- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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The first 10 years of the Bowl Championship Series era were filled with great champions and greater controversy.
Want to know what the BCS will look like 10 years from now?
For the majority of college football fans, the perfect postseason would look something like this: The sport's national champion would be crowned after three rounds of a thrilling eight-team playoff, which would fill stadiums from Atlanta to Dallas to Pasadena and captivate millions of television viewers. Notre Dame would no longer be given special consideration, and the expanded Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big East would stage conference championship games -- creating a truly level playing field for the first time.
Want to know what the BCS is really going to look like in 2018? (Warning: If you're a college football fan clamoring for a playoff, close your eyes.)
It's going to look exactly the same as it does today.
Recent interviews with conference commissioners, head coaches and other college football heavyweights revealed an overwhelming opinion that little or nothing will change in the way the sport determines its national champion between now and the 2018 season.
"Everybody is all over the place," said Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson. "Every time they talk about it, it gets no momentum. It just stops."
Maybe this time for good.
In meetings last month in Hollywood, Fla., 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White shot down a proposed plus-one format, which would have seeded the top four teams in the final BCS standings and matched them in two semifinal games with the winners playing in a national title game.
College football's power brokers chose to keep the sport's status quo as the BCS begins negotiations for future television contracts that will probably run through at least the 2014 season. Barring an unforeseen disaster, the BCS probably won't consider changes to its postseason until at least 2012, if not later.
"If it takes something of a catastrophic nature to change it, I hope we don't change it," said ACC commissioner John Swofford, the reigning BCS chairman.
Even a catastrophic event might not be enough to sway the Big Ten and Pac-10, which are wholly opposed to any sort of playoff that would diminish their long-standing relationship with the Rose Bowl.
"I really don't see a playoff in the near future," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "I just don't see it. You'd have to see somebody come up with a very strong argument and have a number of people support it. It would have to be the best thing for college football and I'm not convinced it is. Obviously, most people aren't convinced it is. Our league feels strongly in the bowl system. We feel strongly in what we have, rather than a playoff system. I think [the future] will be very similar to what you see today."
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds once served on an NCAA committee that studied the idea of a Division I-A playoff. Dodds was so convinced of its benefits he hoped to make a playoff the shining achievement of his long career in intercollegiate athletics. Now, as Dodds' 27th year as Texas' athletic director ends, he believes a playoff might never happen.
"I've given up on it," Dodds said. "I just don't see it. I don't see the Pac-10, Big Ten and the Rose Bowl ever giving up what they have. You can't do a plus-one model without the seeding of the semifinals and they won't go for that. I've given up. It will probably take some major kind of crisis to get there -- a financial crisis or something like that. But I don't see it changing any time soon. If everything stays the same, I don't see it ever changing. I don't see any traction. Not today and not five years from now."
Schools in the same conference can't even agree on the best way to determine a national champion. While Dodds has long supported an expanded postseason, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops said he's opposed to any sort of playoff.
"I don't see anything making it happen," said Stoops, who led the Sooners to the 2000 national championship and two other appearances in BCS title games.
For the most part, Stoops believes the current BCS system is working. He points to college football's climbing television ratings and increased attendance in nearly every conference as evidence.
"It depends what year you're talking about," Stoops said. "If you're asking me if it's better than what we had before, then definitely. In 2002, Miami and Ohio State were the only two undefeated teams in the country and everybody was celebrating it. There was no need for a plus-one or anything else. In 2000, when we won it, we were the only team that was undefeated in the country. There was no need for another game. There have been years where it was very good and years where it could be debated. But overall, it's better than before because it's still putting who most people believe are the best teams together, instead of just everybody being in different bowl games by allegiances."
Critics of a playoff insist college football's regular season would be greatly diminished by an expanded postseason. Week in and week out, from September through December, teams across the country play regular-season games that ultimately determine their chances of winning a national championship. Under a playoff format, critics say teams will only have to worry about not losing too many games.
"If Michigan and Ohio State are playing at the end of the year and both are undefeated, whoever wins is going to the national championship," Stoops said. "If you had a playoff, they're both going to qualify and that game doesn't mean a whole lot, does it? In the end, you're going to diminish some of these games that mean so much and why everybody is so excited to watch them. All I hear about in basketball all year long is how March Madness is the best time. We sure don't want that to happen to us."
Many college football officials believe the plus-one format would only magnify the controversy surrounding the sport, instead of eliminating it. If the plus-one model had been in place in 2007, Georgia and USC, two of the country's hottest teams at season's end, would have been left out. That fact carried more weight than most others when conference commissioners recently balked at the plus-one model.
