UF President Bernie Machen: Playoff Prophet?

Kyle has been pretty clear in his opposition to a Division 1-A football playoff. I'm afraid I'd disappoint any of you looking for a point/counterpoint on this issue because I happen to agree that a playoff is just not a great idea for college football's top level of competition. But that's another post for another day. What's noteworthy in the here and now is that pigskin ludites like me are losing allies among the college football powers that be. The latest proof of this shift is University of Florida President Bernie Machen's lobbying at the SEC's league meetings in Destin this week for some sort of playoff system.

Machen's been pushing this idea for a while now. Of course, there are still a lot of obstacles to a D1-A playoff, and the objections vary based on who you're asking. Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat does a pretty good job of summaraizing the opposition position among the Athletic Directors and Academic-types Machen will have to sway:

"It's probably naive for me to say this, but I don't believe they can buy a compromise on this. The interests of the SEC are we have a great regular season TV package, great attendance, great fan interest. We have a great championship game. We have eight bowl relationships and we believe in the bowl system. We are opposed to extending the football season deep into January. We are aware of the wear and tear on football players over a four-month period." (ESPN.com, May 29, 2007)

There are a lot of arguments which could be unpacked in there, but I'm not going to go there right now. What occurs to me is that we've truly come a long way when the President of the University which just won the BCS National Championship is arguing in favor of a playoff. It's noteworthy when the SEC, the financial titan of college football conferences puts Machen's playoff proposal on its annual meeting agenda. It's also noteworthy when SEC Commissioner and BCS Coordinator Mike Slive is saying that a "plus one" playoff system is something "we need to take a very hard look at."

In short, the brick wall which I and a lot of others had supposed was in place to block a playoff system in college football looks a lot more cracked than it appeared even two years ago. Will the wall break? Probably not in the near future. The huge Fox TV deal with the BCS and the traditional bowl tie-ins still pose a stout logistical challenge to a playoff. But the ideological opposition is breaking down, and that is usually the first step to any sweeping change in sports. Once the ideological objections are dealt with, a practical compromise is usually not far behind. I'm not saying a playoff is inevitable, but I would put the odds of a plus-one system going into place for 2011 at roughly 33.3 %, and that surprises me.

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