College football gearing up for major overhaul

With college football’s power players discussing playoff formats, the sport is gearing up for a major overhaul

semerson@macon.comApril 28, 2012 

ATHENS -- The most powerful men in college football met this week in a Miami suburb, and when they emerged from a hotel conference room, they had changed the future of the sport.

For years, the lack of a playoff has caused controversy, but the powers-that-be resisted. That finally changed this offseason, and on Thursday it was all but made official: The commissioners released a statement saying they will study “a very small number of four-team options” for a playoff.

Not eight or 16 teams. But not two, either.

“This is a seismic change for college football,” said BCS executive director Bill Hancock, who for years has been the public face of the unpopular postseason system.

Just how seismic remains uncertain. The details still have to be worked out, and the playoff will not take effect until the 2014 season.

The Georgia football program is just hoping it can be involved in whatever system comes out of the wash. But the views at UGA are divergent, reflecting the national mood. Some have strong opinions. Some do not.

The following is the perspective of individuals invested in the sport: A school president, a retired football legend, a head football coach, a fan, and a current player.

The president

Michael Adams has always been in the minority. While his counterparts have been perceived as the roadblocks to a playoff, the University of Georgia president has been an outspoken advocate for one.

So this moment vindicates Adams, although he isn’t done yet. He still favors using the four BCS bowls as the start of an eight-team playoff. That clearly won’t happen, at least yet. So within the framework of a four-team event, he was asked Thursday what would be most important for him.

“That it be an open process, where through some methodology we choose the top four teams in America to play,” Adams said. “From where I sit, and this is my opinion, without regard to conference affiliation or how long you’ve been playing football, or a whole host of other things, I think the event ought to represent the best that we have to offer in that spot. It’s what we do in every other NCAA championship. I think the preponderant weight of opinion is that that’s what we need to do in Division I football.”

But those are just details.

“I think the sentiment is such that something will come out of it this time,” Adams said. “Whether it is exactly what I have proposed, or whether it is the answer for all times, remains to be seen.”

The legend

Vince Dooley has advocated for 25 years for a plus-one system: Where the bowls are played as usual, and after that the two remaining top teams square off in a national title game.

In fact, back when Dooley was Georgia’s athletics director, only a few years removed from retiring as football head coach, Dooley was part of a committee that recommended a four-team playoff. But the BCS system won out.

“I’m sure the NCAA still has that 4- or 5-inch document by that committee that studied a four-team playoff,” Dooley said.

Dooley differs from Adams (not for the first time) on what happens after a four-team playoff. Dooley would want it to stop there, and his only fear is it stretching to an eight-team event.

“I think it would be bad for college football,” said Dooley, citing the bowl system and class time.

In the end, however, Dooley is happy with what is happening now.

“It needs to move away from the BCS, which despite all the good things about it, in the final analysis, at least nine out of 10 times, there’s too much controversy. Doing this would take out most of those controversies,” he said. “I think they pretty well got the message over a period of time that there’s a lot of discontent with it, and I’m proud they’ve listened.”

The head coach

Mark Richt was preparing to speak in Columbus as news was breaking this week about the playoff. Head coaches aren’t consulted much, as evidenced when Richt asked a reporter what was going on.

Richt, never one to rock the boat, is fine with expanding the postseason to four, or perhaps even eight, as long as it doesn’t take away from the regular season.

“Just tell me what the rules are. Tell me what the deal is, and we’ll play by it,” Richt said. “I don’t know what is the right answer. But I would not want to change college football much. College football is a great sport. It’s an unbelievable regular season. Probably more exciting than any regular season in any sport. So we want to be careful to make sure we know what we’re looking for.”

Richt was a bit more opinionated on how the four teams should be determined. He echoed others in the SEC who don’t want to see it be four conference champions.

“If there were only four conferences, then that might be the fairest way,” Richt said. “But there are more than four conferences. You know, is the goal to get the conference champions to play, or is the goal to get who people perceive to be the best four teams in the country to play? …

“Either way, everybody’s gonna be bent out of shape,” Richt said, laughing. “The way it is now, people will be bent out of shape if it’s just four.”

The fan

Michael Brochstein graduated from Georgia’s law school in 1980. By day he is an attorney in Atlanta, but he also runs a popular fan site (blutarsky.wordpress.com).

On that site he writes: “To paraphrase Churchill, the BCS is the worst form of deciding a national college football champion except for all those others that have been tried.”

Trying this new way, Brochstein feels, is a good step. As long as it doesn’t go further.

“I’m probably closer to Richt on this than anybody else. I’m fairly agnostic on this,” Brochstein said. “The one justification I could see to the four-team playoff is to avoid the Auburn-in-2004 situation, where three teams have a legitimate claim.”

Now that it’s happening, Brochstein doesn’t see it as some wonderful moment. The cynic in him thinks it’s just a natural result of the low ratings for the BCS championship and attendance of the bowls.

“I’ve seen it all along as being a money-driven thing. For all the lip service that they’re doing it for the fans, they’re not doing it for us,” he said. “I saw the handwriting on the wall as far as this round when I saw the numbers coming out after this bowl season.”

Brochstein feels there is a “clear majority” who favor a playoff, judging from comments on his blog. The bigger debate would be whether it should be four or eight teams.

So to him, the reaction to this form of a playoff is more a shrug.

“The most important thing to me is keeping the importance of the regular season,” Brochstein said. “I don’t think going from two to four is really gonna affect that. But going from four to eight would.”

The player

All this debate, and the men who actually play the games don’t seem to have strong opinions. The seismic shift has no tremor among Georgia players. Receiver Tavarres King laughed Friday when asked if he’d been following the playoff news.

“I didn’t even know until you called that all this is going on. It’s not a big deal to us as players,” King said. “You just let us know what you guys come up with, and we’ll go with it.”

But surely King has a preference, right? When pressed, the rising senior says he can play it the way it is now or go with the four-team set-up. Anything more would be too much.

“Because football, doing that with a huge bracket with football, would be really taxing on the players, coaches, everything,” King said. “It’d be neat to see, but I don’t even think that’s doable.”

The most likely scenario is the four-team system, either decided through the bowls or the four teams decided after the regular season.

Now that’s something King can live with.

“I like that,” he said. “You have to roll with it, see how it goes, iron out the kinks as you go. It’s something that should be tried. You’ve gotta experiment. Why not do it?”

At long last, the men who run college football agree with that sentiment.

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