J. Kevin Fitzsimons Enlarge
COLUMBUS - It has become as familiar a sound this time of year as sleigh bells and Christmas carols - that endless chorus of calls for a playoff system in major college football.
But according to someone deep inside the inner circle of decision-makers who settle such matters, having a playoff instituted is about as likely as seeing those 10 lords-a-leaping come right down Main Street.
Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee has never disguised his disdain for a playoff system, and yesterday as the Buckeyes cranked up preparations for their New Year's Day meeting with Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Gee emphatically reiterated that stance. From his vantage point, it will be a white Christmas in Hades when the Buckeyes are part of a playoff that takes the place of the current Bowl Championship Series.
"I think it's apparent ... that there is no support from among the college presidents in this country for a BCS playoff system," Gee said. "And furthermore, if anything, the sentiment is to move back to the bowl system. I would say that [a playoff] is losing support from the college presidents."
And with Congress now sticking its nose in the matter, Gee was asked if that action had weakened his opposition to a playoff or forced him to backtrack from a previous statement that a playoff would come only after it was wrenched from his "cold, dead hands."
"It has solidified, actually," Gee said about his resistance to the notion of a playoff. "My hands have gotten colder."
Gee, a highly visible and often flamboyant Buckeyes fan, seemed irked that federal legislators would be meddling in college football, given the economic crisis at hand, the health care debate, and the on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"First of all, Congress is dealing with this and they have more important issues to deal with, I can assure you," Gee said. "I think this is a lot like Rome burning and fiddling [going on]. There are serious problems in this country, and one of them is not a playoff system."
Gee said he is aware that a large number of fans have expressed support for dumping the current BCS in favor of a playoff, and that he has received 400 or 500 e-mails with suggested formats. He is also sensitive to the criticism of his position on the matter.
"Couch potatoes in this country - of which I am one - should not be calling the shots for those who play on the field and those who coach," Gee said. "Someone wrote the local newspaper and said what does this guy know - he's never carried a football and he's never played in a football game. And that's absolutely true, but I happen to have the ball, and I'm going to exercise it until that day that I am no longer in this job."
Gee said his opposition is rooted in a concern over the academic risks involved if players were flying all over the country during a month-long playoff, the practical problems involved with traveling the huge fan bases of teams such as OSU, and a reverence for the tradition of the current bowls.
"[Fans want it] and that's because of the fact that college football fans do not have the responsibility for the academic integrity of the institution, and I do," Gee said. "I have the responsibility for every student athlete as a student and as an athlete, and the responsibility for the football coaches.
"They [fans] have no responsibility other than turning on the television. It's entertainment to them. To me, it's a different thing."
While he was president at Vanderbilt, Gee said Commodores football coach Bobby Johnson, who won a national championship in Division I-AA while an assistant at Furman, told Gee about the logistical mess involved with moving fans from one playoff site to another.
"And it's a small school. Think about it when we're trying to move 50-60,000 fans - you move them to Omaha one week, and then you move them to Tuscaloosa the next week," Gee said.
"It makes absolutely no sense, and what does make sense in our system is that everyone is being rewarded in this system, plus there's a mystery to it. I love the elegance of the mystery."
Gee said despite the presence of the national championship game as the centerpiece of the BCS, playing in the Rose Bowl has not lost any of its charm for him or the Buckeyes.
"If you talk to our student athletes, they are absolutely ecstatic about going to the Rose Bowl," Gee said. "This is one of the great things about the Big Ten - our tradition is winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl."
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