However, for all the pomp, there seems to be very little circumstance in the discussion, which will cap the SEC’s annual spring meetings. Machen’s proposal will fall on skeptical, if not completely deaf, ears, according to two of the most powerful presidents in the conference.
“There’s never been any sense of enthusiasm for a playoff at the decision-making level,” said Vanderbilt’s Gordon Gee, a university president for 26 years who was involved in the creation of the original Bowl Championship Series, which currently decides the champion at college football’s highest level. “Indeed, I’d have to say, if anything, there is less enthusiasm for it now than when I saw these issues being discussed earlier.”
Georgia’s Michael Adams shares that view and expects the presidents to shoot down a playoff if the issues comes to a vote, which it probably won’t. SEC commissioner Mike Slive has asked his presidents to discuss the issue but doesn’t expect a proposal to come out of these meetings.
“I’m a firm believer in and supporter of the bowl system,” Adams said. “I’ve never said never on anything, but my general view is that right now the current system is working.”
That opinion may be growing among college football fans as well. There are signs that the BCS is beginning to grow on, or maybe simply wear down, its opponents at all levels.
“As I watched the postseason unfold last year I thought there was a more balanced approach in the commentators around the country with regard to the postseason,” Slive said. There was “much more discussion of keeping it the same or making minor modifications rather than the concept of a full-blown playoff.”
There are still plenty of people around the country who are ready to blow up the BCS, but the tide may be turning, ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge said.
“Why clamor for something that may not be real realistic right now?’” Blackledge said. “The thing I like about the BCS, and I don’t think it’s a great system, but they have tried to tweak it, they have tried to adjust it when it feels like it needs to be adjusted, and it creates tremendous interest in the regular season down the stretch.
“I think it’s worth exploring other options, but this is what we have right now. If it needs to be adjusted, let’s adjust it and live with it.”
The value of the regular season is a key element for television executives who are in no hurry to devalue the product they broadcast throughout the fall and who hold much sway over all of college athletics.
“You can give the BCS some credit in the continued popularity of college football,” Slive said. “You can be a critic of it, but even the most severe critic has to realize that the current postseason format has continually reinforced the popularity of college football.”
Even Steve Spurrier, who has been the SEC’s most vocal proponent of a playoff, is beginning to see an inevitability about the BCS.
“I used to be for a playoff. Now I’m sort of indifferent,” Spurrier said. “You’ve got to have a winner somehow. We all know the formula. The SEC can get there. Florida got there this year. You may need some help, but an SEC team can get there.”
Leaders in the Big 12 re-affirmed their support of the current system at their meetings earlier this year.
“The (SEC) presidents have brought the issue up, but the sense that I have is that around the country, it doesn’t have a lot of traction,” South Carolina athletics director Eric Hyman said.
Hyman said the idea that bowl games can be neatly woven into a playoff, allowing the systems to coexist, is very premature.
“You’d have to study that kind of issue,” he said. “You think about it, you travel week after week after week. There are so many issues.”
The league’s football coaches discussed the idea of a playoff during their two days of meetings here but didn’t take a vote of who’s in favor and who’s opposed, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said.
Slive, who is in the middle of a two-year term as coordinator of the BCS, asked the powerbrokers in his league to discuss a playoff this week even though the BCS has just completed the first year of a four-year television contract with Fox.
“We’ve got at least a year and a half to really think about this” before new contract negotiations begin, he said, “so I suggested we start thinking about it earlier rather than waiting until the last minute and rushing into a decision.”
The idea, he said, is simply to start a conversation. As Hyman said, “This iceberg moves slowly.”
But it’s looking more and more like it won’t move at all. Georgia athletic director Damon Evans said he would have to hear a compelling argument to convince him that a playoff is the right option for college football.
“Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I like the current bowl system,” he said. “In college football, what’s interesting right now is that every game counts every single weekend, which I think makes it fun. It’s good to explore possibilities, but I can’t say right now that I’d be in favor of a playoff system. Where we are right now is not too bad.”
Nine of the 12 SEC teams played in bowl games last year.
“While I am driven more by the academic concerns, I am not even convinced (a playoff) works for the Southeastern Conference financially,” Adams said. “I think we have a system that’s not broken.”