Academics? Diminished regular season? Those living by bigger playoff offer resounding pfft
by Joe Medley
Jul 25, 2012 | 2969 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Adoption of a four-team playoff starting in 2014 was major change, as major college football goes.

A wall came down.

Death of the BCS, and all of that.

The metal band Scorpions should write a college football-laced version of “Wind of Change,” or so it seems.

But even as we whistle those opening notes (careful, the high surge at the end is tough), one can’t help that underwhelmed feeling.

Four teams?

That’s all they can do?

Those who run major college football tell us so. They say that anything more won’t work, what with the academic calendar. There’s also the desire to preserve the bowl system and not diminish the regular season.

We’ve all heard the reasoning, and we’ve all heard the power brokers say four teams is as far as we can go and still keep all of those concerns properly addressed.

Cough it out with me, that word symbolized by the first and last letters in B-C-S.

Cough out the real motivation of all things, the word “money.”

It’s OK to cheer the move made by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors a few weeks ago, yet hope that the four-team playoff is only a beginning of this change.

It’s OK to want more, and those of us who do have company among college football insiders.

See, there are those who have coached in major college football but now coach a level below, where a playoff that grew to 20 teams in 2010 will grow to 24 in 2013.

Football Championship Subdivision folks who have seen it from all angles have their own take on the arguments against a playoff system they’ve come to know as normal. It usually starts with a grin.

“When we were in the playoffs last year,” Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown said Monday at Ohio Valley Conference Media Day. “Our kids were so excited about playing.

“There was no tiredness. We didn’t miss any class. The things I hear aren’t true.”

What does a guy from Tennessee Tech know about football in Division I’s top subdivision?

Well, he used to be a head coach there, at Vanderbilt and UAB. He was a coordinator at Oklahoma, among other top-division stops, and you’ve heard of his brother? Mack Brown, the head coach at Texas?

Among college football’s haves, Texas ranks among the haviest.

But for all of their bigger stadiums, plush facilities and greater talent, Texas’ players actually have a lot in common with Tech’s.

“Kids want to play football,” Brown said. “If it means another week of football for them, they love it. You can’t tell me that the seniors wouldn’t love to play an extra game or an extra two games or whatever.”

But wait a minute, Watson. Your team didn’t get past the first round.

What about those teams that go multiple rounds into the playoffs? Won’t that upset the academic calendar?

“Everybody throws the academic thing around,” said Murray State’s Chris Hatcher, who tasted major college football as an assistant at Kentucky. “I coached at Valdosta State, and we made it all the way to the (Division II) championship game.”

That’s four playoff games in four weeks, with the season ending in mid-December.

“The academic side of it was no different than the regular season,” Hatcher, said. “I’m sure that’s just an excuse to keep it at four teams.”

Jacksonville State’s Jack Crowe, who tasted major college football as a head coach at Arkansas and assistant at Auburn, among other stops, puts it more bluntly.

“The FCS, those guys are in the same classes with the same eligibility requirements,” he said. “Will they have to reconstruct how they do things (to have a bigger playoff)? Yeah. They could have a 16-team playoff.”

Oh, but what about diminishing the regular season? Surely having more than four teams in a playoff will make the regular season meaningless, or so we’re told.

“No!” Watson Brown said. “We’re trying to get in. We played the last game of the year to get into the playoffs.”

He said his players talked about winning the OVC title, but they talked as much or more about getting into the playoffs.

“I don’t see how in the world, whether it’s 24 or four, that it (a playoff) diminishes it (the regular season),” he said. “To me, it might make it more interesting because more of you are trying to get in.”

Crowe said the mystery behind the regular season might change for the “power programs,” but there will be no shortage of mystery.

“Being ranked No. 1 really doesn’t mean a lot, because you know the road is eventually going to take you to a tournament,” he said. “There will be a difference, but there will be more excitement for the playoff system than there’s ever been before and more money generated than ever before.”

OK, so how about the bowl system? How can one have a bigger playoff without diminishing that fine tradition of big-time college football?

Even FCSers echo the universal calls of their top-division coaching brethren to preserve the bowl system. They clearly see something in the reward element for players that a lot of fans don’t get.

Those down-ticket bowls with ever-changing corporate names do give more coaches a chance to win their last game of the season and hoist a trophy, eh?

“To me, you can have these bowl games, which I don’t ever want to lose,” Watson Brown said. “I don’t want to lose the tradition. You can tie these bowl games into a playoff.

“So, I was excited to see it go to four teams. I’d love to see it go to eight then maybe to 12 at some point.”

Those of us who agree can take heart in Crowe’s predictions.

“I’ll be real blunt about this. They think they’re stopping at four? They’re not,” he said. “There’s no way. For one thing, somewhere along the line, they’re going to get sued.

“…Within 10 years, there will be 16 teams. There’s not a doubt in my mind. They opened a can of worms there.”

FCS, formerly known as Division I-AA, started with a four-team playoff in 1978, went to eight in 1981 then 12 in 1982, 16 in 1986 and 20 in 2010. The NCAA executive committee is expected to OK the move to 24 on Aug. 2.

May continued pressure from power brokers whose teams get left out of the playoff produce similar expansion in Football Bowl Subivision.

It kind of makes one want to whistle the Scorpions tune. Indeed, take us to the magic of the moment.

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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