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The People's Voice: College football playoffs

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

I expected the reaction for my column on a playoff for college football to be nuts, but I didn't expect how nuts. Nearly 3,000 emails have poured in and the column's been read by well over a million people.

The most amazing thing is that 95 percent of the emails were positive. Do you know how hard it is to get a million people to agree on anything? Radio hosts around the country have had me on to agree with me.

Which ought to tell the powers that be in college football – yes you, Jim Delany – that the public is dying for change.

Many of the letters I chose to run are critical, mainly because those are worth addressing and a bunch of notes saying, "great idea" wouldn't be particularly compelling.

But let me get a couple of things out of the way before we delve into an extremely detailed discussion – I wanted to keep the original column as clear and concise as possible. Here, we'll get serious.

The plan I have is both reasonable and doable (and will one day happen) because it is … reasonable and doable. Trust me, I've discussed this with scores of NCAA types through the years.

A lot of the proposals people float out are impossible. A 64-team tournament? A 128-team tournament? Shortening the regular season? Kicking some of the teams out of the top division? None of those would ever happen. I appreciate everyone's enthusiasm for change, but you have to give all parties something, as my proposal does.

For instance, why a 16-team playoff? Why not four? Why not byes for the top seeds? Because more games means more revenue – both in gate receipts and with television deals. College football doesn't want fewer playoff games, it wants more. That's why 16 teams can work. Understanding the NCAA, you have to include all conferences.

You have to give the business side something, the networks something, even the academic folks something – like a two-week break for finals so universities can continue to graduate 43 percent of the players.

This plan isn't perfect, but it is damn near close. And it is much better and more likely than anything else out there.

So, without further ado, on to the People's Voice …

Playoffs? You're talking about playoffs?

I am in absolute agreement with you … every word. But for me the issue is that nasty T-word, Tradition. Baseball "purists" run it out all the time in regards to the wild card, and even divisional play. It is the single most abused word in sports, and in particular NCAA football. Tradition. As you have pointed out, most teams have stopped loading their schedule with good teams. My question is how does Notre Dame figure into this?

Jeff Chew
Palamos, Spain

It's actually the P word – Power. The Big Ten and the Pac-10 don't want to give it up, even if there is more money involved. They run the show. But times will change.

As for Notre Dame (or any independent) they can get in as an at-large selection.


While I appreciate your consistent harping on the Bowl Exhibition Series (call it what it is), you have to think smaller, at least at first. It's already a 12-game regular season now. Then there are the conference championship games.

A16-game field makes the college football season almost as long as the pro season. So, how about an eight-team tournament? Only conference champs get in.

Neil Tardy
Rochester, Minn.

I'm not blaming Neil for bringing this up, but this is one of the great water-muddying arguments that proponents use. Too many games? Suddenly, the establishment cares about the health of the players?

Just a couple of years ago they extended the season from 11 regular-season games to 12 for the sole purpose of making more money. That meant a net of an additional 120 games. A 16-team playoff is a net of just 15 games.

The real issue, however, isn't the number of games a player is exposed to, but the number of actual plays where bodies go in motion. Statistically, the more plays you are in, the more likely there is an injury.

Due to college football's rule to stop the clock after every first down, its overtime system and other quirks that prolong things, college games have more plays than NFL games. The college season may be shorter in games, but in total plays it is actually pretty close.

Last weekend there were 16 NFL games and 17 college games involving teams ranked in the AP top 25. On average, the pro games featured 127.3 plays from scrimmage. The college games averaged 147.9. That's 20.6 more plays, or an additional 16.2 percent.

A college team that competes in 14 games (12 regular season games, a conference title game and a bowl game) are exposed to the same number of plays as 16.3 NFL games, or a little more than a full NFL season.

In some extremes, it is even greater, especially when understanding that fatigue often leads to injury. The Tennessee-Kentucky quadruple overtime game featured a ridiculous 192 plays. To take it to the comparative extreme, Monday's Miami-Pittsburgh NFL game featured just 106 plays from scrimmage. So that's 81.1 percent more plays for the college guys, almost two games in one. Did you hear anyone crying about that?

In the interest of safety, the NCAA should adopt NFL clock rules to shorten the games. They did this partially for the 2006 season, but quickly reverted due to complaints from control freak coaches.

