place team from the Big-902. That would not sell tickets nor would it generate advertising revenue. This would (hopefully) lead to a greater push for a playoff in order to fill the financial void left by the lack of significance the BCS would then have.
From a legal perspective, there has always been a lot of debate with regards to the validity of the playoff system, usually focusing around certain antitrust issues with the NCAA. However, money is always everything, and if the state of the college football landscape looks vastly different due to conference expansion, there may be no other choice but to move towards a playoff system in order to appease both fans and sponsors. That would make this author (and pretty much everyone else) very happy.
– Richard Jacques
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