Joe Paterno and Florida State president T. K. Wetherell recently jumped into the ongoing debate over creating a Division 1-A (officially known as the Bowl Championship Subdivision) football championship playoff. Paterno favors it , while Wetherell says it's inevitable :
"To be frank with you, I don't know what the reasons are not to have a playoff," Paterno said during a speaking appearance in Pittsburgh. "You can talk about missing class and all that kind of stuff, [yet] you see basketball go on forever. You have a lot of bogus excuses, but obviously the majority of people who have the say don't want it."
"In my judgment, if you take every argument that's been made today and apply it to any other sport on a college campus, then you'd have to cancel the (College) World Series, the Final Four, the soccer tournament," he said. "If you want to do it, it can be done. ...
"Everybody's going to be sitting here -- I don't know, probably not in my lifetime at Florida State -- saying, 'You know, we really could move this back. And, by the way, we do play 63 baseball games and we play baseball through two final-exam periods, not one. Somehow, they all seem to graduate and do pretty good. Oh, those basketball players, we have a real problem with academics in basketball, but we seem to play right on through the tournament.' "
Before anybody gets the wrong idea, we're not going to have a playoff in the forseeable future. Earlier this month, the BCS rejected the first step towards a playoff system when they rejected the "Plus One" model . Why? I can sum it up in four letters.
E. S. P. N.
We've heard all of the reasons why a playoff won't work, but the funny thing is that every other fall sport somehow manages to have a playoff. Even the old 1-AA (now "Football Championship Subdivision") has a football playoff. So why not the top levels of college football?
Because ESPN simply has too much to lose.
Yes... the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" has their finger in the pot. Or should I say, their entire fist. It starts with the Rose Bowel (sp) game and their traditional role of matching the Big Ten (11) and the Pac Ten in the so-called "Granddaddy of them all". And of course, ESPN controls the broadcasting rights to the Rose Bowel (sp) through 2014. In college football, who leads the charge against a playoff? The Big 11 and Pac 10 .
But it doesn't stop there. Did you know that ESPN now owns and operates SEVEN bowl games ? The New Mexico, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Papa Johns, Armed Forces, and the new St. Petersburg Bowls are all run by ESPN. Why? It's profitable for them, providing them with cheap, compelling programming during the holiday season.
And of course, anytime someone talks about the playoff, people start worrying about how the bowls will survive, and how you can use the bowls for a playoff.
Is it tradition? A little bit...but let's be honest, the prestige of bowl games have really dropped with bloat. Do we really need 34 bowl games? I think the tradition of bowl games ended about the time that Weed Eater became the sponsor of the Independence Bowl.
There is only one advantage of all these bowl games: the extra 15 days of practices for football teams. Except for the major bowl games, most schools are lucky to break even with their bowl trips. Many lose money...such as the Ohio Bobcats when they went to the GMAC Bowl in 2007.
The fact of the matter is that if you are going to have a playoff, you are going to have to kill the bowl games. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. You might keep a few around as minor bowls for teams left out of the playoffs...but for the teams in the playoffs, the games are all played on someone's home field. (With the possible exception of the national championship game, much like the Super Bowl.) And for two very good reasons:
Fairness. Bowl games are, for the most part, played in warmer weather locales. That favors Pac-10 and SEC schools. Husker fans know the joys of playing Miami in the Orange Bowl. Is that really fair? How about Miami having to travel north and playing in Lincoln in December occasionally? And let's be honest. In every other championship, someone gets a home field advantage. Only the NCAA basketball tournament manages to work with neutral sites, and that's because local fans buy many of the tickets. And let's be honest...it's one thing to sell 20,000 tickets in a basketball arena. It's another thing to sell 80,000 tickets.
Money. Playing on home fields simply results in lower costs and higher revenues. Lower costs because only one team needs to travel. That's lower bills for hotels and airplanes. The reverse occurs on the revenue side, as not only do most colleges have larger stadiums than bowl sites (Rose Bowel (sp) being the major exception), but by locating the games closer to fans, you bring the games to your audience. Simply put...the margins on playing these games on home fields are dramatically higher once you move the games from the bowls.
Oh, and I haven't even discussed the TV rights for an NCAA football playoff. CBS currently is in the middle of a 11 year, $6 billion contract for NCAA basketball . Yes... over $500 million a year for three weekends of basketball. You think a college football playoff couldn't pull in something remotely similar? That's why ESPN fears losing the bowls... they like getting paying a couple of million dollars for a Las Vegas Bowl game; they don't want to bid hundreds of millions of dollars for a college football playoff.
It's not going to happen anytime soon...and not until 2014 because of the ESPN/Rose Bowel/Big 11/Pac Ten contract. But it's inevitable. Will it be an 8 team or 16 team playoff? Don't know. It probably won't be 32 teams; that's too big. But it's simply inevitable.