Since the inception of the failed “Bowl Alliance” in 1996 and the subsequent “Bowl Championship Series (BCS)” which has had its share of problems, many sportswriters, commentators, and college football fans have argued that each season should end with an NFL-style playoff to determine a national champion. This debate revolves around the question of the role athletics play as divisions of universities.
Many argue that a playoff will benefit “mid major” and smaller schools who – because of weak schedules – never have the chance to play for the title, even when they are undefeated (BYU 2001, Utah 2004, Boise State 2006, Hawaii 2007?). Fair.
However, I believe these same “mid major” schools and conferences are actually the big losers in a playoff system. Currently, about 50 or so teams play a bowl game (and earn some money). If a playoff were instituted, the number of postseason teams would drop to 16 or possibly 8. Assuming that sponsors would still be interested in the college postseason, the payouts to these 16 teams would be even higher than in the current BCS system (whose main criticism is a lack of revenue sharing). Since the same 20-30 teams are always in the top 16, it’s likely that the financial disparity the BCS has created would only continue.
But money is not the only factor. Isn’t the point of sports to win? And can American culture allow a system to thrive that doesn’t clearly crown one team as BEST AMONG ALL!? The answer to this question is uncertain. Yet the question remains: what is the purpose of a college football team?
If the purpose is to create school spirit, alumni pride, fun Saturday memories, and a chance to educate a few who may not otherwise choose to enroll in college, then why not have a series of 25 bowl games that contributes to all of this? These are universities, after all, NOT sports academies.
If, on the other hand, the purpose of the program is to develop athletes into NFL-caliber stars, prove that your school is better than your rival, and make a ton of cash then a playoff system (or BCS, or limited, meaningful postseason, or even a semi-pro developmental league) seems reasonable.
Personally, I am more inclined to support a broader, old-school bowl system that lets players spend a week in the sun, play a game on national TV, and feel like their winning record means something. In the end, most of them are going pro in something other than sports.