MORGANTOWN — With the opening of the college football season now being measured in days, national anticipation has never been higher for this is the season in which they introduce a playoff system to crown a true national champion.
With that being an undeniable truth, it is fair to wonder why we choose now to bring up the thought that maybe that national champion is more deception than perception, simply a case of the rich get richer while most of college football is shut out on a chance to go for the gold.
It is my contention that there is a better way, while admitting that West Virginia has a better chance of defeating Alabama in its season opener than we have of getting the powers that be to blow up the system they have just adopted that gives the spotlight and autonomy to teams in five power conferences.
In the end it figures to always come down to the traditional football powers with the upstarts and underdogs being nothing more than Clark Kents in a world of Supermen.
Our proposal not only increases the number of schools to be included in the power structure from 65 to 80, but increases the number of conferences involved from five to eight.
Unlike today, where the five conferences are of different sizes and create their champions under different rules, going from round-robin play to playoffs, our eight conferences would be made up of 10 teams grouped regionally to revive the traditional rivalries that we have lost playing a round-robin, nine-game schedule to come up with one champion.
Each conference’s champion would advance to an eight-team playoff, which may not give you the eight best teams but will give you eight champions and guarantee that each conference is represented in the playoffs.
And, most important, the tournament will be one that offers teams to root for rather than teams to root against.
In a four-team playoff coming from five conferences, one conference will have NO representative. Some years that will be two conferences no in the playoffs, if you have two SEC teams, say, and one Big 10 and one ACC team.
But if you expand the conferences, you will have a representative, first of all, and, secondly, the tournament will give you some loveable underdogs – perhaps not on the level of the NCAA basketball tournament that lives off the way a Princeton or Florida Gulf Coast can capture the hearts of the nation, but a team that isn’t Alabama or Ohio State or Florida State or Oklahoma.
What’s more, you can put together a decent pool among friends or at the local pub involving eight teams, and while the NCAA can be as anti-gambling as it wants to be, much of the charm of the college basketball tournament comes out of the financial investment fans have in pools as the emotional investment they have in rooting for their alma mater.
It would not be surprising at all to find that any number of NCAA employees from the top on down were involved in pools at the local watering holes.
One suspects that eventually they will extend the playoffs to six or eight teams — maybe even 16 if they prove to be as successful financially as I expect they will — and the jump from eight to 16 teams would be easy by just taking the first and second finishers in regular-season play from each conference.
Increased revenue is necessary now that the courts have slapped the NCAA on its wrists — wrists that were attached to the hands that seemed to always be in donors’ or consumers’ pockets — to pay the full cost of attending college in scholarships while also saying that the players must be paid for using their names and images in sales of apparel and games.
Oliver Luck, WVU’s athletic director and a backer of the playoff situation and conference alignment as it now stands, offered the opinion that those increased costs could force schools to drop or cut back on non-revenue sports, suggesting even that they be taken out of the conferences in which the football and basketball programs play and put into “bus leagues” to reduce travel expenses.
Funny, isn’t it, that somehow we never hear suggestions of cutting into salaries of coaches and athletic directors, of staying at luxury hotels on the road, of charter jets … only of taking away a tennis player’s racquet or dropping men’s water polo … ideas that don’t free up enough money to cover a football coach’s bonus for reaching a minor bowl game that actually can cost the school money to attend.
Expanding playoffs almost certainly would increase television revenue while giving added meaning to a few bowl games that well could struggle if they are relegated to exhibition level by being left out of the playoff system.
Having presented this idea today, we would ask you to read it and to offer comments as to your thoughts about the playoff system and the new shape of college football, as well as Luck’s views on it. You can reach me through Twitter and Facebook or through email at email@example.com.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel