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Decide it on the field

Jenni Carlson Published: December 28, 1999
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Games would mean more.

As it is now, one loss almost assures that a team has absolutely no shot at a national title. Two losses and a team is just fighting for a decent bowl. And on and on and on.

So as the season goes on, fewer games matter. Who cares who wins a game between 6-2 teams?

But if those teams still had a chance at an at-large playoff birth, the game becomes more meaningful for the teams and more interesting for the fans.

With a playoff system, a team could contend for a national championship with two or maybe even three losses. It might not win a conference title and an automatic bid, but even if it loses, a good schedule and quality victories could land that team an at-large bid.

That hope would raise the level of play and, in turn, fan interest across the country.

- The game. Winners in the game of football were never meant to be determined by a computer.

But that's what we've come around to. All these numbers - national rankings and power ratings, strength of schedule and won-loss record - are entered into a computer, whiz-banged around, figured into a concocted, cockamamie formula and spit out as the BCS rankings.

It's difficult to believe that Knute Rockne or Bear Bryant would have gone for this computer-driven brand of college football.

The game's winners and losers are meant to be determined by men, not mainframes.

Playoff opponents

While the benefits of a playoff system are numerous, there are bound to be opponents.

Heading that group would be the executive directors of the nation's 23 bowl games.

"I think what people have forgotten," said Derrick Fox of the Alamo Bowl, "is that bowl games have been in place for 80 years."

That tradition is something some folks don't want to lose. The bowls should remain independent, week-long extravaganzas, they say. It has always been this way and should not change.

One thing they certainly don't want changed is the economic impact bowls have on surrounding communities. During the last 20 years, an average of more than 55,000 fans have attended each bowl game.

And you'd better believe those folks have opened their wallets and checkbooks. They stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, go to clubs and spend, spend, spend. And they infuse millions of dollars into a bowl site's local economy.

Last year's Fiesta Bowl pumped more than $133 million into the Phoenix-Tempe area's economy.

That might not happen with a playoff system.

"The thing I would be concerned about," said Glen Krupika, the Independence Bowl's executive director, "is the schools in the playoffs, would they be able to bring fans to these games four weeks in a row?"

This isn't like the college basketball tournament, Krupika said. All a school would need is a few thousand fans to fill its seat allotment in a basketball arena.

"In football," he said, "we're relying on 12,000, 13,000, 14,000 fans."

And he might be right. Maybe fans would wait the playoffs out, wait and see if their team makes it to the finals before they would go. Maybe they wouldn't go spend their money during the quarterfinals or the semifinals. Maybe.

But if a playoff generated the kind of interest that basketball has, there would be fans from the area and the region. Now, the basketball tournaments rarely have a regional site that is not a dome. And those sites sell out. The fans may not be die-hards of the participating teams, but they go because they want to see good basketball.

Football fans would go because they want to see good football.

That argument, however, doesn't fly with Fox.

"People talk about not liking pro sports," he said, mentioning the indifferent fans. "That's something we try to avoid here.

"And if you start looking at a playoff, teams and fans are going to come in Friday, play Saturday and leave Saturday night. It's much more like a regular-season game rather than a bowl game."

Besides, Krupika contends that most folks really don't want a playoff.

"It's very much a media concern," he said. "There's not a whole lot of people on campuses who are great proponents of a national playoff."

Playoff proponents

Coaches and players and administrators not proponents?

"I'm a playoff guy," Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "Right now, who's to say Florida State and Virginia Tech are the best two teams in college football? Nebraska's playing pretty well. Wisconsin...

"Nowadays, if you lose one game, you probably won't have a shot at a national title."

It happened to Cooper's Buckeyes last season. They lost one game to Michigan by four points and had no shot at a national championship.

"Division I-A football is the only sport that doesn't have it," Cooper said of a playoff system. "If it's not good, let's cut out the Final Four. Let's cut out all those other finals."

That, of course, seems silly.

And the more you think about college football not having a playoff, that seems pretty silly, too.

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