Kragthorpe: Beware, college football playoff system may not be so Sugary

Published July 6, 2009 4:31 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While Congress prepares to tackle the Bowl Championship Series in another round of hearings Tuesday, there's a certain irony in how the University of Utah is illustrating the crying need for a college football playoff system.

The '08 Utes have earned more credibility than they ever could have wanted, without actually having to play more than one postseason game.

They deserve all the praise for their 31-17 trouncing of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the kind of poised, resourceful performance that characterized their perfect season. It's just interesting how, far more than the undefeated Utes of '04 or Boise State of '06, this Utah team has become the driving force for change, almost a mythical champion.

Nobody important ever said Alex Smith's Utes or Ian Johnson's Broncos were "denied the chance to play for the national championship," as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) declared in framing his latest antitrust examination of the BCS, targeting a playoff system.

As Hatch wrote in Sports Illustrated last week, "One thing is clear: No changes will take place if Congress does nothing."

So he's again trying to do something, with Utah President Michael K. Young and Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman among those scheduled to testify in Washington. However this plays out, the most anyone around here should reasonably hope for is more equity in BCS selections and revenue, because playoffs are not necessarily as sweet as the Sugar Bowl.

Weber State enjoyed the best season in school history and was not "denied" a title shot at its level. Yet after the Wildcats lost in the second round of the playoffs last December, there was no big celebration.

Utah stopped playing after whipping Alabama, and a huge party was staged downtown. The Utes might well have beaten Oklahoma in the semifinals and Florida in the title game. But that's assuming a lot. The part nobody considers about a playoff is there would be a lot fewer winners.

In the current world, 17 teams end the season with bowl victories, some more meaningful than others. With playoffs, other postseason events such as the Las Vegas Bowl would be devalued to an NIT level (or go away entirely) and anybody losing before the championship game would be forgotten.

Without Googling, name every Sweet 16 team in the '09 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

So the BCS has some merit, even if Young said recently, "You could come up with a worse system, I'm sure, but you would have to be creative."

While the BCS has existed for 11 years in an effort to pair the top two teams in a bowl game, it would be slightly unfair to portray Hatch as just now becoming aware of it. The threatened intervention of Congress in '03, spurred by Hatch's judicial committee, undoubtedly helped increase access to BCS games for schools outside the six power conferences with the creation of a fifth major bowl.

What should come out of these proceedings, somehow, are ways to better distribute the BCS money and permanently include the Mountain West Conference. When an automatic-qualifying league earns $37 million for having two teams in BCS games over the past two seasons and the MWC and the Western Athletic Conference get a combined $25.9 million with two participants, that's wrong.

And with 10 slots available, the MWC deserves one of them every year. Even under the current rules, the league is on track for guaranteed access in 2012.

In reality, the BCS has treated Utah well, providing two showcase games in five seasons. Hatch can cite "the chance to play for the national championship," but consider basketball's example. BYU, Utah State and Weber State are among the all-time leaders in NCAA Tournament appearances without making the Final Four, and Utah's only title came 65 years ago.

To recap: No playoffs -- parade in Salt Lake City. Playoffs -- no parade in Ogden.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

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