But by doing just that, a 17-game college season (the most possible under this playoff plan) would equal, in terms of plays from scrimmage, 14.6 current college games, a far more reasonable deal for college kids' knees.

Of course, guess who also likes all those extra breaks in the action? Television networks, naturally.


It's funny how the toughest questions are dealt with the simplest solutions. Your plan works. Playoff system and bowl games.

Kevin Sidell
St. Petersburg, Fla.

The easiest way to stop a movement like this is to confuse the facts and argument so much that it seems impossible to solve. It isn't. In fact, it is simple. The NCAA already runs this system at its other levels.

Unfortunately, the smoke screen stuff has worked. Many people give up and claim it'll never happen because the argument is so convoluted with misinformation, faux arguments and broad-based blame at faceless "presidents." While it has been effective, little of it is true.


I couldn't agree with you more. I heard a couple of commentators during the Michigan-Ohio State game briefly bring up the controversy of a college playoff system and they ended it by saying something along the lines of "with a season full of so many upsets and surprises we have a playoff system – it occurs each Saturday".

I was disgusted. I hope you will not waver or be intimidated. I hope others will join you. Terry Bowden seems to deeply favor a playoff system as well. Good luck and thanks for trying to make things more equitable and exciting for the fans as well.

William Rogers
Mobile, Ala.

Announcers work for two groups, the conference (in that case the Big Ten) which is staunchly in favor of the current bowl system. And ESPN, which broadcasts tons of bowl games and has contracts with the conferences and, in the most ridiculous of conflicts, even owns five bowl games (Las Vegas, Hawaii, Armed Forces, New Mexico and Papajohns.com).

It's not a real shock they'd spew the propaganda. Neither is it a shock that ESPN's myriad outlets won't tackle this issue – the one fans overwhelming care about the most – in any in-depth, significant or intelligent manner.


I agree with you 100 percent, a playoff is the way to go. There is no way that teams like Hawaii or BYU or any other school from a small conference shouldn't be able to play for the right to be a National Champion. In the BCS if you're not a major powerhouse school you might as well not play at all.

Brian White
St Clair Shores, Mich.

The ridiculous thing is – as I mentioned in the column – it isn't about how good your team is in 2007, but how good it was back in 1957 or 1967 or 1977. Back then you could stockpile recruits with 150 scholarships and much of the west was still lightly populated.

These days with scholarship limits, the spread offense that eliminates the effectiveness of size and depth in the trenches and vast media exposure, it is asinine to hold to the old standards.


I enjoyed your article on a college football playoff system. Why not make the bowl games part of the playoffs? Still have the Big Games – Rose, Sugar, etc. and make them part of the playoff system.

Rob West
Nashville, Tenn.

I think the question isn't why not, but why?

The bowl committees spend a lot of money promoting themselves. But including the bowls – other than for a Super Bowl-style title game – makes no sense, there are no advantages.

Why would the NCAA take the games out of facilities they own, share revenue with outside promoters and make fans and teams travel relentlessly to smaller venues so they can play in a stadium that most likely adds absolutely nothing to the experience?

In most cases, the games won't be sold out. The neutral-site ticket market is virtually impossible to pull off in sports, which is why it is rarely attempted. Very few bowl games are sellouts. Three years ago, USC and Oklahoma met for the BCS title in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and there were plenty of empty seats. You can get a ticket to the men's basketball final for face value on the street most years.

Besides, other than the Rose Bowl, the BCS venues are quite forgettable – two of them are vapid, suburban NFL facilities. For the less prestigious bowls, it gets even worse. Meanwhile, college football boasts many of the most historic and breathtaking sporting environments in the country. Why not use them?

I commend the bowl folks for marketing themselves so well that it is ingrained in the minds of fans and the media that they are an essential part of this. But I've yet to hear a single sensible argument why that is actually true.


I'd like to point out that maybe teams that lose in the first round or second round can still get invited to bowls. There is likely going to be some big schools that lose in those rounds and I am sure the Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl (etc.) would be happy to have these teams play in one of their bowls.

