2009 Spring Preview - Is A Playoff Coming?

Posted Mar 4, 2009

Ready to get fired up for the 2009 season that's still six months away? As spring ball kicks in, here's part three of the 20 big off-season questions. Are we any closer to a college football playoff, and what's going to happen that will make you even more grouchy?

Spring Preview 2009

The 20 Big Questions ... No. 18

By Pete Fiutak 

Spring Preview 2009
20 Big Questions

- No, 19 - Potential BCS Busters

- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1 to 10)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11 to 20)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21 to 30)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31 to 40)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41 to 50
With spring ball underway, it's time to start diving into the 2009 season ... no, it's not way too early. Here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the offseason.

18. Are we any closer to a playoff (and why should you be really grouchy about how the BCS is changing)?

Are we any closer to a playoff? Not even a little bit.

Be prepared for yet another off-season of angst, disappointment, and general grumpiness.

A case could be made that college football does a better overall job of determining who a champion should be, mainly because the fluke factor is taken out of the equation. There's no chance for a No. 6 seeded wild-card team to get hot at the right time and steal a title, and there's no way a team that finished seventh in its own conference can hit all the right buttons and suddenly catch fire on its way to the big game. If you're playing in the BCS Championship, you did something right to get there.

However, the sports' fatal flaw continues to be that the system simply isn't fair; there isn't a level playing field. As last year showed, with unbeaten Utah and Boise State teams unable to get within ten miles of the national title game despite finishing as the only two remaining teams without a blemish after the regular season, it's never going to happen for the little guy.

The argument will always be that champions from the power conferences will have earned their way in to the title game because of the toughness of their schedules and the quality of the competition. If Florida played Boise State's schedule last season, it would've gone unbeaten as well, at least that's the theory, while the Broncos would've had a a few losses had they played in the SEC. That's why every year the politically prudent thing for some elected official to do is to call for a type of legislation to force a playoff. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff tried that in what amounted to yet another foolish and futile effort to change a system that can't be touched, to no avail, and someone will certainly try against next year. Even President Obama threw the idea of a playoff out there in a stance to try to endear himself to the everyman. Of course, he's been a bit preoccupied by other things lately.

But legislation won't work. To bust through the anti-trust rhetoric and all the legal arguments, a team would have to prove that it was discriminated against, and going unbeaten isn't enough. Essentially, a jilted program or conference will have to try to win the never-ending bar room/message board debate that it was the most deserving team to play for it all. So it comes down to this: there isn't going to be a playoff for the foreseeable future because there's no reason for the colleges, the coaches, or the TV types to have one.

ESPN just paid $500 million to televise the BCS (more on this in a moment), the big-time programs are making money hand over fist, and even the smaller programs are getting paid (just not as much). Everyone wins, everyone makes out, and everyone is getting fat ... except for the fans of the jilted teams, the players, and any sports fan with any semblance of common sense.

And that's the problem. Going into the 2009 season, there are 52 non-BCS programs that can't lace them up for spring ball with any honest hope of playing for the national title. While the Utahs and Boise States of the world will always have a beef, deep down, they at least know their fate before the season even kicks off. Try telling USC or Ohio State fans that they might be out of the national title hunt in March.

After winning three straight national titles, the SEC will get the benefit of every doubt in the national title pecking order. Texas will almost certainly get every sympathy vote and every break in the book from voters who'll want to ease their guilt after what happened last season. That means there's not likely to be any margin for error for everyone else, and it also means that if all things are equal, Texas and Florida will be playing for the national title. There's nothing anyone can do about it if those two teams go unbeaten, or if all of the key players in the discussion have one loss.

You think USC is mad after not getting to play for the national title the last two years? Try covering up the mushroom cloud that would go off in Austin if Texas got the short end of the stick for a second year in a row. There might be an all-out college football revolt if a one-loss SEC champion got passed over for the BCS title game by a one-loss team from any other conference. Heck, SEC fans are going to scream if a one-loss SEC champion gets passed over by anyone after what the league has done since the BCS was formed. Simply put, the system stinks, and it doesn't have to. But it's not going to change any time soon.

Not grouchy enough? How about this to start griping about ... college football is going small-time.

Would you ever see the Super Bowl on MSNBC? How about the Final Four on CSTV? A true college football national championship game following an eight-team playoff would be the second biggest single sporting event in America behind the Super Bowl, but not only is there still not going to be the type of game fans are so desperate to see by 2011, but by then it'll be tough for some fans to even get to see the BCS Championship at all.

The college football national title, the sports' showcase event, will be on cable.

ESPN can talk all it wants about its reach and about how technology will make it so everyone has access to the Boo-Ya Network for the big game, but if you're going from primetime network TV to cable, you're taking a major step back as a sport.

Don't think so? Looking forward to the Stanley Cup playoffs on Versus? How about trying to figure out if its TBS or TNT that has the baseball playoffs? Monday Night Football became just another game, and has been passed over by the NBC Sunday night game in both prestige and ratings, after moving from ABC to ESPN. Overall, the move means that there's no way, no how there will be any sort of a college football playoff discussion on the table until after 2014. So to put it bluntly, college football not only isn't going in the right direction, things are taking a big turn the wrong way.

Sorry to make your day a little worse. Now go check your stock quotes to cheer up.