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Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, second from right, takes the podium after ESPN President John Skipper during a news conference announcing the launching of the SEC Network in partnership with ESPN, Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Pierce: Let’s make ESPN the overlord of college football

We’d get better bowl matchups and, no doubt, a real playoff system.

First Published Dec 17 2013 11:36 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:47 pm

Some people argue that ESPN has too much power. That it is too much in control of the current system, particularly the bowl season.

ESPN clearly dominates the postseason, telecasting 34 of the 36 bowls. It owns eight bowls; two more ESPN-owned games will join the slate next season.

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And you could argue that this is bad.

But I won’t. The way to fix what’s wrong with college football isn’t to make ESPN less powerful, it’s to make the Worldwide Leader in Sports MORE powerful. Let’s put ESPN in charge altogether.

If ESPN were in complete control, we wouldn’t have bowl matchups like Buffalo vs. San Diego State, East Carolina vs. Ohio, Middle Tennessee vs. Navy, Central Florida vs. Baylor or even Northern Illinois vs. Utah State.

This is not a slam at any of those teams, but ESPN is all about delivering the biggest audiences. It could juggle those matchups to make games that are regional draws and make geographical sense.

If I owned Boise’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — which ESPN does — I wouldn’t want to be trying to sell tickets to fans from Southern California and upstate New York.

Heck, let’s not stop with putting ESPN in charge of the bowls, let’s put the Worldwide Leader in charge of major-college football altogether. Let’s let the folks in Bristol, Conn., realign the leagues as it sees fit.

Sound like a bad idea? Not to me. ESPN isn’t going to worry about which schools are research universities or what religious affiliations they have.

Would a TV network have a vested interest in the most popular schools having the greatest success? Sure. If Notre Dame played Texas in a meaningful, late-season game or a bowl, they’d be dancing for joy at ESPN.

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But they’re not stupid in Bristol. They know how important credibility is, and they’d work hard to make sure college football is credible.

Can you say the same about the people in charge of the system we currently have? It’s already unequal and unfair.

The best thing about putting ESPN in charge of college football is that it would no doubt result in the end of the bowls as we know them. They probably wouldn’t disappear altogether — ESPN does own a bunch of them, after all — but we would get what fans want and players deserve.

A playoff system.

Not a plus-one. Not even an eight-game tournament. We’d get something resembling the FCS system — a 24-team tourney with eight first-round games and eight top seeds getting byes into the second round.

Why? Because there is HUGE money to be made from an FBS tournament. Billions of dollars would flow to ESPN and the schools involved.

ESPN isn’t burdened by the hypocrisy of academic institutions running what is a pro league with players who aren’t paid pro wages. ESPN execs won’t tell us it can’t be done because the student athletes would miss too darn much school.

They know that a college basketball player misses more school in one two-game road trip than a football player misses in an entire season. They know that if FCS players can do it, so can FBS players.

ESPN can say, "We’re doing this because it’s popular and lucrative."

It would be both. And if ESPN makes a bundle off it, it would be worth it to everyone who loves college football.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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