BCS Director Bill Hancock went on ESPNU's College Football Podcast hosted by Ivan Maisel on Wednesday afternoon to talk college football postseason. Hancock discussed was the possibility of a playoff in college football; this a little over two weeks after new NCAA president Mark Emmert expressed that the NCAA would "be happy to help" in moving towards a playoff system if that is what university leaders decide to do, according to ESPN.com. He did not go so far as to throw his support behind a playoff system, however, also mentioning the value of the current bowl system.
Maisel began the discussion by mentioning Emmert's statements and asked Hancock, "Why is it that the NCAA has never been able to put on a playoff?" Hancock responded:
"Well the NCAA membership does not want a playoff. It comes down to that and I think you have to poll every school to find out what their reasons are, but I think the consensus is that they want to continue with the bowl system, which is such a great experience for the athletes, and also the tradition of the bowls; and also the regular season is so important in college football and I don't think anybody wants to do anything to take away from that. And so that's why the people that [NCAA President] Mark [Emmert] works for has said, 'We're sorry we just don't want a playoff'."
Hancock was then asked about the perceived declining interest in college basketball's regular season and later about the committee formed in the 1990s to explore a college football playoff and why it never materialized. The BCS Director took the opportunity to point to one of the chief arguments that BCS supporters throw against a playoff system: that a playoff would be a detriment to the regular season of college football and to the bowls. He also mentions concerns about how a playoff would interfere with final exams at schools, another common argument against the playoff system.
Let me begin with the latter point regarding the final exams. Hancock acknowledges the argument that other levels of college football work out a playoff around exam time, and quickly pointed out the counterargument, calling the various levels of the game "different animals" and pointing out the smaller attendance at the lower levels.
I'll repeat the mantra that student athletes are students first, and I agree with that. Citing academic concerns is an easy way to win just about any argument. I will point out, however, that when an athlete decides to compete at the collegiate level, he or she understands that they will face more demands and greater responsibility than the average student. Exams and adequate study time are essential to a student athlete's academic success, but this does not have to stand in the way of a playoff. Death to the BCS by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan points out that a playoff could be conducted over four weekends beginning the weekend before Christmas and concluding on the second Monday of January. This would leave two to three weeks for final exams. It can be done.
Regarding the argument that a playoff would take away what has grown into ravenous interest in the regular season and destroy the bowl system, this is simply exaggerated. Sure some bowl games may fall by the wayside, but I doubt anybody will shed tears over the death of the Little Caesars Bowl. I wrote an article outlining possible eight- and sixteen-team playoff scenarios that would help keep the bowl system intact and also pointed out the playoff format described in Death to the BCS, which outlines a system in which the regular season would not only remain just as important as it is today, but could be more so. Check out my article published earlier this week HERE.
Hancock goes on to point out that bowl revenue is more spread out now than it ever has been and that access to the top tier bowl games before the BCS was introduced was very much limited, "whereas now, seven times in the last seven years a team from conferences that almost never played in those games have been able to play in them because of the BCS." This argument misses the point. We should not measure the effectiveness of a postseason format based on how many lower tier programs are essentially allowed to play in the top tier bowls, but by the level of access and fairness provided to each and every program in the country regardless of size or prestige.
Regarding the possibility of a plus-one system in college football, which would mean a four-team playoff, Hancock referred to "bracket creep" in which brackets keep expanding. It's an interesting point being as though the NCAA Basketball Tournament expanded to 64 teams and some flirted with the idea of expanding further to 96. It's a legitimate concern, given that teams just outside of the bubble would be (and are) disappointed when they do not qualify for a playoff, but those teams certainly have less of an argument for inclusion than an undefeated team ranked third or fourth. "Bracket creep" is something that should be monitored if an eight- or sixteen-team playoff is eventually introduced, but it isn't a reason to avoid implementing a playoff system.
He also notes that, "in talking to the presidents, who really do run this, the strong consensus is, 'do not have an NFL-style playoff; that what we have with the regular season leading to the tradition and athlete experience of the bowls is worth preserving at all cost.'" Mark Cuban has reportedly begun the process of exploring a college football playoff and has mentioned creating a monetary incentive for colleges to accept an invitation to a playoff. He mentioned to ESPNDallas.com a couple months ago a plan that would "[p]ut $500 million in the bank and go to all the schools and pay them money as an option. Say, 'Look, I'm going to give you X amount every five years. In exchange, you say if you're picked for the playoff system, you'll go.'" Cuban created a company called Radical Football LLC that aims "to impact college football so that the last two teams playing are the best teams," according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Give credit to Hancock for not shying away from the BCS/playoff debate. Others in his position may hide behind press releases and statements, opting not to confront the public directly, but Hancock continues to publically defend the BCS. However, he continues to spout off many of the same arguments for the BCS and against the playoff that have grown tired. Then again, so do playoff supporters.
In the end, it comes down to fairness. Teams not a part of the automatic qualifying conferences currently have a much steeper climb to a national championship or to a BCS bowl game than those in one of the six automatic qualifying conferences. Teams must have an equal shot at a national title at the beginning of the season regarding of pedigree or conference affiliation. Nothing will change that simple truth.
Danny Hobrock, is a sports journalist covering NCAA Football and MLB. An NCAA Football On-Air Personality, Danny is the editor of our college football content. Danny's college football work has garnered national attention and has been critically acclaimed. You may email Danny directly @ firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ DannyHobrock
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