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New playoff won't solve BCS issues

Watch as the BCS committee talks about the new playoff system.
Watch as the BCS committee talks about the new playoff system.
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Thayer Evans

Senior College Football writer Thayer Evans previously wrote for The New York Times and Houston Chronicle, as well as contributed to The Economist, USA Today, The Washington Post and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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WASHINGTON

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s monumental but anticlimactic announcement that major college football finally will have a playoff starting in the 2014 season, congratulations were in order.

The decision essentially was rubber-stamped by the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee after just three hours of meeting at a hotel about a mile from the White House, but the group’s chairman, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, shook hands with fellow presidents and conference commissioners like a politician who had just won an election.

Nearby, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby — both playoff proponents — chatted about meeting later in The Dupont Circle Hotel’s lobby to go out for a celebratory dinner.

Even Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, a former plus-one advocate, cracked a big grin while talking about the four-team, seeded playoff, which he hailed as possibly “the best new property to come on to the sports marketplace maybe in our lifetime.”

Said Delany of the playoff: “There will be a period of time of celebration.”

Of course, that adoration will be fleeting, just like it once was for the BCS after its implementation for the 1998 season. At the time, college football’s leaders also hailed the current postseason as groundbreaking, because it finally would match No. 1 vs. No. 2 after several nonsensical split national championships.

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Now, 14 years later, the much-maligned BCS is hated by college football fans more than most communist regimes, just one of the reasons a playoff was hatched.

“We recognize that the BCS has been controversial in some years,” the 12 members of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee said in a joint statement Tuesday. “We now seek to build an even better college football season.”

So, college football fans, don't forget that you helped spawn this playoff monster, along with the television networks that will pay billions for the broadcast rights. And don't complain when it will at least double the BCS’ controversy with the doubling of the teams.

“We’re going to expand the number of people that are frustrated,” Delany admitted Tuesday after much of the glad-handing had subsided. “When you have one and two, you have three and four that are frustrated. Probably when you have four, you’ll have six or seven. I just think we have to show a lot of self-restraint as leaders, administrators and not encourage that.”

As Delany spoke, his conference’s representative on the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, was across the room already cryptically planting seeds of doubt about the playoff.


A vocal supporter of plus-one, he made a presentation about the format during Tuesday’s meeting, even though Delany and Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott gave up on the concept last week in Chicago when they agreed to the consensus of a four-team, seeded playoff.

“It’s a little disappointment,” Perlman said of the playoff. “I’m a lawyer; I never like losing arguments. The decision’s been made. We’re going to be supportive. I hope it works well. I hope I’m wrong.”

Right now, few seem to think a playoff is wrong. But just wait until the selection committee picks two or even ... gasp ... three SEC teams in a given year or an undefeated Boise State is left out.

Then it is essentially back to the BCS, only exponentially worse.

“It won’t be easy to pick those four teams,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford, a playoff supporter. “There may be some years where it’s really clear, but more often than not if you’re fifth or sixth, you’re going to wonder, ‘Maybe I should have been there.’ ”

Until then, be prepared to hear plenty of sniveling coaches perfect that argument during the final two years of the BCS. They will whine that their teams would be in the national championship mix if the playoff were already in place.

Yet those same coaches also will be the first ones to criticize the playoff when their teams aren’t picked for it, and before long there is sure to be an outcry for an eight-team format.

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“We were probably the last defenders of the BCS, and we’ll be the first defenders of this,” Delany said. “We’ll be the last off the wagon on it too. We won’t be calling for eight. We’ll be defending four.”

The only problem is that Delany, as well as many of the current conference commissioners and presidents, probably won’t still be calling the shots for college football once the agreement for a four-team playoff ends in 2026. By then, all of the disputes created by college football’s newest postseason might even be enough to consider a 16-team playoff.

But as Slive, Bowlsby and Texas President Bill Powers piled into a blue taxi to leave for dinner Tuesday night, they were smitten. They believe a playoff will help address the flaws of the BCS.

Little do they know, it will make college football more controversial than ever.

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