Adams needs to follow through if he's serious
If Dr. Michael F. Adams, the president of the University of Georgia, is serious about waging war on the BCS, the proof will come in the amount of time and energy he decides to devote to it.
It is one thing to create a media splash, which Adams did Tuesday with considerable skill.
He planted a story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the paper of record in the Southeastern Conference, calling for an eight-team playoff. He held two news conferences that attracted reporters and columnists from New York to California.
It is quite another to create the change. Adams doesn't want to turn the battleship, the analogy used Monday by Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford in discussing the possibility that the BCS would move to a plus-one model. Adams wants a new battleship.
He may be in a position to build it, too. Adams is chair of the NCAA Executive Committee. But here's the problem. As a guy who has risen to the top of academia, Adams probably knows something about turf wars and power battles. He had better. He just picked a fight that the NCAA has lost every decade or so for the last 40 years.
Adams, in a statement released Tuesday, began by saying that he has never been a proponent of a playoff.
"But this year's experience with the BCS," Adams said, "forces me to the conclusion that the current system has lost public confidence and simply does not work."
Adams decried the concentration of power in "one network television company" -- hmmm, who could that be? -- and the concentration of power in the "conference and bowl commissioners."
In very related news Tuesday, Georgia finished second in the final Associated Press poll.
It would be unfair to Adams to dismiss his criticism just because his Dawg was gored. But it highlights the problems that university presidents have when it comes to reining in intercollegiate athletics.
Presidents are dilettantes. When they pay attention to athletics, they can create change. But their idea of paying attention is to hire an athletic director who won't spill soup on his tie, knows how to raise money and won't dump any problems in the president's office.
"This is not at the top of most of our agendas," Adams said. He listed the legislative session that is about to convene in his state and his 2009 budgets as pressing priorities. Now that the football season is over, Adams still has the legislature, his budgets, and 4,000 other things that will pass across his desk in any given five-minute period.
"This is one of those last horizons where the presidents have not exercised leadership or presidential control," he said.
Adams understands the power that presidents can wield when it comes to athletics. For instance, in 2005, a group of university presidents, cowed by the U.S. Congress, forced the BCS to provide more access to the five conferences that don't have automatic bids to the postseason.
On his own campus, where Adams has more sway than anywhere else in higher education, and where there are fewer constituencies to face than there will be on the playoff issue, Adams had to wage a three-year battle to force athletic director Vince Dooley to retire in 2003. If his reception at the Sugar Bowl last week is any judge, Georgia fans have yet to forgive him.
Asking the NCAA to take on the BCS will make the Dooley issue seem like a sorority mixer. Here's a rundown of recent attempts, as chronicled for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in a 2004 history of Division I-A postseason football by UCLA administrator John Sandbrook:
• 1994: With great fanfare, the NCAA appointed a 25-person committee to study a Division I-A championship. Five months later, at meetings in Kansas City, the committee asked for authorization to evaluate a four-team playoff. University presidents refused, and the committee shut down.
• 1987: The NCAA subcommittee that certifies bowl games asked for a resolution to be voted upon at the 1988 NCAA Convention that would determine how much interest I-A members had in a I-A playoff. By a supersized margin of 98-13, with one abstention, the membership voted to suspend consideration of a playoff until the membership showed "compelling evidence" that a playoff would be in the best interests of college football.
• 1976: A playoff proposal developed by an NCAA special committee never made it to the NCAA Convention floor.
The reason is simple. In the current format, the power lies with the commissioners of the major conferences. If the NCAA ran the event, the money would flow through the NCAA before it went to the members.
"The absence of a single governing authority," Sandbrook wrote in his 2004 study, "allows virtually all the revenue derived from the bowl games to flow directly to specific conferences."
Let's make a list of all the people who have willingly given up control of millions of dollars. You go first.
Adams said he had heard from "10 to 12" presidents Tuesday expressing support for him. He assured the media that there are presidents in both the Pacific-10 and Big Ten conferences who endorse a playoff, even as their commissioners cite presidential opposition as the reason that their conferences are opposed to a plus-one.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, noting on XM Radio on Friday that all six automatic-bid conferences rejected a plus-one in 2005, said, "We've never seen a four-team playoff stay as a four-team playoff. So if you are concerned, and we are, about an eight-team, 12-team or 16-team playoff and what it would do to college football, we don't believe that you allow the camel's nose under the tent with a four-team playoff."
Adams convinced himself that an eight-team playoff would help. He believes the NCAA would be the best entity to run it.
"I think we just completed the most exciting regular season with the least exciting bowl series in recent memory," Adams said. "And I think all of those things coming together, the growing parity that exists in college football. I believe there is a time in a lot of events where there is a tipping point, and this year may have been the tipping point."
On the other hand, couldn't it have just been some bad picks? Isn't it possible that the bowl picks are a problem that can be corrected? Does college football have to fix its postseason by blowing it up?
"Some of the key players are unwilling to change the way they do business, which indicates to me more of the same," Adams said. "There is an entirely different result when the stated goal is to pick the best eight teams rather than some traditional arrangement. The former is superior on the face of it."
He is sure of himself. He is sure that college football has reached a tipping point. But just like his budgets, Adams will get out of this crusade only what he puts into it.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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