Although it took about 10 years longer than I thought it might, the big-time football schools in college football finally adopted a genuine playoff. In spite of the BCS’s flaws, it took a critical step in the process in that it loosened the iron-fist grip of the Big 10 and Pac 10 on the biggest cash prize up to that point — the Rose Bowl. Without Big 10/Pac 10 sign on, a playoff system could not fully take flight. Once this critical concession took place, I suspected a playoff would be inevitable because of the cash involved.
Why so long?
The politics of sports leagues and associations are complicated — varied coalitions build around protecting certain pieces of the pie couples with risk aversion and the need to get widespread sign on from schools and conferences, not merely just a simple majority. Many schools and conferences, while obviously interested the revenues from a playoff, were unsure of how such a system would impact them and how it would impact the regular season. The growing irrelevance of the bowls and the de facto single-game playoff aspect of the current system seemed to make slow converts of more and more university Presidents.
Les Carpenter at Yahoo! Sports thinks so. In many ways his piece transposes my preceding paragraph to the new status quo. Presidents have many reasons to resist or be risk averse to expanding the system: more games and related issues (including concussions), concerns about the regular season, the bowls, and so on. After waiting so long for the step from the BCS to a 4-team playoff, I’m not about to predict a quick expansion. However, the same forces that eventually ground down the BCS will start to chew on the 4-team system. Most obviously, there’s money still on the table. Money may not be all that matters, but it matters and, like, water, has a way of eroding barriers. Also, the 4-team system, although paying some superficial attention to conference championships in the selection of teams, does not place much emphasis on it. Implicitly, this does not promote the regular season and conference play. An 8-team system with, say, 4 or 5 automatic slots to winners of the strongest conferences (SEC, Big 12, Pac 10, Big 10, ACC) with 3 or 4 “at large” bids actually amplifies the importance of conference play by expanding the system.
Dan Wetzel, also at Yahoo!, climbs way up on his soapbox, as he likes to do, to deliver a long-winded rant about how the new system keeps the big money Bowl-guys in the picture, loses atmosphere in off-campus games, yada yada yada. Admittedly, whether a person likes the bowls in our out of the picture (aside from the silly populist raavings), is largely a matter of taste. Growing up with New Year’s bowl games as a big deal and a day to anticipate, I like the inclusion of them and the use of December 31 and Jan 1 as play dates — in fact, I suggested such (actually both semis on Jan 1) in an earlier post. The off-campus element seems a straw man. Wetzel hasn’t seemingly been on most campuses in late December and early January — not exactly the mid-October environment. Yes, I can see that many average Big 10 fans might like games to rotate through domes in Midwest cities rather than the traditional bowl sites.