SAN DIEGO — Both Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott are convinced they know the future of the college bowl playoff system.
The only problem is, they envision very different futures.
At the pre-game press conference for the Holiday Bowl, Whittingham said not only would he love to see the playoffs expand, he’s sure it’s going to happen soon.
“I would love to expand,” he said. “I’ve been a proponent of that when they announced four. Why not eight? Why not 16? I think probably 16 is the best number. I think eight is very doable. There is no reason not to. I don’t think there’s any way it won’t happen in the next few years. I really do.”
That reason might be the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences.
At the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 1, Scott met with the media and said he’s certain there will be no changes to the college football playoffs.
“We spend a lot of time discussing what when we agreed to evolve from the BCS to the College Football Playoffs,” he said when asked about whether or not he’d discussed expansion with Pac-12 coaches. “We felt then, and we feel now, four is absolutely the right number. It’s a great balance between the importance of the regular season, conference championships, having a playoff, which is about determining who is No. 1, and maintaining the importance of the bowl system, the importance of student athletes, our schools and our fans.”
Instead of discussing how the coaches felt, he offered insight into how the group calling the shots feels about the system that hasn’t had a controversy-free season since its inception five years ago.
“There's no discussion amongst the commissioners about expanding the Playoff,” he said. “We've got contracts. I don't expect there will be anytime soon.”
Several issues have created new discussion about a preference for an expanded playoff system for the NCAA’s most popular sport.
First, the First Responders Bowl was canceled just nine minutes into the game on Dec. 26 because of severe weather, leaving schools to work out how they compensated fans of both Boise State and Boston College who’d made the Christmastime trip to Texas to support their teams.
Some estimates have the schools paying fans as much as $25,000 in refunds, while ticket brokers issued no such refund.
A day later, the Washington Post published a story about Jim McVay, a sports executive who has run the Outback Bowl for 30 years. The story called the bowl game a “second–tier” bowl game featuring two third-place teams.
McVay’s compensation for running a single college football game? Just over $1 million, according to tax filings.
The bowl game is ranked 10th among bowl organizations, claiming $11.9 million in revenue.
Compare his salary with that of the chief executive of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, which oversees both the parade and Rose Bowl, $412,000, and the chief executive officer who manages the Peach Bowl, which generated $32.5 million in revenue, $710,500, according to The Washington Post.
And then there were the semifinal games.
And then second-ranked Clemson annihilated No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3, reigniting the debate about how non-conference champions gain access to the four-team playoff. Did No. 5 Georgia deserve to be included over Notre Dame, an independent program?
What about No. 6 Ohio State? During the 2014 playoffs (the first year), the Buckeyes went in as No. 4 and beat top-ranked Alabama and then upset second-ranked Oregon to claim the championship.
So why is there so much resistance to changing the college football playoff system? If you ask officials, they’ll give you a long discussion of the historic importance of the bowl system, what it’s meant to the sport and the teams and the fans.
But it’s really about money.
The bowl games generate millions.
Sponsors are more important than competition.
Meanwhile, the integrity of crowning a champion for the sport is called into question every season.
Most coaches will tell you they don’t care about rankings because rankings don’t determine who wins or loses a game. But in college football, everyone has to care about rankings because that determines who has access to both the championship and the big-money bowl games.
Sure, teams can still “control their own destinies” to some degree, but there is little doubt that Georgia deserved a shot at playing for the national championship this season, and because of a ridiculous, and I’d argue disingenuous, deference to “history,” they won’t get a shot.
The assertion that resisting an expanded playoff system is about honoring history is code for “we don’t want to give up the money we make off these kids, these schools and their loyal fans.”32 comments on this story
The reality is that Scott has more power than Whittingham. But if Whittingham joined forces with the conferences' other coaches and athletic directors to put pressure on the Power 5 conference commissioners, maybe we’ll see a version of Whittingham’s future instead of Scott’s.
It is possible to use the bowl system and design a playoff. It may upset some sponsors, force changes to television schedules and mean that sometimes smaller schools with less lucrative fan bases will be in those playoff games.
But that’s the point.
If the playoffs, in any sport, are about finding the best team, then college football should evolve.