The Times West Virginian

May 30, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: More teams in playoff sure thing

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — We find ourselves caught up in the midst of a revolutionary time in college football, and we are not talking about Dana Holgorsen and his Air Raid offense for it takes more than a 7-6 record to cause a revolution.

Instead, as the conferences, including the Big 12, go through their spring meetings, among the topics of discussion – including what they are going to do with the obscene amounts of cash they are extorting from the networks and the public – is the new move to a playoff.

Finally accepting that Americans are obsessed with playoffs, be they called World Series, NBA Finals, NCAA playoffs or simply a heavyweight championship fight, the college football power conferences put together a playoff of their own.

At season’s end a selection committee will be brought together to select four teams to compete in a national semifinal with the winners meeting for the national championship.

No, it doesn’t exactly have the aura of the 66-team field (or whatever this March will bring) of the most classic playoff of them all – the NCAA basketball tournament – but it’s a start … and rest assured, that is all this is.

See, this is what the playoffs set up … a situation where everyone’s goal in the power conferences – Big 10, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Pac-12 – is to be represented in the playoffs.

“Everyone’s goal in the power conferences is to get one of those spots,” West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck said. “Maybe two.”

And therein lies the rub.

There are four spots and five power conferences.

One conference is going to be left out and, if the SEC is as strong as everyone believes it is, maybe two conferences will be left out.

That is not the idea.

So, this is a satisfying idea with a very unsatisfactory structure.

In reality, what chance does a school like West Virginia … or Duke … or Mississippi State … or Pitt have of really garnering one of those four spots.

It’s only a matter of time before a huge controversy erupts over who is left out. There are controversies over who fails to get into the basketball field, so how can there not be with a four-team field?

“It’s going to be a no-brainer, and it’s probably going to be a one-loss team,” Luck said. “The pressure that will be on the selection committee will be enormous. That will be the big issue when the playoffs start.

“We all know the SEC is a powerhouse conference. We all know the traditional conferences all have some powerhouse teams in them. That is going to be an interesting issue.”

It will lead everyone to be calling for more teams in the playoffs.

“Probably every AD assumes there will be a lot of momentum after three years to add to the playoffs. Somewhere along the way there will be a huge controversy about No. 4 vs. No. 5,” Luck said.

And even before that comes up, there will be another controversy, one over how to structure those five power conference.

Should there be 10 teams, 12 teams, 14 teams or, as Luck points out are in the ACC, 13½ teams including Notre Dame? Should those leagues be broken into divisions and play their own championship games? Should they play eight or nine conference games?

The Big 12 has decided it likes what it has with 10 teams, no championship game and nine conference games.

This is especially true with the dollar figures spiraling upward as the football playoff comes to fruition. This past week Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby predicted that income could rise to $40 million per school in the next few years from the $22 or $24 million at which it currently stands.

That prediction did not surprise Luck at all.

“Not really,” he said. “We had been talking the previous meetings about the playoff structure with the champions bowl, now the Sugar Bowl, when it is not one of the national semifinal games. Everyone is happy we have a denominator that is at 10, not a 14.”

Do the math. If a conference gets $400 million and splits it 10 ways it’s $40 million per school, but if it must split it 14 ways it’s about $28.5 million. Adding four schools would have to produce almost $12 million in income each to make financial sense to add them.

So, you will undoubtedly see the playoffs grow while the leagues stabilize, probably at 12 teams each, 60 major college football powers in all … and everyone will be happy … the schools, the networks, the public.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.