Mythbusters: The biggest one of all

Publish date:

It's been another controversial regular season. If only there were, say, three extra weeks between now and the BCS title game to actually settle matters on the field...

But, alas, as fans and players angrily stew over college football's annual postseason mess, it's time to puncture what is quite possibly the biggest myth in the sport today:

Before we illustrate the inevitability of a playoff (or its diminutive but equally intriguing cousin, the plus-one), we have to report one positive development in this ongoing discussion. We seem to have moved away from the "Playoffs would force students to miss too much class time" angle, because nobody is naive enough to buy that. At least we've established a minimum intelligence threshold in this debate.

So who are the mysterious men preventing a playoff from happening? SI's own Stewart Mandel identifies the general culprits far more clearly and accurately in his book Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls, but here's the concise version. Contrary to popular opinion, they're not some shadowy combination of the Stonecutters from The Simpsons and Opus Dei from The DaVinci Code. They're simply an increasingly fragmented coalition of university presidents, conference commissioners and bowl honchos. A small group of powerful old men colluding against the greater good to further their own enrichment (which, of course, has never happened in any other facet of American life).

These men won't see their BCS golden goose slaughtered without a fight. The closer we get to some form of postseason reformation (and make no mistake, we inch closer every year), the louder their protests will get. You'll hear no-playoff guarantees from folks like Ohio State president Gordon Gee, who said, "You would have to pry a national championship (tournament) from my cold dead fingers ... any notion of a college football playoff system is absolute nonsense." Or current BCS commissioner John Swofford, who supports the system "which the majority believe is the best system yet to determine a national champion while also maintaining the college football regular season as the best and most meaningful in sports."

Not to demean Swofford's academic credibility, but his definition of "majority" is questionable at best. A recent Seton Hall University poll found that 63 percent of fans support a playoff in some form. You might find it strange that a non-football power like Seton Hall is involved in this discussion, but guys from M.I.T. help determine our national champ, so it's all relative.

But enough about guys like Gee, Swofford and Roy Kramer (one of the most outspoken architects of this annual embarrassment), because fans don't care what they think. What do Bob Stoops, Nick Saban, Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer and Mack Brown have in common? Aside from the fact that all five factored into the national title discussion this season, they all support a playoff in some form. Florida State president T.K. Wetherell says a playoff is inevitable. His coach, Bobby Bowden, prefers the old system but admits a playoff would be "popular" and "a money-maker." His equally seasoned peer Joe Paterno supports a playoff and says anti-playoff arguments are "bogus."

University of Georgia president Michael F. Adams favors a playoff. Oh, and so does University of Florida president Bernie Machen -- and if anyone would have reason to favor the current system against the will of the people, it would be the head coach and president of the school gunning for its second national title in three years.

It's fine that those leading figures back a playoff, you might say, but will power alone won't get it done. If only there were someone with real power, maybe a political figure of some renown, who favored a playoff and could use his bully pulpit to push for real change in the sport.

How about the future President of the United States?

President Elect Barack Obama first made his pro-playoff stance known on the eve of the election, and has reiterated it since. This isn't meant to be a political statement of any kind, but it's generally not a good thing if the leader of the free world is against you. The only downside to Obama's position is that it's given every media member an excuse to trot out the same weak cliche: "Obama will have an easier time solving (insert global/financial/political crisis here) than he will bringing playoffs to college football."

Not that the new president will have an easy time of it. The dinosaurs will trot out their well-worn excuses like "a playoff would devalue the regular season." Sure, just like Christmas morning ruins the holiday season.

Have the playoffs and Super Bowl ruined the NFL's regular season? Well, if there's one thing the NFL needs, it's for more people to pay attention to its regular season, right? It just flies right under the radar, doesn't it?

Playoff detractors point to the watered-down NBA, MLB and college basketball regular seasons -- but those are leagues that play between 35 and 162 games. College football's regular season is 11 to 13 games, so it's apples and Orange Bowls.

The fact is, if there were a four-team or eight-team playoff, very few of the top 10 teams could afford a loss in the last week of the season, and certainly not a blowout loss. Just ask Texas Tech, which went from unbeaten to No. 7 after suffering its only loss to Oklahoma. Or USC, which despite playing some of the best defense in recent NCAA history, still couldn't play its way to the No. 4 ranking -- the final cut-off in a plus-one playoff. Second losses by either eventual title game participant would have likely knocked them out of a plus-one playoff, too.

So the notion that, say, Florida might sit a player like Tim Tebow in games against Florida State or Alabama is ridiculous. Not to mention that Stoops benching Sam Bradford at any point -- even up five touchdowns with four minutes left in the Big 12 title game -- would never happen.

But forget all the political pressure and logical reasons to do it. There will eventually be playoffs for the same reason that bowl games were originally created and the BCS came into creation.

$$$$$$$$$. And more $$$$$$$.

Some say there's too much money involved to create a playoff, but the truth is, there's too much money not to. There is more dough to be generated by adding more meaningful games, and even the hard-headed revenue-hoarding buffoons who run the sport realize that. Every other postseason in sports has steadily expanded over the years, and the one thing you never hear players, fans or TV executives say is, "I don't like playoffs, I wish there were less of them." Make no mistake, the networks are salivating at the prospect of a real, legitimate I-A postseason.

It's a point important enough to reiterate: A playoff would generate more money, and more money always wins. Even if it takes a little while (just ask Vegas).

The fact is, college football has corrected most of its injustices and flaws over the course of the decades. After all, there even used to be ties (ties!). If we can overcome the blight of ties, we will overcome our postseason inertia.

It's going to take a while, but I-A playoffs are going to happen. Because while 63 percent of college football fans say they want to see them, about 99 percent of college football fans would watch.

And remember: Just because college football fans believe it's true, doesn't mean it is.