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Post Adams’ playoff plan heads to Nashville

Friday January 11, 2008

It’s said that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. After “this year’s experience with the BCS,” UGA President Michael Adams wrote this week how his opposition to a playoff has melted, mailed his not-quite-95 theses to the NCAA, and made the heads of many Georgia fans explode as they reconciled their support for a playoff with the fact that Michael Adams might be the man to get the credit for it.

NCAA President Myles Brand responded to Adams’ letter on Thursday, saying

In a letter to me dated January 8, 2008, University of Georgia President Michael Adams requested that a discussion committee to the Division I Board of Directors be appointed to explore options related to postseason football. I will bring to the board that request at its meeting in Nashville on January 14. The structure of postseason football in the Football Bowl Subdivision rests with the presidents of those institutions.

That’s a long way of saying, “we got the letter,” but at least the item is now on the agenda at the annual NCAA convention.

There’s been a lot of griping in the wake of Adams’ proposal about the timing. How dare Adams try to steal LSU’s thunder before they can even enjoy their championship. But Brand’s addition of the request to the Board of Directors’ agenda shows how the date of the NCAA Convention forced the awkward timing. Making this proposal during the season or even during the bowls would have seemed even more inappropriate. As it is, the proposal will have less than a week to bounce around before it’s brought to the Board of Directors. If all of this outrage is over Adams waiting another day or two, that’s rather petty.

Even if the issue is raised next week, it might be DOA anyway. Adams faces quite an uphill fight even among his peers (h/t Get the Picture). Of a sample of 30 university presidents, 14 – including four other SEC presidents (including LSU, natch) – were opposed and remain committed to the BCS. 11 others were either undecided or didn’t want to commit to a specific playoff plan. Only five were on board with the idea. We saw similar opposition when Florida’s Bernie Machen tried to raise the issue over the summer.

Unfortunately the timing and the urgency of Adams’ proposal means that a lot of things haven’t quite been thought through. Rather than asking these questions, playoff proponents are just giddy to see that the subject is again in the spotlight. Conceptually a playoff seems right to me. It’s just that a lot of us look at playoff proposals the same way we would a fantasy football league. Pick eight teams, draw up a bracket, and go. For example, Adams proposes to use the four BCS bowls as the first round of the playoff. What do the bowls think of that? Do you think the Rose Bowl would be cool with just being a #3 vs. #6 quarterfinal?

That’s why the involvement of the NCAA in the college football postseason is central to any serious playoff proposal. As Brand said, the structure of the postseason is up to the presidents. In the case of a playoff, the task is to drag certain conferences away from the comfortable tie-ins and bowl relationships that seem beneficial enough to all parties that neither the bowls, the conferences, or the networks seem very willing to end. Adams notes the power of “conference and bowl commissioners,” but those conference commissioners already serve at the direction of their conference’s presidents. Is the steadfast opposition to a playoff from Jim Delany or Mike Tranghese contrary to the wishes of the Big 10 or Big East presidents?

The Football Bowl Subdivision has lots of schools who are not in BCS conferences. Their support of a playoff is key if the strategy is to have a majority of the FBS membership force change on the stubborn conferences comfortable with the current system. Will that support come easily? Likely not without 1) a cut of the pot and 2) better access to the playoff system than just “make sure you’re one of the eight seeded teams.”

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