Photo: dannyb via Flickr
Last year, Dallas Mavericks (and the fan friendliest) owner Mark Cuban became inspired to try to help bring about a college football playoff — “The more I think about it, the more sense it makes as opposed to buying a baseball team,” Cuban said in December. “You can do something the whole country wants done.”Indeed, the whole country wants it done.
So Cuban dove in head first, penning blog posts on the BCS, read “Death to the BCS,” and founded a company called Radical Football to investigate ways to help fix college football’s mess of a postseason. In one of his first blog posts on the subject, he wrote:
Again, I want to be very clear to everyone. This is going to be a long, long and difficult and expensive process. There is a lot of power on the side of the incumbents. Which of course, as anyone who really knows me will tell you, is exactly the type of challenge I like to undertake. I may not win all of them, but there is quite a bit of satisfaction in taking on Goliath. This undertaking is no different. Win or lose (and i hate to lose), it will be worth the journey.
Cuban was immediately deluged by specific playoff proposals – some of which their proponents even claim to have “patented” and in response wrote that “the perfect system is not what is going to create change.”
(We were similarly deluged when Sports Fans Coalition began fighting for a playoff, but the problem with focusing on the possible solutions is that then the conversation moves away from where it needs to stay – on the inequitable and corrupt BCS system. Look, there’s absolutely no doubt a playoff system – whatever the specifics – will work. It does in every other NCAA sport.)
So Cuban and the guy he hired to run Radical Football, Brett Morris, quickly moved away from pushing for a playoff to creating something that is unique to Division I-A football (aka the ridiculously named Football Bowl Subdivision) – and a little less controversial: a four-team invitational to complete with the postseason conference championships.
Basically, the plan put forward by Cuban and Morris – NCAA proposal 2011-87 – calls for the NCAA to allow the creation of a four-team invitational during the two weeks after the regular season when the big conferences are holding their conference championships. Teams from those conferences who do not have championships (including Big 12 and Big East) as well as the independent schools (including Notre Dame and BYU) would be invited based on the final rankings of the regular season. (And invited teams can opt out.)
More importantly, the plan addresses an oft-overlooked (and yet another) wrong in college football’s postseason – the allowance for a postseason championship only if a conference has 12 teams. So that extra game obviously has all sorts of benefits, including extra revenue and increased exposure for the programs and the conference. Why shouldn’t other conferences and schools get an extra game?
In fact, Cuban’s invitational should be even more attractive to the schools than a conference championship because games would be played at the home stadiums of the higher seed. This eliminates the problem of ticket absorption (when schools get stuck having to buy tickets they aren’t able to sell) because the home team’s fans would just buy up the visiting team’s tickets. Further, the extra game on campus provides a much needed economic benefit to the university community.
The whole thing seems like a win-win for fans and the schools.
Cuban’s plan already has some support, including Wright Waters, commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference. “We were sitting around saying, ‘We’ve got to look at ways to make a few bucks for our schools,'” Waters told SI.com’s Andy Staples.
Of course, the plan’s chances of success ultimately hinge on enough support from other conference commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors, which is a formidable task. The existing power structure in college football is wary of change, or more specifically, losing power. (As most experts would agree, the primary reason we don’t have a college football playoff now has more to do with power than money.)
Some critics may complain the extra game will “interfere” with the academic schedule or go against the “tradition” of college football, as though those are legitimate concerns. As for how it will affect college football’s mythical “most compelling regular season,” it’s hard to see how it would do anything but add some intrigue and give teams something more to play for.
If enough fans in the Big 12 and Big East support the plan – and they should – the university leaders and commissioners of these conferences will see the invitational as a safe and practical way to add some extra revenue while the other conferences have their championships. The real question is whether they’ll be willing to fight against the lack of support from the other conferences who can endorse the status quo in order to preserve their own dominance.
It’s not a playoff, which should appease the BCS/NCAA complex and make it more palatable. On the other hand, it’s not a playoff, so it still leaves fans clamoring for one. But it is a good idea. And if Cuban can pull it off, it should be fun to watch.
Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and lives in Washington, D.C. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter here.
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