When football season starts in late summer, I’m always mystified by the dominance of professional football over college football. I love both, but as a fan, find the world of college much more intriguing. Each team brings with it a style, history, personality, stadium of its own in a way that the NFL—with cookie-cutter stadiums, corporate fan bases, and near-identical play calling—can’t compare.
Fight songs and student sections. The Rose Bowl and rivalry week. This is what comes to mind when the words “college football” float out there. College football has so much to offer, but it exists in a surreal parallel sports universe. It’s silly. It’s sleazy. When you’re a college football fan, it is hard to ignore the nagging fear the NCAA will figure out a new way to screw it all up.
The NFL doesn’t contend with a lot of the issues that the NCAA has to navigate. For one, it’s a highly centralized collaboration with one commissioner, Roger Goodell, who often personally hands out the fines and reprimands to individual players for conduct violations. All NFL decisions are made by a league office, run by the commissioner, as well as overseen by the greater governing body of team owners. The team owners themselves are individual emperors, ruling entirely over their team’s domain, collaborating as one to support the commissioner and the league as a single entity.
College football, meanwhile, is an odd amalgamation of an NCAA office with very little real clout, multiple leagues with a somewhat-powerful commissioner, university presidents, university athletic directors, head coaches who wield serious amounts of power, and the shadowy boosters.
You therefore periodically end up with silliness like this. How did this happen? Boston College is a middle of the pack football program. Its best hopes for luring top coaching talent would be the opportunity to prove their mettle on a relatively large stage. If the coach was strong enough, he would have a shot at an elite college job or a job in the NFL. College coaches jump to the pros fairly frequently. This is what BC should be trying to do. Instead, the athletic director’s feelings get hurt, he drags out an awkward firing process over several days, threatening to fire the coach if he goes JUST TO INTERVIEW, then firing him when he does so, destabilizing a football team that lost its head coach only two years ago (most head coaching stints are, at bare minimum, three years; most contracts begin at five years).
On the flip side we have Auburn University, which is a failed state on the opposite end of the spectrum from BC’s authoritarian regime. Auburn University’s very successful head coach, Tommy Tuberville, quit this year after a tough season. In that column, you’ll read that five years ago, the university president and a group of boosters, big time college football donors, tried to convince then-University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino to come to Auburn… while Tuberville was still the head coach. So is it any surprise, then, that Tuberville’s mother told the press that her son was actually fired, despite the university saying he resigned? Probably only as surprising as finding out that boosters were contacting rising star coach Mike Leach just days after Tuberville “quit.”
This means that it’s hard to get anything done across the entire sport. The only thing that seems to be easy to do is mess with the clock to make the game shorter, so that paying customers actually get to see less football being played. Not just once, but TWICE in the last three years.
Then we have the mother lode. The take-no-prisoners-why-are-you-messing-with-us glaring, gaping, gnashing flaw: the playoffs. Unlike literally every other American sport, college football has no playoffs—even NASCAR added playoffs. Maybe you’ve heard about this, seeing as President-Elect Barack Obama actually spoke out in favor of a playoff. The sad thing is the President can’t do anything about it. This recession will come and go before there’s even a hint of change. Instead of a playoff, we have the Bowl Championship Series. It’s complicated. Basically, the best team in each major league gets to play in a primetime game two months after the season ends. The top two teams in the country—and only those two—play each other for the championship. Those two teams are determined, almost arbitrarily, by complex computer algorithms, votes from coaches who favor their regional leagues, and random assortments of polls. This has led to 2004, when there wasn’t consensus, and TWO teams won the title without playing each other, the exact scenario that this system was supposed to avoid.
Smaller schools’ teams get ignored because they don’t get the automatic bids of the big-time leagues. Each team and conference that play in the final Bowl Championship Series games get millions of dollars, providing a financial incentive to keep the status quo. ESPN’s massive $500 million contract with the BCS until 2014 only ensures that this crisis really will outlast the economic one.
I think I’ve found a way to right this wrong. It is the one thing that seems so fixable, so easy. Something that could be incorporated this upcoming season. Tonight, Florida and Oklahoma play each other for a National Championship that probably won’t be recognized in Utah. Let it not happen in 2010. This plan borrows very heavily from MGoBlog’s uber-genius idea, laid out here. There is one major difference, though: this plan includes the BCS.
Here it is:
—One game must be removed from the regular season, as well as a rule that all league regular seasons must end on the third weekend in November. This keeps potential cold weather playoff games from being played in late December. There is a week for conference championship games. Then the playoffs start.
—The top six teams make the playoffs, as per MGoBlog’s plan. The number one and two teams get a week off. The better-ranked team gets the game at home, generating huge revenue for the home team as well as sweet TV revenue for the visitor.
—The winner of the tournament plays in a rotating BCS Championship game, just as it does now. The one caveat is the game cannot be played in the same state as the school, for example, if Florida is in the championship, the game must not be held in Florida—as it actually is tonight.
—The rest of the BCS and bowl games go off as if the playoff never happened. ESPN’s contract still earns them and the schools mucho dollars, plus they get a shot to televise playoff games. At minimum, the games would only add one week to most teams’ schedules, three weeks only for the one or two teams that could come from the Big Ten Conference.
Please, college football, change your ways. You can start with a playoff.