Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018
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Blazing a trail for college football

The biggest roadblock to a college football playoff system isn't money. There's enough TV and sponsorship money out there to stamp out hunger and homelessness. So the least we can do is spend it on something as crucial as college football.

The biggest roadblock isn't a drawn-out postseason that would affect a wide receiver's academic progress. Nobody seems to be too concerned about that from September through November, so let's not be hypocritical and make it a December issue. If we really cared about the ivory tower, two-thirds of the outside linebackers in America wouldn't be majoring in recreation.

No, the main roadblocks are the six BCS superconferences - whose champions automatically get a healthy slice of the money pie - and the current bowl system.

The Sunshine Bowl needs two teams guaranteeing 30,000 sold tickets so that the sponsoring hotels in Sunshine City, not to mention the restaurants and theme parks and golf courses, can make a killing while the chamber of commerce gets a three-hour ad on ESPN showing bare-chested fans in shorts soaking in the rays and ambiance. They'll throw a $50-a-seat banquet, maybe stage a parade, cash that TV check and buy each committee member a new blazer.

The only way to make a national playoff work is to include the existing bowl structure. We're stuck with the current system through the 2005 season, but hopefully the NCAA will assert itself over the BCS conferences and reclaim control of Divison I-A college football. If so, here's our plan:

  • The regular season would begin on the first Saturday of September and run for 12 weeks, allowing 11 playing dates and a bye week. Conference championship games would be played the last weekend of November. (This year, that would have been last Saturday, Dec. 1).

  • Use the same computers and polls that rank BCS teams to select a field of the top 16 teams in the country. Seed them Nos. 1 through 16.

  • Make the 15 most established and prestigious bowl games the national playoff sites.

  • Eight first-round games at the Cotton, Peach, Liberty, Sun, Alamo, Holiday, Independence and Las Vegas bowls.

  • Four quarterfinal games at the Outback, Gator, Citrus and Fiesta bowls.

  • Semifinal games at the Sugar and Orange bowls.

  • Championship game at the Rose Bowl.

    The four big BCS bowls - Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta - will alternate on a yearly basis which one would be downgraded to a quarterfinal site, just as they would rotate the national title game.

  • Using the BCS ranking system, the 16 teams would be seeded in order and first-round games would pit No.1 vs. No.16, No.2 vs. No.15, etc. The field would be re-bracketed after first-round and quarterfinal-round games so that highest remaining seeds continue to play lowest remaining seeds.

  • Playoff dates, based on the current calendar, would be Dec.7-8 for first-round games, Dec.14-15 for quarterfinal games and Dec.22 for semifinal games. The two remaining teams would get a few extra days to prepare for a New Year's Day title game.

  • The NCAA, on behalf of its member schools and the host sites, would negotiate TV contracts with all the major commercial and cable networks separate from regular-season contracts. The playoff revenue would be split 50-50 between the NCAA and the host sites, so there would still be plenty for local charities and new blazers. A portion of the NCAA's share would be dedicated to the participating teams, with the rest distributed equally to all member schools, following the basketball tournament formula.

    Would there be short-notice travel and accommodation problems for teams and fans? Yes. Would BCS powers threaten to leave the NCAA? Yes. Would fans of the seventh-ranked team assigned to Shreveport be ticked off because fans of the 11th-ranked team got to enjoy San Diego? Yeah, but who cares? If life was fair, there wouldn't be any wheelchairs. Plus, one day's pay for one column isn't enough to solve ALL the problems.

    By the way, we've used only 15 of the current 25 bowl sites for our national playoff. That leaves 10 bowls, including the famous Transportation Trio of the Motor City, GMAC and Jeep bowls to negotiate their own TV deals and accommodate 20 teams not ranked high enough to qualify for the playoffs. That should keep your Purdues, Colorado States and Mid-American Conferences happy and fill our holiday-eve bowl needs.

    It goes without saying that we're available for consultation, provided there's a modest fee and, of course, a new blazer.

    Dave Hackenberg is a Blade sports writer.

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