Establishing football playoff would not be championship move

John Steadman

January 04, 1991|By John Steadman

IF COLLEGE football listens to the pleas of the thundering dunderheads screaming for a national playoff it will lose, rather than gain, its individuality. The game doesn't lend itself to a tournament concept.

Football stands alone with its rugged character. It doesn't have to be like all the others. The Associated Press and United Press International final surveys concluded with a split-decision. AP had Colorado; UPI named Georgia Tech. That's not a crime; merely a difference of professional opinion.

And what's wrong with perpetuating a case of good old healthy controversy? It increases the mystic, adds to the interest in college football. That there's no decisive champion takes nothing away from the grand finale. Why must America be obsessed with always determining "who's No. 1"? Why can't there be, on occasions such as this, two No. 1's, which is the case this year and has been in the past, since it leaves room for ongoing debate?

Since UPI got in the ballot business in 1950, eliciting the opinions of coaches instead of writers and broadcasters, merely to offer a consensus that differed from the AP, there have been eight years when the two wire services didn't agree on a national titleholder. It's all mythical anyhow so why should there be this sudden rush of madness to devise a playoff system?

Our vote, without a doubt, would have gone to Colorado because it played what was rated the most difficult schedule in the country, including Washington, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Nebraska, plus Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Two newspapers, USA Today and National Sports Daily, had Colorado first, Georgia Tech second. But the New York Times, which uses a computer, passed over both and its program had Miami as the best team in the land.

Gene Corrigan, the wise commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, who sees the broad picture, is anti-playoff. He votes for the status quo. "We have 19 bowl games each year that stand on their own merits, drawing a divergence of teams, and, if you rule out ties, then at least half of the participants end the year on a positive note," said Corrigan. How true.

The enjoyment of the postseason bowl appearances won't be enhanced by putting 38 teams, 28 teams, 18 or eight in an elimination series, regardless of the formula that's devised. Even then there'll be disputes over those included and the ones that were passed over.

What this is telling us is the present plan works most of the time. So why abandon the bowls and the ballots for something that is not going to be in the best interest of a sport that is alive and vibrant? Football became the most prominent of college sports. It has gotten to its pre-eminent role of acceptability without gimmickry. Leave it alone.

If a postseason shootout is established how are the various bowls going to be fitted into the program? The Sugar, Cotton, Orange, Gator, Fiesta, Citrus, among others, would have to be reduced in importance to the Rose Bowl. They suffer a loss of prestige. They all would be hosting preliminary games, quarterfinals, semifinals but not the celebrated finals, which ostensibly would be held at the Rose Bowl.

This would reduce most of them to secondary shows, a step back from their present status. They'd be looked on as strictly minor-league functions. The bowls, even such places as the Sun, Aloha, Copper, Peach, Hall of Fame, Holiday, Liberty, All-American, Independence and Freedom, have made contributions to the glory of college football. They'd be maligned.

Important to all the host cities are the tourists, who come to spend money and have a good time. They might continue to be there but not with the same fervor if they are watching an early-round elimination contest rather than what they perceive as an individual bowl classic.

It would increase the total of games. This past season, Colorado played 13 and virtually all other schools in the top 10 were on the field 12 times. Extending that kind of physical workload on college teams is grossly unfair. A playoff would do that.

College football, except for the scars inflicted by cheating coaches, has been a beautiful part of the American agenda. Let it live as it has without being tampered with or changed. We can all live with those infrequent years when the voters give us two No. 1's. Maybe with Colorado and Georgia Tech neither deserved to be No. 2.

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