In the wake of a series of BCS games that was at best underwhelming and at worst nearly unwatchable, the siren song of the playoff is again echoing through the land. The guy blowing the trumpet this time is none other than our own President Michael Adams, who yesterday went on the record in reversing his 11 year aversion to a playoff in Division I-A football (or FBS, or NSA, or whatever they're calling it these days).
I've made no secret that I'm generally opposed to a playoff. I've also made no secret of the fact that I think that like global warming, a college football playoff is inevitable, and that the real question is how we manage and adapt to it. The fact is that in any given year there are only so many teams with a realistic shot at the title. One gets the shaft every year, and every year at least some of the supporters of the shaftee jump on the playoff bandwagon. That can only go on so long before the wagon starts overflowing.
Adams' recent conversion stems, I think, from two stimuli. One was watching Georgia do everything that you are supposed to do to get to the BCS Title Game (except win the SEC, or at least the SEC East) then not actually getting the call. ESPN quotes El Presidente as saying:
"The television networks ... have grown too powerful in deciding who plays and when they play, and indeed, whom they hire to coach. The Bowl Championship Series has become a beauty contest largely stage-managed by the networks, which in turn protect the interests of their own partner conferences. The situation may not quite rise to the level of collusion, but it leaves an air of dissatisfaction with the fans of most institutions, even as they celebrate successful seasons. I believe the time has come for the NCAA to take control of the college football postseason, and in so doing to create a system that our players, coaches, friends and fans can support and appreciate."
Ya think? Haven't smarter people than Mike Adams been saying this for some time now? Putting on my lawyer hat for a moment, Adams now reminds me a little of the people I know who love the idea of "tort reform". They think that it's insane that "greedy trial lawyers" can drive doctors out of business through medical malpractice litigation, and that there should be limits on that sort of thing. Until they, their mother, or their spouse is the one who has the wrong appendage operated on. Then they want the bastards to pay through the nose. The doctor bastards, that is. Not the lawyer bastards. OK, maybe both. In other words, even if his message makes sense, his timing seriously damages his credibility on this point.
The point is that Adams may be right, he may be wrong, but he's definitely transparent. If the man's not squashing sour grapes, he's tip-toeing on grapes that are slightly past their prime. The fact that he chose the day of the BCS National Championship to make these comments is not coincidental, either.
The second stimulus for our fearless leader's conversion? I'll let the bowtied one himself spell it out: "Colleges need to regain ownership of their football teams." Adams realizes that he and his colleagues are staring down the spiget that controls a river of cash. They've let Fox and CBS tinker with the plumbing to goose the water pressure, but by golly, they're going to control who gets to fill the buckets in the future. They realize that there is widespread discontent with the BCS, and that in some ways the constant criticism has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. The arguments for and against any one team playing for the MNC have become incredibly complex, to the point that everyone has a beef eventually. Except for Duke, I suppose. They don't really have a horse in this race.
I'm not certain that America's college presidents and the folks at the NCAA really ever thought that the BCS would move from becoming an athletic spectacle to a full-on entertainment spectacle. And some of the staid academics among them must be genuinely repulsed by what they have wrought. But nothing is free. If you take the Mouse's cash, you have to give Kirk Herbstreit the microphone. Because he knows more about football than other announcers? Heck, no. Because he's telegenic and knows enough football to avoid embarassing himself on camera so long as the viewer doesn't look too deeply into what he's saying(HT: Paul Westerdawg). As Paul points out, the problem is not allowing Disney and Fox access to the sidelines, locker rooms and meeting rooms. It's allowing them to play kingmaker. I don't know if the solution is a playoff, but I imagine an eight team tournament looks like an awfully appealing option to the Baudrillard and merlot crowd who feel just a little dirty about the current state of affairs.
I rarely applaud Michael Adams, and perhaps that colors my belief in his motives. I'll grant that he has a difficult job, but it's one which I believe he often fails miserably at, especially when he turns his wandering eye to athletic issues. That same overreaching tendency is evident under this plan. Adams' proposal would call for a seeding committee, much like the one used in basketball, to place the top 8 teams in each of the 4 "major" bowls. But what happens if one of them, say, the one named after a flower that isn't the poinsetta, didn't want to participate? Quoth the sage of Milledge Avenue "If one of those bowls chooses not to participate, another game could be found to fill the void." In other words, there's nothing sacred about the Rose Bowl. Outside of a pretty sweet parade, it might as well be the Cotton Bowl, the Chik-Fil-A Bowl, or the Starbucks Bowl for that matter.
Am I being too harsh on the guy? Or is this just another prance into the limelight by a guy whose motives always seem suspect, even among those in red and black?