Experts Roundtable Discussion

Posted Aug 7, 2007

CFN is honored to welcome Sportsline's Dennis Dodd, SI's Stewart Mandel, ESPN's Joe Schad and the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein to join us in a roundtable discussion of the top issues in college football. From steroids to cheating, to playoffs to changes that need to be made, check out the expert thoughts on several hot topics.

2007 Experts Roundtable

The State of the Game

CFN is honored to get the thoughts and opinions on some of the hot topics and the overall State of the Game from some of the most talented, influential insiders in the college football media.

Along with Pete Fiutak and Richard Cirminiello from CFN in the discussion are ...

- Dennis Dodd, Sportsline.com - College Football Columnist

- Teddy "Mr. Media" Greenstein, Chicago Tribune - College Football Columnist, Media Columnist

- Stewart Mandel, SI.com - College Football Columnist
(You can preorder Stewart's excellent book,
Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls: Tackling the Chaos and Controversy that Reign Over College Football from Amazon by clicking here.)

- Joe Schad, ESPN - College Football Reporter

Roundtable Discussion 2007 Preview
- Part Two On-field and off-field changes, steroids and cheating
- Part Three Overrated, underrated, 10 years from now, & what fans don't understand

1. If it were up to you, how should college football determine a national champion?

Dennis Dodd: It's a bit of a conundrum. College football is a unique sport that doesn't easily lend itself to a full-on playoff. College basketball has a large enough sample to make a championship bracket legitimate. In a college football playoff there's always a chance an 8-4 team could eventually become national champion. I don't think this sport is ready for that. That means in any given year a 12-0 No. 1 team could lose in the first round. Fair? Neither is that team winning a titantic struggle within its own conference then being asked to win four straight games in a playoff.

I'm not a big playoff guy as you can tell. But I'm not necessarily a BCS guy either. We've been given a glimpse of offseason football in the BCS. I'm starting to think that the old bowl system might not be so bad. We could still do that and have a plus-one. But that presents another set of problems. Which two of the five winners would play for the championship? Human committee? BCS standings? You have to make sure a loser can't advance.

I guess what I'm saying is there is no BEST system, and that I need a drink right now.

Joe Schad: I understand some of the arguments for leaving the system the way it is. And many of those arguments were laid out for me in a recent conversation with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. He notes the importance of preserving the tradition of the Rose Bowl. He notes that with even a four team playoff, up to three teams could be playing up to 14 or 15 games. He notes that even $40 or $50 million split up among the BCS schools does not create the type of financial windfall that make change  essential. The bottom line is this: A four team playoff incorporating the current bowls on a rotational basis will appease the appetite of the fans. 1) Ohio State vs. 4) USC and 2) Florida vs. 3) Michigan, quite simply, would have rocked. I respect the value of preserving the importance of college football's unique regular season. But this will not dilute the significance of it. Delany and others believe opening the gate with a four team postseason would inevitably lead to an 8 and then 16 team playoff. I don't think that's necessarily true. I think most reasonable people believe at the end of any given season, only four teams deserve a true shot at a national championship. And more than anything, it will be TREMENDOUS fun and instantly surpass the World Cup and Final Four as the best sporting events in the world. As for the Rose Bowl, set it up so that if one of the semifinals matches up Big Ten and Pac 10 it is guaranteed to be played at the Rose Bowl that year.

Stewart Mandel: The bowls would revert to their pre-BCS tie-ins (Big Ten/Pac-10 Rose Bowl, SEC Sugar Bowl, etc.), regardless of rankings, then the top four still standing enter a mini-playoff.

Teddy Greenstein: We finally have the right system in place. I repeat: We finally have the right system in place. I'm probably in the tiniest of minorities (think: Ross Perot for '08! voters) who think that, but I'm sure of it. An eight-team playoff would kill the meaning of the regular season. Last year's Michigan-Ohio State game would have been all but meaningless.

