NEW ORLEANS — As the basketball Final Four tipoff neared, someone asked NCAA president about the possibility of major college football going to some form of playoff.
While noting that he doesn’t get to make that decision — “That will be up to the university presidents and commissioners of the FBS,” he said — Emmert did sound like a guy who expects a playoff to occur relatively soon.
“The momentum seems to be — and I’m just reading the tea leaves, pretty much like you — the momentum seems to be toward an eight-team playoff,” he said.
“We’ll have to see how it works. I don’t know whether it will really occur or not. I think there’s a reasonable possibility it could.”
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman has reached two NCAA tournaments during his eight years with the Mocs. He understands the infatuation with a college football playoff. He also sees some potential pitfalls.
“Look at North Carolina this year [in basketball],” he said. “With Kendall Marshall as their point guard everyone believed they’d be in the Final Four. Then he got hurt and they got beat. The more games you play in football, the more likely guys are to get hurt.
“I know not everybody likes the BCS [Bowl Championship Series], but it does a pretty good job of making sure it gets the two best teams to play for the national championship. If you go to an eight- or 16-team playoff in football, you may not have that.”
No one understands the current BCS formula better than the Southeastern Conference’s Charles Bloom, who was there in the beginning when former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer created the blueprint for the BCS.
“Football and basketball are two different sports,” Bloom said. “When you listen to the conference commissioners, they don’t want a prolonged playoff in football. Length of the season is an issue. Wear and tear on the body is an issue. You can play basketball every other day. You can’t play football but once a week.”
The other problem Bloom sees is an argument that opponents of a football playoff have made for years, that college football’s regular season is already a playoff of sorts, where every game matters.
“The NCAA basketball tournament is a great product,” Bloom said. “It exposes college basketball to fans who might not follow it during the regular season. What we need to do is try to find a way to make the regular season as attractive to watch as the tournament, while remembering that the tournament is a major factor and component in the college game’s success.”
Bloom admits there are no sure-fire fixes for what ails college hoops’ regular season, which has shrinking attendance numbers for almost every program, even as Final Four venues swell to 70,000 fans each spring, as is the case inside the Louisiana Superdome this weekend.
But when it comes to a football playoff involving eight or more teams, Bloom is adamant.
“We’ve certainly seen some momentum for a plus-one,” he said, referring to the concept that would basically create two semifinals as opposed to one BCS title game. “But I’m fearful of anything more than a plus-one format.”
As for Emmert, he seems more excited than past NCAA presidents to give some sort of extended football playoff a try.
“I suspect it would be a wildly popular event in terms of the fan base,” he said. “It would probably attract lots of attention, and I don’t think it would in any way conflict with or reduce the attention or enthusiasm people have for this [men’s basketball] tournament. This is still a pretty remarkable iconic event.”
Then he added a line that would be hard to argue, at least in the short term.
Said Emmert: “It would probably bring more attention to college basketball and make it even more popular.”
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...