"I think last year probably crystallized it for us," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "I think if there had been a four-team playoff last year, the yelling and screaming from Georgia and Southern California would have been so outrageous that the pressure to go from four to six to eight would have just been a matter of time. Then we would have gone to 12 and 16. I've seen what's happened in Division I-AA. It started as four and went to eight and then 16. Now they want to go to 20. It's just not where we want to go. I know it's what the public wants, but as I sit here and my people sit here, we don't think it's in the best interest of college football. I know that's not what the public wants to hear."
An ever-growing playoff is what concerns university presidents and conference commissioners more than anything else.
"Part of it has to do with the fact that the leadership really doesn't want to entertain anything that resembles a playoff," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "So you are starting from a position of negativity from the beginning."
Even if a playoff was approved, college administrators and coaches can't agree on how big the bracket should be. Chris Petersen, who led Boise State to a perfect 13-0 record in his first season as head coach in 2006, isn't convinced a plus-one format would help teams from non-BCS conferences any more than the current system.
"If you had the plus-one game when we went 13-0, we're still not getting in," Petersen said. "I know that. We wouldn't have been one of the teams going in."
SEC commissioner Mike Slive, the architect of the proposed plus-one model, said his proposal wouldn't have eliminated controversy because some teams outside the top four might have felt they deserved to be included.
"I'm on the NCAA basketball committee and there's controversy at Nos. 66, 67, 68, 69 and 70," Slive said. "That's not going to end no matter what you do."
College football purists also insist a playoff would diminish the importance of bowl games, one of the sport's greatest traditions. While the current BCS bowl games would likely have to be incorporated into any playoff format, Tranghese isn't sure it would stay that way for long.
"If we went tomorrow to a full-blown playoff, what makes anybody think the bowls are going to be preserved?" Tranghese said. "If the Big East or the Big Ten are going to engage in a full-blown playoff, then why the heck am I going to play everybody in their home area? If I'm a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, then come to New York and play in 20-degree weather. You and I know none of that's going to fly."
Another chief concern of a playoff is fans' ability to travel from one bowl site to another -- both physically and financially -- and the logistical challenges of having to move hundreds of players, coaches, support staff and students across the country in less than a week's time. Even Slive admitted the potential logistical problems caused him to pause while proposing his plus-one model.
"That's a serious disadvantage to the plus-one model I put forth," Slive said.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who became one of the BCS' biggest critics after his undefeated 2004 team was left out of the national championship game, said selling tickets for playoff games wouldn't be a problem.
"I think what will happen is 75 percent of the tickets would be sold to corporate America, just like the Super Bowl," Tuberville said. "Each team would get 10,000 or 15,000 seats that they'll have no problem selling. Most teams take 15,000 to 20,000 to a bowl game. Are you telling me your people wouldn't get to Phoenix and Miami for a once-in-a-lifetime thing? You have your bowl experience and you go home to practice for four days, come in Friday, do your media deal and play the game. You don't have to have another week-long experience. Are you telling me if Florida is playing Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, their people wouldn't go?"
But Alvarez said eliminating the bowl experience, in which players are wined and dined in the host city for several days, is one of the biggest pitfalls of a potential playoff. Alvarez, who led the Badgers to back-to-back Rose Bowl victories in 1999 and 2000, said he cherished the bowl experience as a player at Nebraska and as a coach.
"Everybody talks about having a true playoff, but they forget about the tradition of the bowls," Alvarez said. "It's still about the kids and the experiences the kids have. I made the decision to go to Nebraska because I wanted to play in big bowl games and to play in the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. I wanted to have experiences where you normally wouldn't be treated like that. It doesn't have to be the Orange or Sugar bowls. It could be the bowl game in Boise or any bowl because if you're treated special it's an experience you're never going to forget. If you go to a playoff system, you throw that out the window."
Petersen, who guided the Broncos to the biggest upset in BCS history when they beat Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime with a bag of trick plays in the final minutes of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, said he believes a college football playoff is inevitable.
"I think something will probably happen in 10 years," Petersen said. "I think there's just so much pressure from the fans and people on the outside. Everybody wants to see some sort of a playoff. I just think there will be some compromise and something will be figured out."
This much is certain: It will take more than a hook-and-lateral and a Statue of Liberty play for it to happen.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Controversies, criticisms and calls for a playoff were staples during the first 10 years of the BCS. So, will the college football landscape change by 2018? Don't count on it.