A Plus-One is less offensive to me, but it still would create problems: Two years ago, a two-loss Notre Dame or Ohio State team would have had the same shot for the title as undefeated Texas and USC. Is that fair? Last year, 10-2 LSU would have gotten the fourth seed over 10-2 USC, 11-1 Louisville, 11-1 Wisconsin and 12-0 Boise State. Is that fair? 

College football has never been more popular. Every game counts, even in Week 1. The "my team is better than your team" debates are a fabric of the game. In the NFL, the best teams rest their starters at season's end. Early-season college basketball games are glorified exhibitions. No one cares about the NBA until the playoffs.

Why should we mess with college football?

Fiu: Keep the BCS (with a few overall tweaks to the formula), take the top four ranked teams that won their conference championship (or Notre Dame, if it’s in the top four), and play 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3. That would keep the tradition and spirit of the regular season, while settling the issue on the field.

Richard Cirminiello: While the talk of a full-blown, NFL-style playoff is trendy and fun for roundtable discussions, it’s also an overkill remedy for solving the current problems of the BCS.  Forget the eight or 16-team playoff, and start dialing your local representatives and college presidents about the plus-one format.  The plus-one is so seamless and makes so much sense, it’s absolutely criminal it hasn’t been implemented sooner.  Simply put, you pit No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3 in BCS bowl games on New Year’s Day with the winners squaring off a week later for the national championship.  That’s two more meaningful bowl games, increased drama at the end of the regular season, and almost no chance that an unbeaten team, such as Auburn in 2004, gets rooked out of a chance at playing for a title.  All without adding or deleting a single bowl game.  Plus, the school presidents will be happy with the addition of just one extra game for two programs, as will bowl traditionalists, teams that realize one loss isn’t a death knell, and the waves of fans pining for a better way to crown a champion.  No system is going to be flawless, but unless you’re the No. 5 team in the rankings, what’s not to like about the plus-one?

2. Considering the BCS is here to stay for the foreseeable future, what tweaks would you make?

Stewart Mandel: Condense the schedule. I realize the host city needs a week between its regular bowl and the title game, but there's no reason the other four shouldn't be played within a day of New Year's. That would make New Year's Day more exciting and set the title game even further onto itself.

Joe Schad: Wow. It is interesting that the AP Poll is the most commonly cited poll and yet not a part of the BCS equation. I'll bet many fans don't even realize that. I suppose it will be messy no matter how often you tweak it.  Legalities likely prevent this but more than two teams from a conference (ie. Wisconsin 2006) should be eligible for a BCS Bowl. And teams shouldn't automatically qualify based on final BCS standings position. Although I understand this does protect the Boise States of the world from the Notre Dames (if not Wisconsin).

Fiu: First, I’d make strength of schedule a huge, huge factor. That would put the pressure on the better teams to play better non-conference games. Second, I’d diminish the importance of the human polls. More on that later. Third, I’d make a rule that only conference champions can play for the national title. I can’t believe I have to fight so many people on the fact that if you’re not good enough to win your conference, technically, you shouldn't deserve to win the national title. It’s a surprisingly tough concept to grab for our playoff-loving nation. Fourth, I’d eliminate the automatic bids. If you’re in the top ten, you’re in. And finally, to keep this in the realm of the realistic (as opposed to a full-blown playoff system that won’t happen for the foreseeable future), I’d go with the plus-one format. If you want a big playoff so badly, then cancel the regular season, come up with one big playoff, and then you have what you really want. Outside of the NFL, to a lesser extent, no other sport has a regular season that matters. College football has to preserve that, but it also needs a better way of coming up with a champion.

Dennis Dodd: Plus one. See answer number one. Not perfect, but better.

Richard Cirminiello: First off, the one tweak that should never happen is the removal of the computers from the BCS equation.  Voters can be swayed, lobbied or just generally asleep at the wheel.  Computers can’t, which is why they’re an integral and underrated component of the rankings.  Ideally, the top ten teams would get invites to the five major bowl games, but there is something to be said for winning your league.  However, no one wants to see a three or four-loss team playing in a marquee bowl game.  That said, conference champs with automatic bids should only qualify if they finish the regular season ranked in the top 15 of the BCS standings.  Oh, and margin of victory?  It absolutely, positively does matter, and belongs as a component of the computer rankings.  Consider this: On Sept. 8, LSU turns an early season showdown with Virginia Tech into a four-touchdown rout, ending the Hokies’ thoughts of a national championship.  Don’t you think many voters in the human polls would consider the lopsided final score as justification for bumping up the Tigers? Of course they would, so why shouldn’t the computers be able to factor in the same data?

