John Clay: College football playoff system rigged to benefit 'Big Four' conferences

jclay@herald-leader.comJune 13, 2012 

In the middle of a perfectly pleasant Wednesday afternoon, Brett McMurphy of tweeted out the luncheon menu for the day's BCS Commissioners meeting in Chicago: Veggie quesadillas and lime-marinated skirt steaks.

Of course.

As the leaders of the college football world got together to hammer out the details of a game-changing playoff system (sort of) they dined on foo-foo food.

This is such culinary perfection because it fits so neatly into the bait-and-switch, show-them-one-thing-while-actually-giving-another world of this supposedly new playoff system in the first place.

To be sure, a four-team college football playoff, whether it be of the plus-one variety or the actual tournament variety, is truckloads superior to the current single-game, two-team BCS way of deciding a mythical college football champion.

Doubling the available spots to four teams, however, only gives the appearance of expansion when actually it is one more step toward contraction in college athletics.

We have Mike Slive and Jim Delany to thank for that. Slive is the commissioner of the SEC, of course, Delany the head man of the Big 10. They are the two most powerful men in college sports, which they both know, and they are both happy to wield that power whenever it suits their purposes. They also are reportedly none too fond of the other.

Wednesday's outcome in Chicago doesn't really matter as much as the set-up.

Slive is on the record as saying the four teams contesting for the crystal football should be the best four teams, regardless of conference affiliation or conference championships or even division titles. After all, Alabama won the national championship last season after failing to win its (a) conference, (b) division or (c) regular-season meeting with the team it ended up playing in the final game (LSU).

Delany countered by saying the four teams should be conference champions, and then even made some noise about a possible eight-team tournament. The commish backed off both those statements just a bit, giving the impression that their original purpose was to be a contrarian view to Slive's silver tongue.

What matters more is not the leaders but the followers.

The Pac-12 has fallen into lockstep with the Big Ten, both conferences clinging to a belief that the monarchy, er, Rose Bowl should never be harmed at any cost.

The Big-12 has now fallen in with the SEC, signing a contract with the Birmingham barons for a champion-vs.-champion bowl game that means more in symbolism than actual practice. After all, the titlists of each league are likely to be in the four-team playoff, meaning the Big 12-SEC matchup will end up being the Cotton Bowl.

These partnerships have scared the fancy pants off schools in the disappointing ACC and the weakened Big East. All are supposedly bent over their Google Maps app looking for the easiest path to membership in any configuration of the Big Four.

For better or worse, that sure appears to be the direction we are headed — four conferences of 16 teams that will gorge on pie as the less fortunate press their noses against the window. Slive, Delany and their followers are acting as if they are giving Joe Fan more, when actually they are giving him or her far less.

This is just one more step toward making college football the NFL. Don't get me wrong, I love the NFL. The NFL is the gold standard. College football should not be the NFL, however. College football should be college football with tailgating and rivalries and alumni groups and marching bands and manageable road trips.

It should not be four divisions of 16 teams, some of them several time zones from the other inside the same division, with a playoff headed toward a Super Duper Bowl, where a select few get rich.

Make that richer.

Or, in other words, while the kings dine on their lime-marinated skirt steak strips, the non-BCS peasants will be left to scurry for crumbs.

If there are any crumbs.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Blog: Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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