The big (and occasionally small) thinkers of college football meet in Chicago on Wednesday. Their mission: come to some kind of consensus on a playoff plan that the presidents will approve, or, won't laugh down.
Here in Omaha, the answer is as obvious as a line at Zesto on a smoldering day.
Let the NCAA do it.
Call me crazy. Call me Ishmael. Call me maybe. But enlisting the NCAA to sort out college football's agendas and run a first-class playoff is the way to go.
The NCAA runs a heck of a college baseball tournament. We all have our opinions about the move to TD Ameritrade. But the College World Series gets universal high marks as one of the best events the NCAA holds, if not the best.
The NCAA also has a nice little basketball tourney in March. It gets tinkered with occasionally. The Final Four grows more and more corporate. But March Madness still produces like few sports events. For so many, it's the essence of college sports.
What makes it all work are the committees. People quibble with the NCAA Division I basketball committee's last few in or out. Some mid-majors complain about RPI makeup. But nobody can argue about the credibility of the committee.
It consists of conference commissioners and athletic directors. You serve a stint and then you're off. People who serve take it very seriously. They meet throughout the year, keeping track of changes in the sport, suggesting their own tweaks to help the game. They are the keepers of the game, in some ways.
Same goes for the Division I baseball committee. They are administrators but also people who care about college baseball. They meet year-round, serve a term and leave, with fresh faces and minds replacing them.
Why wouldn't college football want its own March Madness, run by the people who gave you March Madness?
And why wouldn't the NCAA step in and take over the only postseason it doesn't have control of?
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The answer to the second question is easy.
“It's the choice of the membership,” said Dennis Poppe, NCAA managing director of football and baseball. “The members decide how the championships are run.”
Would the NCAA step in and run a playoff if asked?
“I don't know if I can answer that,” Poppe said. “If the members decided they wanted the NCAA involved, we're here to serve the membership.”
The membership is playing a game of high-stakes agenda poker. The SEC wants no stipulations or rules, just the top four ranked teams. The Big 12, the SEC's new BFF, is on board with that. Why not? The Big 12 stands to benefit.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten has pushed this agenda and that, and apparently is behind a system that rewards conference champions — in case the Big Ten champ isn't in the top four. The Big Ten also wants a committee.
Of course, the Big Ten presidents say they like things the way they are.
The Pac-12? The left coast is out there, still in plus-one land.
There are reports leaking out of the ACC that a compromise might come Wednesday. That's likely some sort of three-and-one — three conference champions and one Alabama, er, at-large — with a committee getting together to pick four teams.
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The BCS formula needs to go. The committee idea isn't bad, but do you really trust these conference commissioners — who can't agree on lunch — to pick the members of the committee? If it's made up of former coaches or former players now in the media, the accusations of back-room agendas will be louder than ever.
This will sound crazy, because people don't trust the NCAA. But I would trust the NCAA to do this right. The NCAA office would help construct a Division I football committee of athletic directors and conference commissioners. It would have credibility, just as the basketball and baseball committees do, because the NCAA would be a neutral partner in this.
Here's why this won't happen:
Division I-A football is different from any other sport, because of the bowls. The conference commissioners love the bowls. They have been partners running the game forever. The commissioners are going to take care of the top-tier bowls. They will likely be in a rotation of the two semifinals.
If the NCAA got involved, a playoff might become a real playoff, like the FCS: a true bracket with teams that travel to home fields. Some would fear that the bowls might be dropped from the process. The playoff might grow to eight and possibly 16 teams.
I'm in favor of eight. When you get to 16, that waters down the playoff with too many three-loss teams.
But I'm in favor of NCAA involvement. Think of the college Super Bowl the NCAA could put together. The bowls might or might not still be involved. But this is where the sport is headed: a four- or eight-team playoff ending in a Super Bowl that is bid out to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the line behind him.
If this is where we're headed, why not let the people who know how to run a postseason run it?
Poppe, who has been watching the football playoff drama from afar, said he's been impressed with the process.
“The commissioners are taking this very seriously,” Poppe said. “They understand their responsibility. No other sport has as much interest as FBS football. And it's not as easy as saying you have this format for FCS, do it for FBS. It's more complicated. The numbers of people (fans) involved, the travel, the availability of facilities and the bowls make it harder.”
College baseball has a system that works. But the Division I baseball people are still tinkering with the machine.
There's talk that the NCAA might add another layer to the baseball postseason, have three weekends of two-team regionals — split up the four-team regional the first week — on the Road to Omaha. The benefit? Allow schools up North and in the East a chance to host one of the early regionals and play a best-of-three format all the way to Omaha.
“The other side to that is it would add another week to the season,” Poppe said. “We would have complications with existing conference tournaments and their contracts and media partners. That would take several years to implement.”
But what about moving the season the other way, pushing back the CWS one more week?
“It would go to the Fourth of July some years,” Poppe said. “As people in the Midwest know, the Fourth is a time for family, for traveling to see family. That might be hard to do. Bottom line, we have it pretty good right now. But you always have to look at how to improve what you have.”
I'd put Poppe in charge of a college football playoff tomorrow. But he won't call them. They'll have to call him. Pick up the phone, guys.
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