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Choosing Sides on the Frontier of the Playoff Battle

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The debate is advancing quickly on the playoff issue, much more quickly than the "turning the battleship" dynamic suggested when Michael Adams brought the issue back to the fore last week. Adams, of course, is just another guy with visions of his pet bracket dancing in his head, but unlike you or the thousands of people anxious to drop your decisive, head-slappingly simple playoff format on the world, Adams is in an unprecedented position to push the issue: as chairman of the NCAA's Executive Committee for the next two years, he's campaigning  representative presidents from the other ten Division I-A conferences to vote on forming an exploratory committee on the feasibility of his NCAA-sponsored, eight-team playoff plan at the executive committee's meeting this week in Nashville.

I repeat that a playoff in some form appears more inevitable than ever, whether it evolves through the addition of a "Plus One" format, as advocated by conference commissioners from the SEC, ACC and Big East, or comes in one fell swoop, as proposed by Adams. These meetings are a crux for the immediate future, though, if not the long term, for which the writing is on the wall: they are only talking about forming a committee to discuss the idea, which even Adams admits could take two years - "fast by NCAA standards," notes the Atlanta Journal Constitution - to come up with any concrete proposal given the overwhelming level of bureaucracy, moneyed interests and existing contractual obligations involved, yet the USA Today reported "Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany worked the halls of the NCAA convention [in Nashville], and Pacific-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen has mounted an e-mail campaign" to secure opposition to Adams' plan, which seems to be considerably stronger among university presidents than the conference commissioners who have also been called to consider revisions to the BCS. Adams' plan is more subversive to the status quo: he wants to eliminate the conference-controlled BCS altogether and put the currently powerless NCAA at the head of a playoff, as it is in the lower divisions.

Not surprisingly, the presidents representing the WAC and Mountain West - which stand to benefit from breaking up the current BCS cabal - are expected to support Adams in forming the committee. Clemson President James Barker, representing the ACC, worried about the "ripple effects" of a playoff but also said, hopefully, "I don't think we should stifle thoughtful discussion." Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe he'd be "upset" along with most of the conference's presidents if the vote favors a study group. Not long ago, according to the AJC, Ohio State President Gordon Gee promised the Big Ten would hold firm to the BCS and its rigid conference tie-ins* well past their popular viability, until playoff proponents wrested the system from his "cold, dead hands."

So even if the writing is on the wall, the timeline is not - if the presidents defeat Adams' push for a "formal the point where it needs to take place," the idea will be dead at that point into the next decade, until enough new faces arrive there willing to take issue with the corpses of their predecessors. Maybe by then, the BCS will have evolved far enough in its makeshift "Plus One" experiment to make the transition that much less painful. Certainly it's preferable to get the show on the road already.

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* A note on the Big Ten-Pac Ten commitment to the Rose Bowl: since 2000, the champions of those conference have met in Pasadena exactly twice, at the end of the 2000 (Purdue and Washington) and 2003 (USC and Michigan) seasons. One league or the other was forced to concede its champion to another game in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, and the bowl has been compelled to go out of its way to set up disastrous games with the Big Ten runner-up each of the last two years (though, to be fair, last year's USC-Michigan game appeared to be a much better match-up going in than it turned out to be). This run will not necessarily last, but the Big Ten-Pac Ten tradition in the Rose Bowl, which was very real, has already been reduced to a burden by the demands of the BCS. "Tradition" is a priority, but it should be the lowest priority, and the most easily replaceable.