IF YOU GOWhat: The Boys & Girls Club's "Stake & Burger" DinnerWhen: April 17, 6-8 p.m.Where: The ChattanooganAdmission: $150 for an individual ticket; $1,500 for a corporate sponsorship with eight ticketsPhone: 266-6131
Although momentum continues to build for a four-team playoff in college football, former Southeastern Conference commissioner and Bowl Championship Series architect Roy Kramer believes the best system remains in place.
"I'm not sure I would change anything," Kramer said last week. "You're not going to end the controversy if you pick four teams, because now you're picking between teams that are fourth and fifth, and that's going to be a lot more controversial than picking the top two teams, because all of those teams are going to look alike. You would have had tremendous controversy last year over who that fourth team was going to be."
Kramer, who is widely viewed as college football's most influential figure of the past generation, will be the featured speaker April 17 at the Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga's annual "Stake & Burger" (formerly Steak & Burger) dinner.
The push for a four-team playoff has gathered steam in recent months, with NCAA president Mark Emmert saying it makes good sense and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany finally yielding that his league is open to the idea. The BCS has been in place since 1998 and has a television contract with ESPN through the 2013 season.
"There is a danger in this of going too far, and you can see that to a degree through basketball," Kramer said. "We've left college basketball as a one-month sport, because people are only interested in March. They're not interested in college basketball in December or January, because people view those games as preliminary games. You have to be careful, because college football is different.
"College football is the backbone of college athletic programs, and you've got to make the regular season significant and keep it significant. So whatever structure you come up with, you cannot overlook the regular season and the importance of what that is to all of our programs."
A record 49.7 million people attended college football games last season, the sport's fifth benchmark in the past six years.
The BCS has been Kramer's lasting legacy on college football nationally, and his imprint on the SEC has been equally significant. The league commissioner from 1990 to 2002, Kramer orchestrated the additions of Arkansas and South Carolina in 1992, the establishment of a conference title game that same year and the negotiating of lucrative television contracts that have been enhanced by successor Mike Slive.
In 1990, the SEC distributed $16.3 million in revenue sharing to its institutions. By 2002, that figure had swelled to $95.7 million, and it was $220 million last year.
"He absolutely set the tone and direction and followed through with the direction of the expansion of the Southeastern Conference and the BCS system," former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer said, "and from a compliance standpoint in the Southeastern Conference, he absolutely led the way. I don't think there is anyone who has done more for all of those entities."
Kramer coached Central Michigan to an 83-32-2 record from 1967 to '77 and led the Chippewas to the 1974 Division II national championship. He then was intrigued by an offer to become Vanderbilt's athletic director in 1978, so he entered the administrative world and worked in Nashville until leaving for the SEC.
Within two years of running the league, Kramer introduced two new schools and a football championship game that was initially detested by coaches but has become a 20-year-old extravaganza that still is growing in popularity.
"I felt from day one, because of the passion of the game in this part of the country, that the game would succeed," Kramer said, "but I had several coaches who were ready to walk out the door, because they thought they would never win another national championship and that we had just destroyed the conference. Steve Spurrier wasn't sure it was legal, and late in the 1992 season Alabama coach Gene Stallings said, 'Here we are having played 11 games, and we haven't won anything yet.'
"It's been a very strong positive. It's kept more teams in the conference race longer into the season, and it's added a type of excitement as to who is going to make the game from the East and West."
Since the institution of the SEC title game, league teams have combined to win 10 national championships.
The league will expand for the first time since 1992 in July when Missouri and Texas A&M join to form the first 14-team SEC collection. Kramer thinks newcomers were inevitable given the changing conference landscape and believes the SEC is growing more sensibly than the Big 12, which is adding West Virginia later this year, and the Big East, which is adding Boise State in 2013.
"There is a tremendous positive to geographical alignment, and I'm not sure if some of these will be enduring and last through the years," he said. "Part of conference excitement and conference tradition is fans being able to travel from school to school. That's been one of the great factors in the Southeastern Conference through the years, and when you start that kind of geographical distribution, you lose that.
"I think eventually you'll see additional realignment, because I personally don't think those will last over a long period of time."
Now 82 years old and residing in the Rarity Bay retirement resort in Vonore, Tenn., Kramer attends a couple of SEC games each autumn. He admits being a glutton for the league's mammoth television package, adding that wife Sara Jo often points out, "All you do is change channels!"
Of course, that's somewhat fitting for someone who brought so much change to the sport.
"I hope it's been a positive one," he said. "I hope in some small way that I contributed to a game that I think is such a great part of the tradition of college athletics and sports in general. The BCS has gotten people interested in games all across the country, and we saw that this past season when fans in Alabama were very concerned with how Oklahoma State and Oregon were playing.
"I hope I made things a little more interesting and a little more exciting, and if that's the case, I think you can look back with a little bit of pride."