GLENDALE, Ariz. – Joe Paterno called the most powerful man in college athletics and told him the Bowl Championship Series was a disaster.
"We need a playoff system," he said to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
Delany respectfully dismissed the demands of Penn State's legendary coach, claiming there wasn't enough support among school presidents for such a major overhaul.
Paterno would have none of it. Like many, he believes Delany leads the Big Ten presidents, not the other way around. If Delany made the case, Paterno believed, a playoff would be in place within a decade and college football's fatal flaw would disappear.
"[Paterno] basically takes the position, like a lot of people would, 'Look, [there isn't the support] because that's [not] where you're leading them,' " Delany said.
But when the conversation ended, Delany went back to building and protecting the Big Ten's business, which, until the market forces change, does not include the need for the playoff that fans, players and, indeed, even the oldest school of octogenarian coaches desperately want.
So, if Joe Paterno can't get Delany to do anything, neither can you, the average frustrated fan who can't fathom why Boise State doesn't get to play again, that six computer formulas and erratic poll voters determine the championship-game matchup and that what is fine for the NCAA's lower divisions isn't OK for the one everyone actually cares about.
If you are so inclined to take on an activist role, the solution is simple – boycott the Rose Bowl.
The Granddaddy of Them All? Ignore it. Don't attend it, don't talk about it and certainly, especially if you happen to have a Nielsen ratings book, don't watch it on television.
As slow, unexciting and passive as it sounds, that is about the only thing the average fan can do.
If there is one thing that is standing in the way of a full-fledged college football playoff from taking place, it is the market strength of the bowl game that Delany's Big Ten and his allies in the Pac-10 control.
As long as the Rose Bowl generates more money than any other game – in part because of favorable business deals Delany negotiated for it – nothing is going to happen.
No matter how much you and Joe Paterno complain.
The Rose Bowl is the emergency exit for the Big Ten and Pac-10, the one that allows those two conferences to block movement toward a playoff because they can back out of the plan and return to the old days when their champions met in Pasadena and made millions.
In the current BCS deal, Delany secured valuable concessions for the Pasadena, Calif.-based bowl.
- The waiving of a $6 million BCS entry fee.
- A separate and extremely rich (eight years, $300 million) television deal with ABC. All other BCS games – Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl and BCS championship game – are broadcast on Fox.
- Favored status in the team selection process that encourages the Big Ten vs. Pac-10 matchup that features the kind of tradition-rich, major-market powerhouses, such as this year's Rose Bowl participants Southern California and Michigan, that almost ensure high television ratings.
- An escape from ever having to select a non-BCS conference team such as Boise State, which despite its Fiesta Bowl heroics this year is a potential ratings and revenue risk for a bowl game.
- Exclusivity to the coveted late afternoon New Year's Day time slot.
"It's a matter of independence and control," Delany said.
It is a deal that every other bowl game, and every other conference, would die to have because it generates additional money, prestige and, most importantly, power. Delany is well aware that a playoff would generate a bigger revenue pie for his league to feast on, but it also would require him to give up the knife that cuts the slices.
Delany admits the most common arguments against a playoff – including ones he expounded in front of Congress – such as academics, scheduling and increased demand on student athletes are not legitimate. "The academic effect," he said, "it's just not a credible argument."
This is solely about business.
In essence, the Big Ten and the Pac-10 dictate the postseason plans of all of college football because of the business of the Rose Bowl.
Delany and the Pac-10's Tom Hansen are the only two conference commissioners currently completely opposed to not just a playoff but also any movement in that direction (the often discussed Plus-One model).
Barring a well-organized and well-disciplined movement by the other nine conferences and independent Notre Dame, there is no breaking through that roadblock.
Unless, of course, the Rose Bowl wasn't such a big deal anymore. Unless there was a grassroots effort to kill the ratings, drain the revenue and weaken the base of strength against a championship tournament.
It certainly wouldn't happen overnight, but at this point, it may be the only plan that ever will work.
College football is big business run by cold, calculating businessmen. Money and television ratings are the only things that talk.
Louder, even, than Joe Paterno.
- Joe Paterno