Status quo reigns at commish meeting
"I am a playoff guy. I am not winning the day in the room but I believe in a playoff." — Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson
"I am not a playoff guy. I never have been. I would suggest that a 16-team, or an eight-team, or anything that is like that, is a negative. It is not good for the regular season. It’s not good for the bowls and I don’t think it’s good for college football." — Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany
Other than that little disagreement, how were the talks about changing the college football postseason?
What a crock of . . . BCS.
I dragged myself to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on Wednesday because all of the college football conference commissioners had gathered to talk about, supposedly, a playoff. Whether they were there is not in question.
Let me assure you, they are not talking about a playoff, not a playoff recognizable to anyone who watches sports. They are talking about a plus-one game, and even then a very bastardized version.
"A playoff is typically bracketed, seeded,” Delany explained when asked if a plus-one is a playoff. “And to the extent that you have that, I call that a playoff of some sort. And to the extent you don’t have that, it wouldn’t be as much a playoff.”
Maybe it is just me, but I equate a playoff with a bracket. And I equate sports with playoffs.
A lot of whys were given by Delany and others as to why a playoff is an abomination against all that is good and holy. Protecting bowl games, protecting academics (giggle) and protecting the regular season were mentioned most often.
"We are just cautious," Delany acknowledged.
Then after a little pause, he added: ". . . to protect what we have."
Say this for Delany, at least he’s honest. We all suspected this, that anti-playoff sentiment was deeply rooted in the very old white guy tradition of friends taking care of friends. God forbid, the bowl sports coats have to justify their existence. There seems to be a fear that a playoff will be so wildly successful it will force them to abandon struggling bowls, which someone wisely noted on Twitter is like Apple hesitating on putting out iPads for fear people buy them instead of, say, a MacBookPro.
As late Apple founder Steve Jobs loved to say: "If you do not cannibalize yourself, someone else will."
I have been rereading Walter Issacson’s fabulous biography on Jobs, which should be required reading in schools, and I highly recommend. How Jobs looked at life has changed how I look at life going forward, and I am wholly convinced he’d spend 20 seconds in a BCS meeting and walk away muttering about how many “B-players” he had been strapped with and what limited thinkers they were.
This was a guy who once a year took his most valuable Apple employees on what he called “The Top 100” getaway and had them tackle “what 10 things we should be doing next.” He did not take his buddies or guys who had been useful a long time ago. His criteria was “the people you would bring if you could take only 100 people with you on a lifeboat to your next company.”
What I noticed Tuesday was a lifeboat chock-full of men who believe in the status quo. They are not figuring out where this thing is going, rather fighting to keep it where it is.
That rarely works. Ask newspapers.
A playoff is coming to college football. And these dudes can either help shape what it looks like or be obstructionists intent on preserving what they have. This is so counterintuitive, hedging on creating a playoff system for fear it will be so popular it kills the old bowl system. And if the bowls can be killed that easily, they were weak to begin with — an idea backed by TV ratings and attendance numbers.
They should cannibalize themselves before Congress or a lawsuit or public sentiment does it for them.
Of course, this would require them to believe a playoff is inevitabile.
And my back-and-forth with Delany on Wednesday does not suggest this is the case.
Me: Do you believe this is an inevitability?
Delany: "No, I don’t.”
Me: Why not?
Delany: "I just don’t believe that everything that happens in the NFL has to happen in our level of football. I kind of have a belief that you have to have balance between the postseason and the regular season. . . . I think expansion of a playoff to that extent could really damage the regular season. That is my belief.”
Me: Do you believe your belief is in line with public sentiment?
Delany: “I don’t know if it is or it is not. I think the American sports fan is conditioned to playoffs. I think they like more games, wild cards, larger fields.”
It is easy to demonize Delany and his SEC counterpart Mike Slive as well. Both were brutally honest about very anti-playoff sentiments in a time when public sentiment seems to be trending against them. I admire that kind of honesty and actually came away from my talk with Delany very impressed. He is ruthless. He is fiery. He is powerful. And he is smart.
The problem is these guys are using their power and smarts to play four-corners defense against an idea whose time has come. There will be a playoff, just not as long as these guys are in the room.
They are not talking about it. They are talking about talking about it.
“It may well be that a new system comes about. It may well be it doesn’t,” Delany said. “I couldn’t handicap it. But I could tell you, if you think there is a presumption that it will happen, you are probably optimistic.”