Paul Hoolahan announced his retirement as CEO of the Sugar Bowl earlier this month. He’d been on the job for 22 years.
In a press release announcing it, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby called him “an integral part of the college football landscape.” ACC commissioner John Swofford hailed his “incredible standard of excellence.” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said “Hoolahan has served as a great steward of this revered bowl game.”
Hoolahan is a nice person and a good businessman. Nothing against him here. And all of the above platitudes are accurate. He was all of those things.
Yet his retirement press release should have been full of compliments flowing the other way. Hoolahan should have been thanking all those commissioners for continuing to nonsensically outsource to bowl games the most valuable property in college athletics — the football playoff. It’s how he and his peers have made millions.
College sports’ old-boy network is a strange one though. The idea of the NFL cutting in some independent contractors on their playoffs or Super Bowl is beyond laughable. Nah, I think we’ll just continue to rent the stadium, run the game and keep all the money to ourselves. Appreciate the offer, though.
In college football, it’s backward. They thank the guy they inexplicably cut in on the action. It’s a bizarre and nearly impossible bond to break. And it’s a big reason why college football has a four-team playoff, not a preferable and more profitable eight-team playoff.
One round bigger would require the first round to be played on campus and the old bowl cronies sure aren’t in favor of that. Next thing you know they might lose the semifinals too.
One of the things that can change that thinking is when enough of college football is repeatedly left out of the playoff, rendering even historic, so-called Power Five conferences to second-tier status. Many believe the 2012 BCS title game featuring two SEC schools — Alabama and LSU — was a chief motivation for the other leagues to ditch the BCS and create the four-team playoff.
Well, if you think eight is great, if you want to increase not only the number of thrilling playoff games, but also turn these snoozy November Saturdays into a free for all where all the major conference championship races matter, then the tipping point is laying right there to be had.
All it requires is seven results, all but one of which is the predicted outcome.
Notre Dame wins out, defeating Syracuse and USC.
Alabama defeats the Citadel and Auburn.
Georgia defeats Massachusetts and Georgia Tech.
And then … Georgia upsets Alabama in the SEC title game.
That’s it. If those seven games go like that, then the College Football Playoff will feature two SEC teams (Georgia and Alabama, which isn’t dropping past four due to one loss) and an independent (Notre Dame).
One other conference will claim the other spot. It’s most likely the ACC, since Clemson is heavily favored to win out.
It could be any league though. It doesn’t matter because you’d have just two conferences represented in the playoff field … and three major conferences wondering how in the world they ever agreed to a playoff of just four squads?
Even if it doesn’t pan out, this scenario should terrify leagues into action. The Big Ten could see a 12-1 Michigan beat Ohio State and capture the league title, finishing the season on a 12-game win streak, and be left out. The Big 12 could have Oklahoma, whose only defeat was to Texas on a final-second, neutral-site field goal, stay home. The Pac-12 could have a 12-1 Washington State team not even get serious discussion, just another year of its conference season playing out in relative obscurity because of the playoff.
Much of the debate this fall about the playoff has centered on whether it is inherently unfair to programs outside the Power Five — most notably Central Florida, which is on 22-game win streak but stands virtually no chance of making the playoff.
UCF, due to its schedule, isn’t being mistreated by the committee, though. That said, an eight-team playoff would allow room for it to come in as a No. 8 seed and take an underdog swing at whoever earned the right to be No. 1. It would be a fun embrace of Cinderella for a sport that hates Cinderella.
The bigger issue is that the small playoff has rendered so many major conference games and so many major conference races obsolete. Rather than every game mattering, we have so many otherwise good games not mattering at all. Check this weekend’s schedule. Or last weekend’s.
How many years do the other big conferences want to sit around and effectively play for nothing before they demand an eight-teamer with five automatic bids? How many times do they want to explain on a recruiting trail that their champion isn’t considered big time enough, but the SEC’s runner-up, or even third-place team, is.
To combat that, they could embrace progress. Playing first-round games on campus would be epic, the money would be huge and every league race would remain significant until the end.
Or the powers that be can just sit back and watch two leagues and Notre Dame hog the playoff spotlight. Maybe their blazer-wearing bowl buddies will take them golfing to make them feel better about it.
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