Michael Przybylowski
Toronto

I failed to make that clear enough in the original column. Depending on when you stage the tournament, as many as 12 playoff teams could be placed back into the bowl pool and make those games better. As far as I'm concerned, the bowls can do anything they want as long as they aren't interfering with a real playoff. They should be just like the NIT.

The bowls should serve college football; college football should not serve the bowls. I'm suspicious of those who argue otherwise.


Your NCAA football playoff proposal is ridiculous. Four additional games is absurd. The great thing about college football, the thing that sets it apart from the boring NFL is that EVERY game is essentially a playoff game.

Yes, a school may lose a game and still qualify as the "champion" after the bowls have been played, and occasionally may even lose two. That hardly ever happens. For nearly a century the champion was determined like a beauty contest. This allowed for argument amongst fans as to who the real champion should be, but that was part of the charm.

Alex Ferguson
Portland, Ore.

First, the "every week is a playoff" argument is as tired as it is untruthful. Three weeks ago Ohio State lost one of those "every week is a playoff" games and yet could still back into the title game. Even LSU might still make it.

What playoff works like that? It's just not accurate no matter how many times it is repeated.

Does that mean that if there is a playoff, the Arkansas-LSU game would carry the same sense of urgency? No. I'll concede that. Although, there would still be some urgency due to the seeding and home games at stake that would significantly alter national title chances.

But conversely – and this is the part that is never discussed – so many additional games would take on "playoff" implications. This weekend's ACC title game, the UCLA-USC game, the Florida-Florida State game last Saturday, even the MAC title game (and so on and so on) would suddenly take on great importance. The number of games that would matter would increase, not decrease. The excitement of the regular season would be enhanced and expanded, not ruined.

Second, as for the oft-repeated comparison to the NFL season – where regular season games obviously matter less, this doesn't add up for three reasons.

First, rivalry games in college football can't be duplicated at the pro level. Alabama and Auburn played for nothing and everything last week.

Second, and more to the point, the NFL season is 16 games long, not 12. That alone devalues each game.

Third, the NFL invites 12 of its 32 teams to the playoffs, or 37.5 percent of the league. Division I-A has 120 teams. A 16-team college tournament would include just 13.3 percent of them and even that is a bit skewed since some are locked up by automatic bid (Florida can't win the Sun Belt).

The Flat Earth Folks of Delany argue this one relentlessly but unless we expanded the season to 16 games and held a 45-team tournament, then this isn't a logical comparison.


As a D-I football official, I have been fortunate enough to officiate four games in the I-AA playoffs, including a national semifinal, and the excitement and urgency as each round progresses is awesome. I hope that in my officiating career (as also because I am a great fan) that the NCAA finally steps in and fixes the current mess. I enjoy your columns!

Randy Jackson
Demorest, Ga.

It's funny, I don't know anyone associated with the playoffs at the other divisions of college football who don't love it. And I don't know anyone in college football’s top division – at least anyone who isn't directly profiting off its system – that is remotely satisfied with what they have.


What can college football fans do to show their support for a college football playoff? How can we make the bigwigs listen and see the benefits of such a playoff? Thanks and Gig'em

Tim Holder
Houston, Texas

There isn't much. You can harass your school's athletic director and conference commissioner. That can't hurt. And as I pointed out in January, the value of the Rose Bowl needs to be diminished for the Big Ten and Pac-10 to ever waver.

Considering the breadth and intensity of the movement for a playoff, if fans actually spread the word and organized, they could hurt the Rose Bowl immediately. I doubt that will happen, but that's the best advice I can offer.


I like your plan! However, I think this alternative better embraces the tradition of college football. Check it out:

1. We say all Big Ten teams with winning records get auto-bids to a 12-team bracket.
2. We play all games at rotating Big Ten venues.
3. Big Ten schools get 50 percent of all TV revenue and 100 percent of ticket sales.
4. The commissioner of the Big Ten gets a 10 percent cut of any revenue that would have gone to a non-Big Ten school under the old system.
5. The SEC can secede from the NCAA, play its regular season and championship game.
6. The SEC winner can then challenge the winner of the NCAA/Big Ten bracket to a home-and-home series that will not get played because the Big Ten winner will complain that it's too hot in September below the Ohio River.
7. Then we fire on Fort Sumter.

Casey Dalton

Good to see Vladimir Delany checking in from Moscow.