College football needs fundamental changes. But a playoff? That's just something selfish fans want when they should focus on what's most important: helping the players get what they deserve.
The BCS is looking at changing itself. It was all over the major sports websites (except ESPN.com, which televises the Bowl Championship Series) on Tuesday. And, for the first time in my life, I can say I feel sorta like Clark Gable.
Except I'm way past not giving a damn. I'm now infuriated by the selfish, borderline sociopathic mentality that makes anyone think changing the postseason should be anywhere near the top of anyone's college athletics to-do list. If the NCAA is run by two-legged, Orwellian pigs, playoffs and plus-ones would be their bicycles.
The system, the big one, is broken. By comparison, the BCS is simply unpopular.
Coaches already have an unhealthy amount of control. Rogue boosters and shady agents are the invisible hands guiding an underground personnel market not terribly unlike human trafficking. Academic legitimacy is clearly incompatible with the demands, on all parties, of big-time college football. And, in futile defiance of economic theory, common sense and human decency, the market wage for coveted talent remains depressed to an "education" too many players are incapable of redeeming.
But, if everyone puts their heads together, we can come up with a playoff system that can only drive up the stakes and make things worse!
Of all the corrupt things surrounding college athletics, no matter what they may say in Boise, postseason reform is small potatoes. While the BCS as a championship system could be better, it isn't wrong. It's obviously imperfect, and its potential for error and PR catastrophe is high. But as things go in the broken world of college sports, the BCS is one of the few things that does what it says it will. The sport it influences so greatly is overwhelmingly popular and lucrative on nearly every level. Until the masses stop acknowledging its champions, to call the BCS illegitimate is disingenuous.
What's wrong is how poorly players are compensated for their efforts. What's worse is how powerless they are to do anything about it. And if that's not bad enough, their plight is ignored while a friggin' playoff is discussed using terms like "access" and "opportunity," the sort of rhetoric used in fights for civil rights.
Coaches have the power to, literally, punish their players with hunger, and I'm supposed to care that the Boone Pickens All-Stars didn't get the shot at the title they "deserved"? Schools like Rutgers, which pays its head football coach over $2 million, opposed giving its players a stipend of roughly $60 per week. They continue to fight against the return of four-year scholarships, which makes it prohibitively risky for players to organize and mobilize to protect their own interests.
Those are civil rights issues. What's a playoff going to do to fix them?
What will any new postseason format do to help the players? Remember them? Seeing how effective fans could be if they just watched something else in January, the players' cause is a worthier use of consumer pressure. They're actually who the NCAA -- and anyone associated with it -- are supposed to be helping. It even says so on their website.
THE NCAA's CORE PURPOSE IS TO govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.
We, as fans, get more than we need. There is more football on television on every week than anyone imagined possible 30 years ago. Technology has allowed people to take virtual field trips across the country to immerse themselves in the regional flavor and local fanaticism that makes college football unique in the different parts of the world. Athletes are better than they've ever been, and the schemes they run are more entertaining and complex. Throw in smack-talk on social media, and both the average and hardcore college football fan has an embarrassment of riches at his or her disposal, all acquired at minimal cost to the consumer.
And we get all this while being entitled to absolutely nothing. We don't need anything else. And when a rematch of a boring game between two teams without an exciting, flashy offensive player between the two of them gets double-digit ratings, fans and scribes sure as hell don't need a playoff. They just want one really badly.
At some point, it has to be about more than us. The NCAA is skewered for its hypocrisy, but those who cover and consume college athletics don't have much room to judge. As things sputter out of control in the name of feeding the beast, the public's thirst for a playoff is just as selfish and monstrous.
The current era of college football will be remembered for its scandals. The ‘80s saw SMU and Charles Thompson, but those were topped by Nevin Shapiro and Jerry Sandusky in the last five months. Auburn's national championship will always smell like Cecil Newton. North Carolina lost its pristine brand in a scandal of uncommon breadth (and never got more than eight wins for its trouble). Ohio State almost lost the ship because it flagrantly scoffed at the NCAA and its rules...over some tattoos.
All of these things happened as a result of competition. The brands are too big for anything like losing, suspensions or child molestation to interfere. And players, always, wind up being collateral damage. These are the things conference commissioners need to address before fixing what isn't really broken.
That's not to say the BCS isn't a racket. Dan Wetzel and Josh Peter's Death to the BCS makes it transparent that running a bowl is a license to steal. The corruption behind the Fiesta Bowl was a handy visual aid. But really, is a new system run by the same parties going to be better?
The BCS is a symptom, not the disease. This whole game is a racket at its core. Unpaid labor isn't just a financial windfall (and workers compensation laws). It's part of the brand identity, a phony way of selling the idea are playing for more something more noble than self and/or survival. College football is like a red, white and blue t-shirt made in a sweatshop with a "made in America" tag stitched on at the end.
So forgive me if "change" sounds more like rearranging furniture to me.
Of course, plenty of people stand to gain from a new postseason. Some project a tournament could gross $1.1 billion per year for schools. And if TV networks would foot much of that $1.1 billion, imagine what they bring in themselves. Football fans, whose insatiable thirst for football drives many to watch even the most bootleg bowls, would love their own month of madness.
But when something goes wrong or rules get broken as programs try to get their hands on even more money, the blame will continue to go to the players. Money will surround them, and they'll be punished for daring to touch it. And when it's time to answer for that inevitability, the pigs leave that fight to the poor guys with no one to protect them. And fans and media will jump on the pile, as they always have.
So what would players get from an altered postseason? The same "pay," maybe more games and chances to be the next Melvin Bratton or Willis McGahee, greater temptation, and more missed classes. Only two schools will play for a title -- just like now -- so few of them will even get to be vaunted "true champions." They'll just get a lot more hell and no more money, and the public will be there to make sure they receive both.
We scream for them when they play well and holler at them when they do wrong. But when it's time to lend our voices to support them, the world's already too hoarse to help.
For once, I'd like to see a sweeping change in college athletics that repairs what's fundamentally broken and benefits the guys who take all the risk. In the meantime, I'd settle for seeing the energy used by the responsible and powerful put toward kids before adults' fun time.
Instead, we might get a playoff. Whoop-dee-damn-doo.