Sunday, November 30, 2008


So much has been made about President-elect Obama’s wishes about a college football playoff, the lobbying by coaches (and don’t be surprised if university presidents are involved) to play in the upcoming BCS championship game and the continued battle of the proverbial best conference title. It seems as if with the continued clamor for change, the ten-year old system will eventually be overhauled as each season has brought about some new wrinkle to address controversies and debates.

However, many college football fans that are against the current system – Obama included – are overlooking three barriers of creating a playoff to determine an undisputed national champion.

For starters, there are way too many teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (or Division I as it’s still known by). One of the ongoing criticisms of the professional leagues – the American Idol of sports, the NFL, withstanding – is that there are too many teams. However, it takes a couple hundred of million dollars, a stable stadium situation and a viable market for owners to even consider adding a franchise to their leagues. In the current landscape of college sports, it seems that all a school has to do to find a field, spend a few million to rehabilitate it and apply for a spot in Division I. That might sound too simple, but it essentially describes the increase of Division I programs in the last decade or so. While there is currently a moratorium on colleges moving up in classification, there are far too many schools in D-1 as is.

Yet, no one seems to have an issue with this for some reason.

The roll call in college football is nearly one-third of that in the just as absurd land of college basketball (119 compared to a staggering 347). However, a couple of dozen programs are even considered a part of the national title conversation every year. The allure and prestige of playing in a postseason bowl game may be a great selling point for admissions. In the context of a full season, it’s all about the cupful of schools that the media that votes on who will play in January.

While we all enjoy the concept of the BCS busting teams – Utah seemingly taking that role once again – the media at large has the same dozen of programs on the brain year after year. What purpose in college football do the other 100-plus programs serve exactly? If it’s to create entertaining upsets and continue the debates well after the national champion is decided, then they are playing their parts well. Yet, with the resources that these school higher-ups dedicate to building a program, they are climbing a mountain that they are not allowed to climb very high at all.

The second barrier to a postseason tournament is a tradition that neither the media, coaches and athletic directors nor the BCS and school officials want to let go of; polls. Preseason polls are mind-numbing and phenomenally short-sighted as they are based on how a team recruits throughout the year and how it looks during the spring games.

Many programs do a great job in recruiting as they are able to lure prospects by promoting their histories, successful players who have gone on to the NFL and promises of playing time as upperclassmen (or sooner in some positions). Yet, every state has a fair share of elite recruits and otherworldly talents that can make significant impacts for most schools. Any player that steps into a program will run into fellow ‘All-State’ performers.

As for the spring scrimmages, wouldn’t you look good if the emphasis of recruiting is more based on historical strengths and matching up with the conference rival than building a complete team, regardless of opponent? If pro scribes can’t get a proper feel of a team until the regular season actually begins, how can anyone say that these are the best teams in the nation without realizing the same?

Polls essentially tell the world ‘this is who we like to play in January, even though we have no clue if they’ll be any good by then’. Though the bottom 5 -7 teams will change from week to week, the top 20 or so don’t actually fall out of the media’s favor unless they lose more than three games, especially to teams that aren’t considered in the upper echelon of college football. Toss the polls and not only other programs have a greater chance to be in the postseason picture, but the prejudices against some conferences and programs can be eliminated.

The third and final hurdle towards a playoff is deciding who will be able to play in this new postseason. At the moment, five conferences (the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10) and Notre Dame (an independent whose strength is their TV contract with NBC) comprise of the BCS. An eight-team playoff tree will rightfully guarantee a spot for the five conference champions. Yet for those final three spots, no one has determined a manner to select the remaining three seeds.

If polls remain, it’s as simple as taking the top eight teams, right? The problem here is that instead of lobbying to be in the title game, now you’ll have coaches lobbying for those final three spots.

If you take out the polls, then what would you depend on? The other conference champions would be a novel idea. This could actually be the best solution as it would incorporate the other teams that have been traditionally left out in the cold. However, there are eleven conferences as opposed to a clean eight. While cutting down the number of D-1 teams could certainly whittle the number of conferences to eight, it’s highly unlikely that will happen as any surviving teams will be reluctantly shuffled into the remaining groups.

Including the other conference champions in this playoff would also create further tension as the second-best teams in the Big Five will throw hissy-fits about the level of competition in the others. Imagine Ohio State or Louisiana State – the thorns on the side of many pro-playoff pundits over the past few years – finishing in second place in the conference and watching Ball State or Utah take what they feel is rightfully theirs. Yet, if OSU or LSU did their jobs, maybe they wouldn’t raise a stink.

Someone else would, though.

The true allure of college athletics isn’t in the game play, no matter how great, good, bad or putrid it can be. It’s in politics of it all; determining who’s more worthy and who needs to do a little more next time. Until that goes, the idea of a legitimate and exiting playoff will be just that; an idea. Obama, more than any other college football fan in the country, should know this.

Say What?!?!: Sticking with football, I have been very impressed with Michael Strahan as a member of the FOX pregame show. Three years in a row, several top-flight players have retired and joined the media. Yet, Strahan has done remarkably well in providing an even-handed analysis on teams while not throwing himself too much into the fray with his opinions. You thought that he could have been one of the many former players who have thrown more hot air and controversies than insight, but he seems to understand his role and not make his own name bigger than the job at hand. Those who had covered him as a member of the New York Giants knew that he was destined to be on the other side immediately after he hung up the cleats, but few may have expected that he would made the transition so smoothly.

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