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Expect a college football playoff in some lifetime

As The Mirror celebrates its' second anniversary today, it is appropriate that I answer a question from none other than former reporter Elwood Hamilton. Elwood was on staff for the entire first year of The Mirror's existence. Elwood moved on last July for a spot in the big city of Atlanta. E-mail your sports questions in to

Elwood's question is, "Do you think we will ever see a college football playoff?"

There are two ways that I can answer Elwood's question. If I answer it in accordance with his wording of the question, my answer is "maybe" if I will ever see a playoff and "yes" if he will ever see a playoff. Before you accuse me of trying to give two answers, let me say that I am at least 20 years older than Elwood. By reason, he stands a good chance of being around 20 years longer than me, living to see things that I won't.

I do think that there will be a college football playoff one day, but in whose lifetime it will occur is anybody's guess. Right now, the college presidents have firmly put a chokehold on the idea of a football playoff. How soon a playoff comes about will likely be determined by when somebody or bodies convinces the presidents a playoff is workable, and at the same time make the presidents think it is their idea. The latter is the key ingredient in a playoff becoming a reality.

Most well informed observers of college football point to the current structure of bowl games as the main reason there is no playoff. The major bowls pay big money to the schools to participate. A season ending with bowls means there are 14 winners. A playoff system will have only one winner, the national champion. All other participants will end their season on a disappointing note.

I agree that the bowl structure is the major impediment to a playoff. The bowls are traditional and offer nice caveats to a coaches' resume. They are not high-pressure situations like playoff games would be, and the players and fans have fun. In essence, just playing in a bowl game offers as much reward as winning it. That's a tough formula to beat at the end of a long grueling football season.

There are currently 28 bowl games. Too many. My belief is that when the 10 or 12 bowls that are lowest on the payout list start to have real financial difficulty, we will start to hear serious talk about a playoff system. Many schools that play in these low ranking bowls have 6-5 records and often lose money on the trip. These bowls draw crowds in the 30,000 or less range and sooner or later the reality of economics will catch up with them, and they will go out of business. Big corporations won't sponsor losing propositions forever.

The surviving bowls can then be used as part of a playoff system. This means that proponents of the bowl system and a playoff can have their cake and eat it too. This also means that the remaining games will be spread over a three or four week span of December and January rather than clumped into one week during the holidays. This will help with the television ratings, which also means more money into the NCAA coffers.

Yes, I believe there will one day be a college football playoff. Like everything else, it will be driven by dollar signs. When the big bowls and the lure of a playoff can combine to run over the little bowls like a runaway Brinks truck, a playoff will come about.

When it happens, the college presidents who are now so adamantly against a playoff will be holding the steering wheel and waving like Santa in a Christmas parade. Their smiles will show how many teeth remain in their heads, a sign of longevity. Longevity, or time, is the real question here. If I live long enough, I'll remind you that I said so.

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Web posted on Thursday, July 7, 2005


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