Teddy Greenstein: I would kill the no-three-teams-from-a-conference rule that prevented Wisconsin from earning a berth to a BCS bowl game last season. The Badgers should not have been penalized just because Ohio State and Michigan had fantastic regular seasons.

I would also make sure that strength of schedule has a dominant influence in the computer polls. I want teams to have incentives to play captivating non-conference opponents.

3. What’s the single biggest problem facing college football right now?

Dennis Dodd: Performance enhancers. The sport has been left out when it comes to scrutiny. These guys are bigger, faster, stronger. They have the same access to drugs that the pros do, maybe more considering the size of some of the strength coaches I've seen.

Joe Schad: Agents. I mean, if not the playoff issue. Agents serve a great purpose and benefit. But those who act illegally and unethically create NCAA violations tarnish the game and championships.

Stewart Mandel: The recruiting circuit is rapidly deteriorating into a replica of the sleazy AAU basketball scene. With the creation of ESPN's new all-star game to compete with the one in San Antonio, you can just see the day coming (if it hasn't already) where various middle-men fight over players the way the sneaker companies do for their summer events in basketball. And the text-messaging ban was just a horrible idea -- my guess is coaches will try to get around it by starting up text-messaging relationships with the player's family and friends.

Fiu: The polls. I can’t stress this point enough; the coaches have no clue about the ins and outs of college football beyond their own conferences. How many ACC coaches can name three Oregon State Beavers? Who’s the starting quarterback for Boise State? How good is the Georgia Tech linebacking corps compared to the Texas Tech corps? The coaches are too busy to know the answers to any of these questions, yet it’s their poll, along with the Harris Poll, that’s basically deciding the national championship.

During the season, forget about it. The coaches don’t have time to watch any games outside of their own. Do you really believe Bobby Bowden sits down to watch that big TCU – BYU game after his Noles play? Like Jeff Tedford spends the morning of gameday analyzing all the ACC showdowns. College football needs to set up a committee, like the one that puts together the NCAA basketball tournament pairings, to do nothing but watch, debate, and analyze the teams on a full-time basis, and then have them rank accordingly. I vote for all the Experts here to be a part of it.

Richard Cirminiello: Of all the major sports in America, none has fewer serious problems these days than college football.  While not perfect, the product is outstanding, and that’s reflected in unwavering fan support across the nation.  Baseball has its steroids albatross, the NFL is battling off-field public relations nightmares, and now the NBA has been thrust into a high-profile gambling scandal.  And the NHL is still on strike, right?  College football?  Yeah, there’ll always be the occasional improprieties and rogue players, but it never seems to dent the strong outer shell of the game.  The biggest problem these days is a BCS system that’s had a way of becoming larger than the games themselves the last few falls.  The debate over how to crown a national champ is not good for the game.  When an SEC team can go 13-0 without even getting a crack at a title game, there’s a big problem.  When there’s a split championship in a system that’s designed to avoid that very circumstance, there’s a big problem.  When the bowl season begins, more than two teams need to be playing for a crown, if for nothing, so we can spend more time talking about the games and less about the BCS.    

Teddy Greenstein: The over-emphasis on winning. Purdue fans turn on Joe Tiller, quickly forgetting the guy gave legitimacy to a lousy program. Same thing happened with Joe Paterno. Programs are going to slip and slide from time to time. Deal with it. This is not life and death.

The over-emphasis is also why Nick Saban will earn $4 million this season. What a joke. Does Alabama even realize the message that sends to its professors?

Roundtable Discussion 2007 Preview
- Part Two On-field and off-field changes, steroids and cheating
- Part Three Overrated, underrated, 10 years from now, & what fans don't understand