Playoff Payoff: College Football Playoff System Still Predicated on Cash, Not Competition

College football fans, your long national nightmare is over. At last, there will be a playoff to decide the national champion.

More college football teams will have a chance to claim the championship trophy, and that means more money for the sport’s powers.

On Tuesday evening, a committee of university presidents approved a plan for a four-team playoff that will begin during the 2014-15 football season. The plan will bring an end to the controversial Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which relied on confusing computer polls and voters to decide who would play in the championship game. The BCS was never very popular among college football fans.

Despite the outcry, college football’s power brokers were reluctant to tweak the system because they were making so much money. With four major BCS bowls (Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl) and a BCS Championship Game driving the revenue train,  schools from power conferences like the SEC and Big-10 were splitting as much as $28.5 million by participating. A school like Indiana, which went 1-11 in 2011, split as much money as Alabama, which went 12-1 and won the national championship. University presidents were understandably hesitant to change.

The only thing that could prompt reform was the promise of more money. The new four-team playoff could be worth roughly $5 billion in TV revenue over a 10-year period, with the power conferences receiving between $360 and $400 million annually.

Of course the logical question for fans is why have only a four-team playoff? Why not push to eight or 16? The answer, again, is money. By having only four teams, it keeps the likelihood that the representatives will come from the power conferences rather than perennial non power conference contenders, such as Boise State and TCU. Why have the little guys get a slice of the pie from the big guys?

For all parties involved, it seems like a win-win. Fans get to see a champion crowned on the field rather than through computer logarithms, more teams now have a chance to play for the title, and universities make more revenue from the playoff. But this change is not without more improvements needed. To be true to the spirit of competition, there needs to be an eight or 16-team playoff.

In the end, however, this was never about improving college football, it was about making more money.

Photo (cc) by Charles Atkeison and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.


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