Originally Published Nov. 14, 2008 in Green River Community College's The Current
Barack Obama has taken questions for months, he’s deflected false accusations, and given inspiring, well-thought-out answers to several tough questions, but never did he give a more perfect answer than the Monday before the election.
Much to my chagrin, football has ousted baseball as America’s game, and there was no more ideal setting for the two candidates to square off in front of America’s working class, than on Monday Night Football.
In an event that ESPN boasted about for days, both Obama and John McCain were interviewed by ESPN personality Chris Berman. Parts of the interviews were shown at half time, and despite how close the two candidates were to Election Day, less than 24 hours away, they fielded questions that mostly pertained to sports.
The two were both asked questions related to their own sports experience, to which they gave standard answers. Both claimed to be decent athletes who received life-altering advice from a coach.
However, the climax of the entire interview, the moment where people across the country stood up and shouted a collective “Hell Yeah!” came early in the halftime proceedings.
Berman asked McCain and Obama what they would change in sports if they had the power to do so. McCain beat the proverbial dead horse that is performance enhancing drugs. We’ve all heard too much about steroids already, and as the curtain is lifted it looks more and more like drugs were as readily available and willingly ingested as Flintstone vitamins.
Obama, however, gave an answer that perhaps made even the “blue collar” political celebrity “Joe the Plummer” shed a joyful tear.
“I think it is about time we had playoffs in college football. I’m fed up with those computer rankings. Get eight teams—the top eight teams—right at the end. You get a playoff. Decide a national champion,” said Obama.
Across the country, collectively, armchair quarterbacks from the corporate types to college students stood. “This guy gets it,” they said.
There are issues in sports that are polarizing, which divide people on either side of the side of the issue. Obama encourages unity, and there is perhaps no more uniting concept in sports than that of a college football playoff.
If the presidential election was a landslide, the percentage of people in favor of a playoff is a lahar.
According to a 2006 survey on cnnsi.com, 82 percent of fans would like to see a playoff system and a 2007 college football player survey indicates that 73.1 percent of players wanted a playoff. So what is the hold up?
Despite the seemingly endless numbers of sometimes complicated scenarios for a college playoff, there is a very simple answer for why one hasn’t been implemented yet, money.
From a business standpoint, college football is an amazing industry. Without $100 million in player salaries to pay, stadiums which often seat nearly 100,000 people, fans with built in reasons to be loyal, such as their own previous attendance to the academic institution (which is what I’m told some of these BCS schools are), and sponsors for every conceivable facet of the games, college football is extremely profitable.
However, greed begets more greed, and unfortunately for the majority of fans, those who control the NCAA hold the money, and thus the power, and don’t want a playoff.
In public those people will attempt to endear themselves to the mothers and fathers who are concerned for their own children in school, and claim that the playoff would cut into a players time to study, and that a 14, 15, or 16-game season is just too long.
However, the present bowl season occurs predominantly during most schools’ winter breaks, and while an extra two or three weeks may seem imposing, it certainly isn’t a problem for the NCAA Basketball tournament which “imposes” on 65 teams, and “forces” players to miss school, as they play as many as six games spread across those three weeks, right in the middle of spring quarter no less.
In reality, if a few bowl games are cheapened, the previously low-overhead operation that is college football suddenly incurs some financial risk. Sponsors for bowl games usually pay about around $15 million for the sponsorship, and the television station broadcasting the game near $20 million.
With four BCS bowl games and a BCS national title game, there could be around $175 million at stake.
However, if playoff were in place, an eight team playoff as Obama suggested, by shear volume it would seem like the NCAA would increase its profit.
Perhaps NASCAR’s “Chase for the Sprint Cup” is the best example by which the NCAA can draw positive conclusions. NASCAR’s controversial rotisserie style playoff came about after Matt Kenseth won the then Winston Cup in 2003, despite winning only one of NASCAR’s 36 races, while Ryan Newman won eight races and finished sixth in points.
Whether by coincidence or more likely in reaction to Kenseth’s 2003 season, NASCAR implemented the “Chase” in 2004, and changed its scoring system, putting a greater emphasis on winning races and less emphasis on cosmetically good finishes.
Steve Spurrier, Pete Carroll, are you listening?
Since implementing its playoff, NASCAR has continued its meteoric rise into the sports forefront, leaving its once niche status in the dust. Television ratings are up, and the sport was more profitable until this year, when it has struggled as a reflection of the country’s economy.
Obama’s playoff would give the NCAA two more games to prostitute to sponsors, advertisers, and fans. But in a sport that is perpetually behind the times and a governing body and its ground level representatives (coaches) wrought with corruption, who are you and I as fans to have the audacity to shake the apple cart?