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The Long March, or, Yes, Virginia, There Will Be a Playoff

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Well, yeah, cause I warned you I would. And I'm not the one who keeps bringing it up, anyway: reports of the playoff's demise were everywhere while I was out of town last week, after a majority of conference commissioners shot down the SEC/ACC proposal for a four-team model under the banner of "plus one." This is entirely predictable: even in my optimism back in January, I guessed the evolution from BCS to "Plus One" to "Bracketed Plus One (Final Four)" to straight up tournament would go another decade before it was an organism properly resembling a recognizable playoff. Current TV deals run through 2013.

I'm not sure what to make of some of the fatalism in the punditry last week – like the afore-linked Matt Hayes, for example, who wrote " the college football postseason was no closer to change and probably never would be" and described the proponents' efforts as "months of fruitless heavy lifting" – when the writing has been so clearly on the wall for so long. How shortsighted is this? Just over the last decade and a half, after a good quarter century completely dominated by bowl cronyism and anarchy, the rate of change is startling: from the Bowl Coalition to the Bowl Alliance to the BCS and the addition of a fifth game that further ropes itself off from the larger process. The evolution has been under way since ESPN rose up in the early nineties and gave the sport a coherent national face; the pressures increase every year. Last April, Bernie Machen made his pitch to the other presidents in the SEC; this May, a coalition of commissioners from two separate conferences took the idea to the rest of the country. Compare this situation to the state of playoff grumbling a decade ago: the proposals are on the table now, made not by a wingnut from his couch but by a segment of the very power brokers so long said to be barricading the door from the barbarians and their brackets. We're inside the castle, and soon it will be ours. T.K. Wetherall sees the torches and pitchforks coming

A college football playoff is inevitable. That against-the-tide prediction comes from Florida State president T.K. Wetherell.
Wetherell suggested we might be reaching that playoff tipping point. It will take some kind of financial crisis, he said, to make hard-line Division I-A presidents change their view of a playoff.
"It's not a question of if there is going to be a playoff, it's going to be a question of when," said Wetherell the only university CEO on the panel. "It's going to be driven by money. None of us sitting at this table ... are ever going to admit that."
"You talk to ABC and ESPN, you're talking something in the neighborhood of the Final Four type thing (for a playoff)," Wetherell said. "That's a huge amount of money. We'll (presidents) run out of money, then we'll figure out a way to do it. The fight won't be over whether to do it or not, the fight will be over the take, the split."
As far as the long-stated arguments against a playoff -- preserving the regular-season, creeping commercialism, student-athlete welfare, academics?

"Everything that is somehow on the table will disappear," Wetherell predicted.
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Well, welcome to the club, T.K. We've been expecting you, and your friends, too. They'll be around soon enough, and then we can actually get down to specifics.