BCS haters and playoff proponents, your time has almost come. College football will have a playoff soon. That is right. The days of the BCS are, in fact, numbered. No more settling things by trying to impress voters by running up the score and scheduling weak FCS schools to earn style points. College football's champion will be settled on the field after more than two of the top teams face off in a multiple game, winner advances championship format.
No, this is not a dream. Two factors are pushing college football, fast, towards a playoff system.
1. The SEC monopoly on national championships.
As we just witnessed last week, Auburn made this the fifth consecutive year that a team from the SEC has won the national championship. Whether the SEC champion is undefeated, has one-loss or two-losses, they have always found their way into the BCS national championship game and won it the last five years. Don't expect this pattern to change next year.
ESPN's Way-too-early 2011 Top 25 already has Alabama number 2, and LSU number 4. It doesn't take a genius to see that the game between Alabama and LSU will be the de facto SEC championship game, and the winner will play in the BCS national championship game. Arkansas is losing Ryan Mallett and Auburn will be without Cam Newton. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are not ready to challenge these giants for the SEC West. The SEC East will not put up a fight. Florida will still be rebuilding. The best South Carolina team in a long time proved to be no match for an SEC West power. We all saw how bad Georgia was without A.J. Green during the first four games. Green will be gone all of 2011. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt? No commentary necessary.
The Pac-10 became the third power conference to fail to unseat the SEC. The Big XII and Big Ten have both been unsuccessful in four total attempts (two each). These three conferences along with the Big East and the ACC, which are fighting just to stay relevant, aren't going to sit around and do nothing. Tradition has been a stumbling block in the past, but now it is a stepping stone.
We all balked a month ago about the Big Ten naming their divisions “Legends” and “Leaders.” Well, there is nothing legendary about not being able to win a national championship, and there is no leadership in finishing second. Out on the west coast, the Pac-10 is proud of its moniker the “Conference of Champions.” Calling yourself the “Conference of Champions” looks silly when you can't get a championship in THE marquee college sport. It will be these traditions that prevail in the end, not the Big Ten vs. Pac-10 playing in the Rose Bowl.
The only option to break up the SEC monopoly is a playoff system. With everyone else united on some sort of playoff model, the SEC will be forced to follow along.
2. ESPN wants a playoff.
And ESPN usually gets what it wants.
Dan Wetzel with Yahoo! Sports reported last year that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany testified to Congress that a 16-team playoff would gross approximately $900 million a year (four times that of the current BCS format). ESPN is well aware of this, and it wants its share.
In 2008, ESPN outbid the competition for “exclusive television, radio, digital, international and marketing rights” for the BCS bowl games from 2011-2014. While this year's BCS games were the first under this contract with ESPN, the next bidding war will take place in 2012. You better believe that ESPN will be doing everything in its power to ensure this package includes a plus-one game or some other form of a playoff. In fact, ESPN already is.
We have all heard the cliché “toe the company line.” During this past college football season, the ESPN television, radio, and Internet personalities were not toeing the company line. They were as far from it as possible. In the first year of its contract to broadcast BCS games, you would expect the ESPN corporate executives to send a memo to everyone telling them to fawn over the BCS and build it up as the best thing that happened to college football since the Heisman Trophy. It appears that a memo stating the opposite was sent. I have never heard the ESPN broadcasters lament so openly and frequently the controversy of the BCS while building up the virtues of a playoff.
ESPN knows the power that it has to shape college football. It has made a calculated decision to wield that power to bring about a playoff as soon as possible.
Money and prestige will bring what so many have been waiting decades to have: a playoff for the highest level of NCAA football. Love it or hate it, brace yourself, because it is coming sooner than you expect.
The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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