Playoffs win long war of attrition
The debate over a college football playoff has been ongoing for decades. The proponents in the 1960s promised more money and less controversy, same as today. In the past, however, the powers that be supported the bowls. The identity of those powers changed through the years -- from the NCAA hierarchy to the conference commissioners -- but they didn't waver in their belief in the status quo.
There's a quick and easy way to track the historical spikes in interest in a playoff. All you have to do is begin your research the year following a controversial national championship. Take the 1966 season, when Notre Dame tied Michigan State 10-10 and finished No. 1 ahead of the Spartans and undefeated, untied Alabama. The following year, Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty became a loud, consistent advocate for a playoff.
On the weekend that the 1967 season began, Daugherty wrote a column for Family Weekly, a Sunday newspaper supplement, entitled "Let's Have a College Football Playoff!" He wanted an eight-team playoff with the opening round at campus sites.
"Nobody who loves football wants to jeopardize such an important tradition as year-end bowl games," Daugherty wrote. "But bowl games don't determine the nation's best teams and were never intended to do that."
Daugherty received the support of the American Football Coaches Association, which asked the NCAA to study the topic. The NCAA created a special committee in 1968 for that purpose but shut it down the following year before it could report its findings.
Daugherty, who retired in 1972, beat the drum for a playoff until his death in 1987.
1975 -- The NCAA appointed a 17-member Division I Football Championship Feasibility Committee. In October, the committee voted 8-4, with five absent, to send a proposal for a four-team playoff to the NCAA Council. Among the ayes were Nebraska, Notre Dame and the ACC. However, of the four negative votes, three came from representatives of the Big Ten, Pacific-8 and Southeastern conferences, which indicated that many powers that be still had reservations.
Three months later, at the 1976 NCAA Convention, the proposal never made it to the floor for a vote. The playoff proposal, as written, had to be voted on by the entire Division I membership, but just which schools that meant had become the subject of an emotional fight. The bigger universities wanted to split into divisions that would be called I-A and I-AA. That fight, eventually won by the big schools, shoved aside the playoff proposal. No one wanted to make a decision that big until they knew which schools should vote on it.
The Council eventually put aside the proposal, saying that it didn't enjoy enough support. In 1979, the NCAA Division I Steering Committee unanimously voted against a playoff. The committee cited the usual suspects of reasons, from missed class time to overemphasis on the game.
1988 -- Playoff opponents flexed their muscles at the NCAA convention in Nashville. With what amounted to a pre-emptive strike, they passed a resolution affirming their stance against a playoff "in the near future" by an overwhelming margin, 98-19 (with one abstention).
1993-94 -- The U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1984 to take college football television rights away from the NCAA and give them to the individual schools would prove to be the beginning of the end of the NCAA's role as overseer of the business side of the sport. The fruit of that decision would ripen a decade later.
When the wire service polls split their national championship votes in 1990 (Colorado and Georgia Tech) and again in 1991 (Miami and Washington), five I-A conferences (ACC, Big 8, Big East, SEC, SWC) and Notre Dame came up with the Bowl Coalition. The plan would make it easier for the top two teams to play each other.
But that improvement wouldn't produce the television rights fees and other marketing income that would be available if Division I-A adopted a playoff. At the 1993 NCAA Convention, executive director Dick Schultz said, "Ultimately, the playoff issue will be decided on its financial merits."
With Title IX costs mounting, more administrators expressed interest in the playoff. Companies such as Nike and Disney (ESPN's parent) proposed formats that would throw money at the school. The NCAA appointed a "research group" to study a I-A playoff. It would be chaired by UCLA chancellor Charles E. Young, a long-time playoff opponent who said the search for more income convinced him to participate.
The research study went to a special committee that included university presidents, athletic directors, coaches and players. The committee met at the Kansas City Airport Marriott in June 1994 just long enough to find out there was no support for a playoff, even if it brought in a substantial increase in rights fees. Some say that the closed-door meeting all but ended when the players suggested they should get a piece of the bigger financial pie.
2012 -- The BCS, which brought the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten and the Pac-10 into the national championship, stiff-armed the playoff talk for more than a decade. But the BCS died because of general fatigue -- the commissioners became sick and tired of defending the system against unending criticism. It's a classic war of attrition. When two teams from the same conference (LSU and Alabama of the SEC) qualified for last season's championship game, the controversy undermined support for the BCS. That's how we got where we are today.
Commissioners of the 11 FBS conferences, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick and other network TV and college football officials gather again in Chicago this week, to take part in meetings that could alter the future of college football's postseason. Schlabach: BCS primer