- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Theoretically, it would take just one magical phone call from Walt Disney boss Michael Eisner to get the ball rolling on a college football playoff.
The major impediment is ABC's current contract with the BCS, which runs through January 2006. But if Eisner, who controls the purse strings for Walt Disney Corp., the parent company of ABC, were to call the BCS organizers and say, "Boys, let's get together and do this thing right and give the people the playoff they want," the drama of a December playoff could be ours as soon as next season.
The time is now, as the current BCS formula has spit out an unsatisfying Rose Bowl pairing of No.1 Miami (11-0) and No.4 Nebraska (11-1), leaving both No.2 Oregon (10-1) and No.3 Colorado (10-2) out of the picture in Pasadena. According to a USA Today poll conducted last month, two-thirds of college football fans favor a playoff system. Given the spate of upsets and the resulting BCS chaos over the last month, it must be assumed that support for a playoff now is much stronger.
"We have got to settle this thing on the field," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said on Tuesday. "This year has exposed every possible flaw in the BCS, and I don't know a single coach who doesn't want to head in the direction of a playoff.
"The coaches want it. The players want it. The fans want it. And if the TV and bowl people did the math and considered the extra amount of revenue this thing would generate, I'm sure they would want it, too. I've been screaming about it for a decade, but everyone has to see it's a no-brainer at this point."
And frankly, coming up with a format amicable to everyone involved would be relatively simple; we came up with a 12-team bracket in one afternoon.
Why 12 teams? Well, eight teams simply isn't enough. Why? Because the first thing all six major conferences are going to demand is that their champions earn automatic bids. If you were using an eight-team format this season, consider the problems facing a committee forced to choose two at-large teams from a pool of No.4 Nebraska, No.5 Florida, No.8 Tennessee, No.9 Texas, No.10 Oklahoma and No.11 Stanford any one of which could conceivably win the entire tournament.
Why not 16 teams, as ESPN suggested in its mock format? We decided against 16 teams for two reasons. First, we are not inclined to give automatic bids to teams from smaller leagues like Louisiana Tech (which won the WAC) unless they could earn their way into the field as one of the six at-large teams. Second, a larger playoff system would detract from the integrity of the regular season, encouraging teams to drop traditional non-conference behemoth matchups like Florida vs. Florida State and offering only more attractive seeding as an incentive for regular-season performance.
A 12-team format rewards the top four teams with a first-round bye. How would those teams be established? Using the much-maligned BCS formula, which would be the perfect tool to determine the six at-large bids and the seeding for the playoff. In terms of seeding, the only rule we would impose is that teams from the same conference would be seeded so that they would not meet in the first round.
This hypothetical rule comes into effect in our mock bracket for the first-round meeting between the 5th and 12th seeds. According to the current BCS standings, this game would pit No.5 Florida vs. No.12 LSU. The Tigers would slide down to the first spot that would not force them to meet another SEC team, meaning LSU would become the 10th seed and face Texas in the first round.
You are probably wondering about the bowls. Wouldn't they try to block such a playoff? Probably not. For one thing, 11 of the existing 25 bowls would be included in the format. The second-tier bowls couldn't possibly be opposed to a pairing that is far more attractive and meaningful than what they usually have to offer.
Take the Peach Bowl, for instance. Under the current system it will feature North Carolina (7-5) and Auburn (7-4), two middling teams well removed from the national title mix. Under our proposed playoff system, the Peach Bowl would feature No.6 Maryland (10-1) vs. No.8 Tennessee (10-2) in a first-round tussle. The game would be a certain sellout sure to warm the hearts and stuff the coffers of the Peach Bowl's blazered caretakers.
The current BCS quartet of the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls would play host to the semifinals and finals of our playoff, with the previous season's title-game host slumming through one season of holding a quarterfinal. Next year, for instance, the Rose Bowl would take its turn playing host to a quarterfinal, while the Sugar and Orange Bowls would host semifinals and the Fiesta Bowl would get the title game.
What would happen to the 14 bowls not involved in the playoff? Most would likely become more attractive, not less. Under our proposed system, only two playoff games would take place on New Year's Day, college football's traditional slot of hangover-induced TV sloth. With these two playoff games scheduled for 5 and 8 p.m., both New Year's Eve and the meat of New Year's Day would be available to the Tangerine Bowls of the world.
While these games would take on a definite NIT feel, they would no doubt enjoy at least some surge in interest as the undercard for a captive audience anxiously awaiting the night's playoff festivities. Thus, even the bowls left out of the playoff format would likely benefit from the plan.
Finally, and least worrisome, are the reservations of those fans who claim three, and possibly four, trips to sometimes distant locales to support their teams would put an undue strain on the bank account. Most teams would play only twice, hardly a financial stretch for diehards tantalized by first-round matchups like Spurrier vs. Stoops and potential second-round battles like Texas vs. Nebraska, a game the Big 12 didn't see fit to schedule during the regular season.
And for those lucky few whose teams were to advance to the Final Four or title game, the allure of being part of the road to the ring would almost certainly overwhelm economic concerns.
So, when is that call from Eisner coming?
It's not.
"We have a deal through the '06 bowls," ABC Sports vice president Mark Mandel said yesterday. "The contract stipulates we have the games through then, and there are no plans to change [to a playoff structure].
"Obviously, we are concerned about the public and we want to deliver the programming our public and our viewers want to see. But the BCS is one of the great success stories of recent times. Ratings have gone up each year. How many other sports properties can say that? This system is a major improvement from the previous setup. Clearly, something is working."
Sure, like the social security system, the current BCS format is working to produce widespread angst, distrust and frustration. It's working hard to provide us with the specter of a split national championship and a series of bowl games steeped in pomp and tradition but devoid of true meaning.
Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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