VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – As homespun ex-Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden might say, this U.S. college football season promises to be pretty “dad gum” interesting.
With the debut of what many fans have long been clamoring for — a national championship tournament — things should at least be different.
But will they be better?
To that end, MAS offers this well-worn warning: Be careful what you wish for, all you Billy Bob Boosters out there.
Tweaking the punch line a bit, you may not get what you anticipated.
MAS is not quite sure that the new playoff format (four teams, a total of three games) will be significantly better than the now defunct BCS (Bowl Championship Series) arrangement.
In fact, college football may be creating a new set of headaches.
Here’s how things will work for at least the next 12 years (the length of the current playoff agreement).
A 13-person selection committee will decide on the best four teams in the country — much like a select group picks the 68 participants for the NCAA basketball tourney.
On New Year’s Day, the quartet of ball clubs selected will play the equivalent of semifinal contests — No. 1 vs. 4 and 2 against 3 — in two of the big five Bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta or Peach — on a rotating basis).
Winners of those two clashes will then meet in the national title tilt.
But instead of being sabre-metric happy like the hoops committee, organizers of the new grid set-up promise their selectors will apply more “common sense”.
You know, inject the human element (such as, and MAS quotes its architects here: “Committee members can say ‘Yes, team X lost in Week 3 but they were missing their star tackle that day’ “).
Can you say Pandora’s box?
Starting in late October, the committee will release weekly rankings each Tuesday on ESPN (which holds the television rights to the tourney).
Then at the end of the regular season, they’ll release the names of the final four.
Sounds simple enough — what could possibly go wrong?
MAS very much prefers the current committee (consisting mostly of people who have been directly involved in college football) doing the ranking — as opposed to placements heavily influenced by the sports media and computers manned by pencil-necked geeks.
But that doesn’t make the new set-up utopian.
Injecting the human element also subjects the process to human frailties — something MAS must admit computers don’t have (but machines are faulty in a, well, mechanical way).
One glimpse at the composition of the selection committee and you can see it’s rife with the potential for conflict of interest, favoritism and influence-peddling creeping into the situation.
Six former-coaches or players-turned athletic directors comprise about half of the committee.
Among the ex-coaches: Tom Osborne — a multiple national title winner at Nebraska — and Barry Alvarez, who took Wisconsin from the brink of gridiron oblivion to multiple Rose Bowl wins and is now the school’s athletic director.
Tyrone Willingham is also on it. Ty was fired as a head coach by both Notre Dame and Washington.
(He couldn’t possibly bear hard feelings against those schools, could he?)
College football coaches are sometimes — especially when in survival mode — not the most impartial people when it comes to ranking their own.
In the old coaches poll many a shading deal went down regarding the voting.
As an ex-head coach, MAS has seen many a coach-on-a committee use his influence like a bank uses money — as in lending and being repaid later with interest.
Not saying any ex-coach hanky-panky will definitely happen, but . . .
The former players now heading up athletic departments at their alma maters are former star quarterbacks Pat Haden of Southern Cal and Oliver Luck, Andrew’s Pop and West Virginia AD.
Can they temporarily put lifelong school loyalties out of mind?
These player/coach-turned ADs will have no shortages of people in their ears, that’s for sure.
How true to the intended spirit of the committee they’ll be remains to be seen — even with a conflict of interest rule stipulating they recuse themselves from any decisions directly involving their school’s team.
The rest of the selection committee covers the university athletics-related spectrum.
Each comes with its own inherent red flags.
Condoleezza Rice, the lone woman, was a Stanford provost before she was U.S. Secretary of State.
But she’s a huge fan and is just as football knowledgeable as a lot of males who never snapped on a chin strap either — for whatever that’s worth.
There’s also an ex-NCAA honcho on it (arf, arf — they’ve thrown college sports’ governing body a bone).
Also included: an ex-football writer for USA Today (motto: the whole story in 150 words or less), several former conference commissioners (their ilk didn’t invent influence-peddling, they just refined it into an art) and good ol’ boy Archie Manning, the ex-Ole Miss All-American QB and the father of Peyton (Tennessee) and Eli (Ole Miss) — no possibility of SEC favoritism there, right?
Rounding out the committee are a couple of past and present university presidents — who these days, rather than being academic administrators, are mostly glorified fundraisers for their institutions (because, you know, current tuition costs that carry with them a lifetime of student loan debt just aren’t sufficient moolah to bankroll higher education anymore).
Hmmm, college prezzes + playoffs + potential coffer money.
What could possibly go wrong?
So if you were feeling good about the new playoff set-up, MAS is sorry to rain on your parade.
But at least you’ve been forewarned about the equivalent of exchanging a migraine headache for a hangover-induced one.
What’s that you say?
Dag nab it?
Well, at least you kept it sanitary — the teatotalin’, Bible-believin’ Bowden would be proud.
Contact Man About Sports at: email@example.com