I've always been ambivalent when the arguments start about the need for a college football national championship playoff. It never really mattered that much to me; I was OK with the traditional bowls/polls approach.
But something was starting to smell bad in recent years as the BCS system oozed under the door and solidified. The big boys were getting bigger and the little guys were scrambling to get a spot at the table.
And then I read the eye-opening story in the latest Sports Illustrated. Go out and grab a copy and get ready to get outraged. SI's Austin Murphy and Yahoo's Dan Wetzel lay bare the filthy truth about the college bowl games: they exist to make a bunch of fats cat even fatter.
What stunned me was the revelation that colleges often lose money by accepting a bowl invitation. How? Because the bowls pull stunts like this: they require participating schools to buy large blocks of tickets at face value (and those tickets often go unsold). Because they require State U's marching band to pay its own way to the game and provide free entertainment--and then pay for game tickets to boot! And on and on...
Meanwhile, the "non-profits" that run the bowls pay their honchos handsomely. Gary Cavalli, the former Stanford sports information director, pulls down $377,000 a year running the second-tier (and awkwardly-named) "Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl" at San Francisco's AT&T Park. Before you start tasting bile, understand that plenty of other bowl bosses do better at the pay window than Cavalli.
Look, I don't begrudge anyone making a fat paycheck. If Cavalli and company can get a sponsorship deal and a TV contract and stage a football game for which people will buy tickets and there's enough left over to pay a nice salary, swell. But it needs to be an honest profit--not the result of a shakedown.
When colleges are sucked into the bowl vortex and actually lose money on the deal, something is very rotten in Denmark. The SI article quotes the former Michigan athletic director as saying the Wolverines' failure to get a bowl bid for two consecutive years was a good thing financially--it meant they made money those years! Trust me on this: when it's better for a storied program with a huge alumni base like the U of M to stay home than go to a bowl, the system is broken.
Is a national championship playoff the fix? I don't know. But I do know the current system has to be dismantled. There's a chance the U. S. Department of Justice will start that process; meetings have already been held about an antitrust investigation. Another possibility is to strip the bowls of their non-profit status, revealing them for what they really are..
But at the end of the day, I must conclude that the only real answer is to toss the whole stinking mess out and draw up a college football playoff plan. It would have to be run by the NCAA--itself not my favorite organization--but better the NCAA than the pirates who now plunder college football.