In one of the great, unintentionally self-deprecating TV sports commercials of all time, actor Sean Astin reprised his role this autumn as Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger to predict the coming of the College Football Playoff.
You had to have seen it. After a stirring locker room speech, Rudy tells his Irish teammates, “Now, this is going to go into effect in about 40 years ….”
The timeline, predictably, prompts the players to clear the room, as the suddenly ignored Rudy asks, “Guys, you’re gonna pick me up on your shoulders?”
Flash ahead to Wednesday. In the real college football world, Bill Hancock, executive director of the CFP, should have been cold-shouldered the same way.
Nothing personal, mind you. Hancock, in fact, may be more beloved in real-life college athletic circles than even Rudy was.
Plus, he is just the messenger. It is his job to spin the CFP decision positively.
When was the last time that you heard the executive director of anything stand in front of the media after a big announcement and say, “Well, we really screwed that up!”? Just doesn’t happen.
“This is not going to change,” Hancock said when asked, more or less, for a Rudyesque timeline of when we can expect the playoff field to expand to eight teams.
For one thing, there’s a 12-year agreement with ESPN to televise the playoff.
For another thing, Hancock said, unearthing an old anti-playoff excuse, adding more teams “would erode the regular season.”
On the contrary, however. If there is anything that television loves, it is games with meaningful, loser-go-home consequences. (See Major League Baseball with its new wild-card round).
Adding four such games to the playoff would add a layer of intrigue not frequently found in those oft-lopsided conference championship games.
Here’s my plan: Expand to eight teams. Play the first round games on the weekend after the conference title games.
The top four seeded teams get to host. If Ohio State is one of the top four teams, yes, the Buckeyes will get to host a game in Columbus in mid-December.
The four winners will get a couple of weeks off and then resume with the current CFP plan of semifinals and final. In my plan, the four losers even can go on to a regular bowl game, if they want.
Adding four games — sudden-death games — is not going to erode the regular season. Playing them in early- or mid-December is not going to undermine anyone’s Christmas plans or destroy the present bowl system.
Final exam schedules may have to be accommodated, but the likely once-a-lifetime playoff opportunity merits the required adjustments. Besides, most players aren’t taking five or six classes in the fall semester, the way we used to.
A radical proposal? Not really.
Division I of the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision — formerly known as Division I-AA — has been staging at least an eight-team playoff since 1981. The field was expanded to 24, with games spread over five weeks, in 2013.
There is no evidence that the FCS playoffs have caused either academic or athletic erosion at places such as Eastern Washington and North Dakota State.
ESPN’s Brett McMurphy asked 103 FBS coaches what they thought about expanding the playoff. Only 29 percent felt it should remain at four teams.
An eight-team field could include the best teams in each of the five power conferences, plus three at-large teams. An eight-team bracket this season would have included all the Power 5 teams with two or fewer defeats.
Executive director Hancock reiterated Wednesday that the current agreement with ESPN is for a period of 12 years.
Let me suggest, though, that that contract can be easily amended, if only ESPN would put its finger to the wind.
But that can be announced at next year’s press conference, the one where we all carry Bill Hancock off on our shoulders.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697