Owen Good writes about video games for a Gawker Media site called Kotaku, but at first glance, he strikes me as the kind of writer who could turn an instruction manual into a page-turner. Why? This past weekend, Good produced a compelling argument that a playoff not only wouldn't kill the bowl system, but might actually enhance it.
In a post that detailed his video-game simulation of a college football postseason that includes a 16-team, seeded playoff and the bowl games -- minus some dead weight -- Good illustrated that a playoff and bowls wouldn't just offer a more fair system and distribute millions more to the dozens of schools currently using your tax dollars to subsidize their athletic programs, it would also be must-see TV. Based on what we've learned in the past few years about the BCS, chances are the only entities that wouldn't benefit from this system competitively and financially are the four CEOs of the current BCS bowls. If Friday's Arizona Republic report on the Fiesta Bowl is 100 percent accurate, one of those guys is about to be out of a job anyway, and the rest wouldn't exactly be out on the street wearing a barrel and begging for scraps. They just might have to join some of the CEOs in other industries and take a pay cut.
If you're like me, you watched the New Mexico and New Orleans bowls because they were college football games, and because they were on. Those were two fantastic, competitive football games, and despite what BCS honchos tell you, they would still be contested if college football staged a 16-team playoff (which, by the way, could as much as triple the money generated by the current system).
In Good's virtual world, the loss of 16 bowl-eligible teams to the playoffs forces the closure of the Poinsettia, Meineke Car Care, Little Caesars, Texas, Armed Forces and PapaJohns.com bowls. In reality, the market would determine which bowls folded. That's fine, because that market is more bloated than I'll be Friday at about 6 p.m. We'll always have enough bowls to accommodate bowl eligible teams, because bowls get ratings and make money for ESPN. Who do you think owns and operates the New Mexico Bowl, which was played Saturday before 24,898 fans? It's ESPN Regional Television, which also runs the bowls in St. Petersburg, Birmingham, Honolulu, Fort Worth and Las Vegas. And if the folks in Atlanta decided to stop staging the Chick-fil-A Bowl, ESPNRT would happily buy the crown jewel of ESPN's New Year's Eve programming package.
In Good's simulation, Wyoming and Fresno State still squared off in the New Mexico Bowl. It's just that between that game and the also-true-to-life matchup between Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee State in the New Orleans Bowl, the champions of all 11 FBS conferences and five at-larges played first-round playoff games.That brought us matchups such as Florida-Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech-Ohio State and Iowa-Oregon. It also gave us a 5-12 upset when BYU beat Boise State. One tweak I would make to Good's plan is to avoid starting so many playoff games simultaneously. In a perfect world, the games wouldn't overlap at all, but failing that, it would be best to copy the model CBS uses for the basketball tournament and stagger the kickoffs so the entire nation could see an exciting finish without missing anything important in another game.
That concept sounds pretty awesome, and it gets better. Because the champion of the Pac-10 and the top two teams in the Big Ten made the playoffs, Arizona and Penn State met in the Rose Bowl. Because the top three SEC teams made the playoffs, Ole Miss went to the Sugar Bowl. In a year when Florida has struggled to sell its Sugar Bowl allotment, how badly would the folks in New Orleans love the Rebels, who haven't played in the Sugar since 1970? Rue Bourbon would turn into The Greauxve. The domino effect wouldn't hurt and actually could wind up helping some bowls, which would get more excited fan bases than usual. If Tennessee were headed to the Capital One Bowl instead of the Chick-fil-A, Orlando would turn into an orange paradise. If Stanford played Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, University of Phoenix Stadium would be packed to the gills -- even with current opponents TCU and Boise State in the playoffs. Fan bases wouldn't get tired of going to the same bowls, because by selecting from among the eight- and nine-win teams, elite bowls would have a greater variety from which to choose. Since they never were about determining a national champion, one would think bowl organizers and civic leaders would prefer a thrilled eight-win team (Ole Miss) over a disappointed 12-win team (Florida).
As a writer for The Tampa Tribune in 2007, I conducted a playoff simulation similar to Good's using an Xbox. My mistake was trying to incorporate the bowl system into the playoff. That won't work, because you can't make fan bases travel more than once. Good's simulation used home sites for the first three rounds and a neutral site for the national championship game -- just like the NFL uses. This, in fact, could offer another revenue stream as cities try to top one another to host the college version of the Super Bowl. By not limiting the hosting duties to four cities, Dallas, Atlanta, Tampa and San Diego could help bid up the going rate for staging the game.
The reason I made that mistake was because I thought the bowls would be too important to leave out of the system. That was before the economic collapse dovetailed with the realization by publishers of newspapers that printing the news once a day on dead trees was no longer a sound business model. As I watched the industry that once provided my paycheck nearly collapse before reinventing itself in a streamlined form, I did two things. First, I thanked my current bosses for helping me escape to the Web before the bottom fell out. Second, I realized nothing is meant to last forever.
Just because the Rose Bowl has been around since 1902 doesn't mean its honchos should help call the shots. Lehman Brothers was founded in 1850, and it certainly wasn't doing the financial world any favors before it was swallowed by a sinkhole it helped create. The beauty of all this is that despite the grave predictions of those who run the BCS, the Rose Bowl wouldn't go away. It would still mean a great deal to the fans descending on Pasadena every Jan. 1. That particular game might not make as much money, but conferences would more than make up for that shortfall with the largesse a playoff would generate.
This probably will never happen, for reasons legitimate (it still doesn't account for final exams at most schools) and for reasons manufactured by BCS apologists (the Rose Bowl wouldn't be the Granddaddy of them all, just a rich uncle). It should happen, though. If presidents at publicly funded universities cared about their athletic departments hemorrhaging money, they would embrace a plan that would bring in more money, keep the bowl system thriving and determine a champion on the field.