A committee of 12 university presidents recently approved a plan to create a four-team playoff for Division I college football – the last major sport to have one. That has Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon wondering what good will come of it – if any.
Well, it’s finally upon us. No, not the apocalypse – Mayan calendar be damned – but a bona fide, Division I, college football playoff.
It’s true that college football has somehow survived from its inception in 1869 without a playoff. That's 22 years before James B. Naismith invented basketball, 34 years before the first World Series, and 51 years before the National Football League was formed.
But yes, we need one now.
It’s true that college football’s popularity – in attendance, TV ratings, merchandise sales, and just about any other way you want to measure it – has never been greater, even without a playoff.
But yes, we need one now.
It’s true that in the past 40 years, the game’s leaders already tacked on a bowl game for virtually every team still standing, more than tripling the number of bowls from 11 to 35.
Then they added a very cynical 12th game, which schools use to play tomato cans like Southwest Missouri State, solely to cash in another pay day on the backs of unpaid players. And then they tacked on conference title games, too – increasing the total games a good team could play from 11 to 14.
But it’s not enough.
No, they tell us, we need a playoff system. Why? To take the competition out of the hands of computers and pollsters, and settle it on the field.
So what are they going to do? Instead of picking two teams based on polls, strength of schedule and computerized rankings, they are going to pick four teams – all decided by a selection committee. So much for deciding it on the field. Now, instead of the third-ranked team complaining that it got a raw deal, the fifth-placed team will do all the whining.
A four-team playoff won’t end arguments, just expand them. It won’t shrink the season, but extend it. It won’t reduce injuries – especially concussions – but increase them.
Here are a few other sure bets: the playoff will result in more insane incentives in coaches’ already excessive salaries. Last year, LSU didn’t need a playoff system to write in a $5 million incentive for head coach Les Miles if the Tigers beat Alabama in the title game – thus doubling his salary for 60 minutes of football.
But LSU lost, and maybe that’s not bad thing. How many coaches, faced with a star receiver who’d been found plagiarizing a paper, or a quarter back with a concussion, would have the integrity to do the right thing and bench those players – and forfeit $5 million? Save your breath. We already know the answer.
College football decided to do at least one thing with transparent honesty: sell the rights to the title game to the highest bidder. It’s that obvious, it’s that crass.
No surprise when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of the more repugnant people in sports, who somehow stuck the Texas taxpayers with $325 million of the bill for his Jerry World Domed Stadium, will happily outbid the competition to fill his stadium – if not his insatiable ego.
A year ago, I wrote, “Do not ask for whom the buck tolls. It tolls for the adults, not the kids.” I’d love to tell you I was wrong.
I remember a few years ago, the late, great Notre Dame athletic director, Father Edmund Joyce, said that, sometimes, it seems college football gets so over-heated, we need to throw a bucket of water on it.
If only. After this playoff comes to pass, we’ll need a fire hose – but the fire will be out of control by then, and we’ll be too late.