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College Football Playoff Feels More Like a "Plus One"

by on May 02, 2013 7:25 AM

The format and plans for the imaginatively named “College Football Playoff” are a reality, a positive first step for those who want to see a college football playoff. The name has been criticized for being dull, but the genius of the name is it implies this is truly a playoff rather than a Bowl System Plus One game.

The new system is a “plus-one” bowl system. It's an improvement but it is not revolutionary.

This system largely preserves the current bowl system. You can count on ONE hand the number of bowl games that sold out last year.

The “big” bowl payouts include tickets that the school must sell. For example a bowl offering a $3 million payout per team likely includes 15,000 tickets at $85 a pop. The payout is more like $1.725 million plus whatever tickets can be sold. To reach the full payout the school has to sell all of its tickets, often competing directly with the bowl organization selling its ticket inventory.

Bowl travel budgets can easily exceed $1.2 million when you add in bands, administrators and trustees who never miss a free meal. For the 2009 National Championship game Alabama spent over $4 million and Texas over $2.3 million for their trip.

But the schools love that free holiday travel and the addiction, while pricey, is tough to give up. So we will still have the bowls.

Being a realist, I recognize the state of the current marketplace. Plus one is what we can get — so take the good when you can’t get the perfect. The lofty reported $7.2 billion 12-year television deal speaks volumes, dwarfing the March Madness rights fees.

That number should give everyone pause. That rights fee adds fuel to the movement to pay football student-athletes. In Indianapolis it should scare the already reeling NCAA.

The major college conference commissioners, who hold the power in college football, made this happen. They will reportedly keep 85% of the money.

After getting this deal done, they may contemplate what they could do by breaking with the NCAA to form their own basketball tourney and keeping 85% of that money.

The plus-one model will give us great semi-final football games. Last year we’d have seen Notre Dame against Oregon and Alabama against Florida. In 2005 USC would have played Ohio State, and Texas would have played Penn State — Michael Robinson and Vince Young on the same field.

Most famously, the 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State tie game would have been settled. The rankings would have yielded semi-finals pitting No.1 Notre Dame against Georgia, and No. 2 Michigan State against undefeated Alabama.

The year 2009 presents the case for the new format’s greatest test. Alabama would have played TCU with Texas playing Cincinnati. All four teams were undefeated but unbeaten Boise State would still have remained out of the playoff having finished No. 6 in the BCS ratings.

What does worry me is the formation of a “selection committee.” Just use the final BCS rankings to seed the final 4 teams. No committee politics, expenses or meetings. It saves time and money and is a transparent formula.

As a Penn State fan I think of dream Plus-One Match-ups; 1968 Penn State-Ohio State, 1969 Penn State-Texas, 1994 Penn State-Nebraska. It would’ve yielded post-bowl unbeaten match-ups between Auburn-USC in 2004 and Michigan-Nebraska in 1997.

Other recent plus-one games would have included LSU-USC after the 2003 bowl season, and undefeated Utah getting a shot at Florida in 2008. When you dig into college football history you’ll go nuts contemplating the potential Plus-One match-ups we could have witnessed.

The current model is good for television, the plethora of bowls providing plenty of holiday season programming.

The alternative to this plan is a true eight or sixteen team playoff. Think USC traveling to Michigan or Florida having to go to Ohio State in December. It pits the teams against each other in potentially brutal elements. That is always entertaining.

It works for the NFL, just ask a Packer fan about January playoff games in Green Bay. But it is a long way from reality in college …

It reminds me of a story an old friend, now passed, used to tell. He dreamed God allowed him to ask Him any questions he wanted. Being a great college football fan he asked if he would see the BCS ever allow a plus-one game. God said “Not in your lifetime.” Then he asked if there would ever be a true NFL-Style major college football playoff and God Said “Not in MY lifetime”.

That may be true, but for the time being we should at least be content to escort our Plus-One date to whatever dance may come in college football’s future.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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