College playoff is on the horizon

semerson@macon.comFebruary 12, 2012 

Our long national nightmare is almost over. The antiquated, senseless and unpopular system known as the college football postseason is finally set to be fixed.

The playoffs are coming.

It was inevitable, and events this past season seem to have pushed us to the brink. It began as a trickle during the past two months, with the holdouts coming over to the side of sanity. Last week there was a flood of evidence that change is here.

“The conference commissioners are finally coming together on that point,” Georgia president Michael Adams said Wednesday, after telling the UGA athletic board he expects there to be a four- or eight-team playoff in place by 2014. “There’s been great division among the commissioners the last six or eight years, and the change in the conference realignments (and) the fact that most of the media contracts are up in either ’14 or ’15 are creating a situation where if there’s going to be change, this is probably the natural time to do it.”

Adams also mentioned popular sentiment. But while the voice of the fans and television contracts had a role, the driving force is competition between the conferences. Competition and opportunity.

History should record that the final straw came Dec. 4, 2011, when the BCS system, with its crazy computer schemes, conflict-of-interest coaches and Harris voters picked off the street, came up with a championship game between two SEC teams.

Magically, the Big Ten and Pac-12 -- long the holdouts against a playoff -- began changing their mind. The Big 12, normally on the fence, was pushed to a playoff by one of its members being iced out of the BCS title game. The SEC, despite benefitting from the present system, has been in favor of a playoff for years.

Those four conferences are basically driving the discussion. The ACC and Big East, given their struggles on the field, are just thanking the other four for letting them stay in the BCS. And the same goes for Notre Dame.

So let’s sum this up plainly: One conference wins six straight BCS championships and is showing no signs of slowing down. But it still favors a playoff. The other conferences finally realize they have to create more opportunity for their teams. That’s why we’re getting a playoff: The system is only working for one conference anymore.

“In the Pac-12, we are not strong supporters of the present model,” Arizona State president Michael Crow told the Arizona Republic on Thursday. “The reason for this new model is the model we have right now is not conducive to the long-term success of college football.”

Or, perhaps, the long-term success of the Pac-12.

In fact, it seems the powers-that-be are pretty much moving beyond whether there should be a playoff, and now the only discussion is how it should work and how many teams there should be.

The prevailing assumption has been that college football would first go to a plus-one -- or basically a four-team playoff. That’s what the Big Ten said it would propose, with semifinals at campus sites.

But why stop at four, when everyone knows it could and should eventually grow to eight? That seems like a nice healthy number, one which would result in a legitimate championship but not dilute the most meaningful regular season in American sports.

The other question is when all this takes effect. The BCS contract with ESPN ends after the 2013 season, so the assumption is that any changes announced this summer would take effect for the 2014 season.

But what if, when they get in that formerly smoke-filled room, ESPN volunteers that it would be willing to rip up its current contract and start with a playoff right away? The network would certainly make more money. Plus, does anybody want to play two more years under a system that’s going away?

Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said last week that he hadn’t really given much thought to the BCS changes, but he did say one thing about the movement to a playoff.

“This is what the public wants,” McGarity said.

Amen.

I’ve always felt that future generations would look back on the bowl system and the BCS and wonder why college football decided its champion that way, rather than a playoff.

It looks like we won’t have to wait for future generations. It looks like it’s happening soon. It’s about time.

Contact Seth Emerson at semerson@macon.com

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