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Larry Scott: College Football Eyeing Playoff System

The Pac-12 Commissioner Tells the New York Times Big Changes are on the Way

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Larry Scott

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott says college football could have a playoff system in place by 2014.

(Getty Images)
Updated February 26, 2012

Well, playoff proponents. It appears your dream (potentially flawed though it may be) could soon become reality.

For years now, fans, media and even some players and coaches have been calling for college football to adopt a true “playoff” system. By doing so, the proponents have claimed, college football would not only fall in line with the rest of the American sports culture (it is the only major sport without a playoff), but also create a system by which it could finally determine a “true” champion (this isn’t quite true, but more on that in a bit).

The pro-playoff crowd has been calling for this change (and whining about the bowl system) for years now. And now, according to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, that pro-playoff crowd is finally going to get its wish.

Speaking to New York Times college football writer Pete Thamel on Friday, Scott said that the powers-that-be in college football were working out the details of a four-team playoff—two semifinals played on campus, and a championship game played at a neutral site—that could take effect as soon as the 2014 season. This new format would replace the ever-controversial Bowl Championship Series, which was developed to help college football create an annual No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup for the national title (it succeed in doing so, by the way).

The revelation about the adoption of a playoff was surprising enough. But Scott also told Thamel that there have been discussions about changing the structure of both the bowl system and the rankings, which have been a staple of the game almost from its start back in the 19th century.

Highlights from Thamel’s piece included the following:

Scott hinted strongly that he would like to see college football cut down on the number of bowl games, and also raise the bar for teams to reach bowl eligibility. The game has drawn criticism in recent years for sending teams with 6-6 records to bowl games. Said Scott: “We need to get away from the societal trend of everyone getting a trophy.”

One of the obvious questions about the proposed four-team playoff format is how those four teams would be selected. Details on that are still being sorted out, but Scott indicated that it might be a requirement that a team first win its conference in order to make the playoff field. Such a rule would have, of course, kept Alabama out of the BCS Championship Game this year—a game they went on to win, causing no small amount of consternation among LSU fans. Besides, ‘Bama had lost to LSU in the regular season, and the Tigers claimed the SEC crown. “What more clear way to have intellectual consistency with the idea of a playoff than to earn it as a conference champion?” Scott said. “It would de-emphasize the highly subjective polls that are based on a coach and media voting and a few computers.”

Scott also addressed the important question of how the playoff would be staged. Amid concerns that even the most die-hard of fans would be able to travel for both a national semifinal game and the national championship game, Scott said he would prefer to see the semifinal games played on the campus of the higher-seeded team. The final, like the NFL’s Super Bowl, would be played at a neutral site. Such a system would be fairer to the fans and, by extension, create a better atmosphere for the semifinals.

There’s no doubt that Scott’s comments represent a milestone in college football history; we may be on the verge of one of the biggest changes that our sport has ever seen. And to be honest, even though I’ve never been a “playoff guy,” I can’t say that the idea of a four-team playoff is anything but intriguing.

I have only two concerns: First, I believe quite adamantly that, even in the wake of the adoption of a playoff system, college football should do whatever it can to preserve the bowls, which have served the game well for a century; second—and this is something that the playoff crowd never wants to admit—Scott and his fellow commissioners had best understand that no matter how they structure this playoff, they will not be any closer to creating a system in which they will find a “true champion.” Because the simple reality is this: Playoffs, no matter their form, do not give you “the best team.” They give you “the winner of the playoff.” And yes, there is a difference.

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