Get ready for college football's version of Super Bowl I.
Division I-A has been moving toward a college football championship game for several years and the machinery has now been set in place for the NCAA to create a one-game playoff. As usual, the sound of money dropping into the register will accelerate the process although 1990 is seen as the earliest possible date for such a game.
"We've talked about it long enough, now we've got to get it out and give the membership a chance to vote on it," said University of Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds Aug. 20 in announcing a subcommittee recommendation that the playoff issue be voted on by NCAA members at the 1988 convention. "If you asked the public what they wanted, I think they'd say let's have a championship."
Dodds, chairman of a subcommittee that has studied the feasibility of a college football championship playoff since 1985, said his group will ask the NCAA Council to put the issue on the ballot for the 1988 convention in Nashville, Tenn. According to an NCAA spokesman, the Council will decide in October whether to accept the recommendation.
A Division I championship playoff would fit in snugly on the weekend before the Super Bowl, breaking up the two-week lull between the AFC and NFC title games and the NFL championship.
"The networks were in almost total agreement that Sunday, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. prior to the Super Bowl would be the best time period," said a report drafted by the NCAA subcommittee two months ago.
College football enjoyed a preview of what a championship game might be like last Jan. 2, when two independents, No. 1 Miami (Fla.) and No. 2 Penn State, met in Tempe, Ariz., at the Fiesta Bowl. The game prompted a tremendous amount of publicity and a strong national television audience on a Friday night as Penn State claimed the national title with a 14-10 victory. By scheduling a playoff game the week before the Super Bowl, the NCAA would impose a three-week break after the final bowl games.
"On the plus side, the public seems to want it, and it would generate additional revenue," says Dodds. "The negatives would include the additional pressure on two college football teams whose members may already have started their second semester, and they'd possibly have to miss some extra classes."
The impact of such a playoff matchup on the traditional bowls is still hazy. The bowl games have found themselves under scrutiny in recent years and at this year's NCAA Convention in Dallas, Cal Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman suggested the elimination of bowls and post-season basketball tournaments.
"The bowls have contributed to the institutions more than a quarter of a billion dollars in the last 10 years, more than $127 million in the last three years alone," says Jim Brock, executive director of the Cotton Bowl.
According to Dodds, an estimated $33 million could be involved in a championship playoff game. With 105 Division I-A schools sharing the pool, the impact could reach $200,000 per institution, "which would cause people to really have an interest in doing it," Dodds says.
But not everyone is enamored with the idea of a college football title game. Emulating the pros right down to the Roman numerals bothers some long-time members of the college fraternity.
"Any way you look at it, the best thing that's happened to college football are the bowl games," said Brigham Young Coach LaVell Edwards. "They've glamorized college football."
Dodds says a championship game would "enhance the bowls because people would be watching them to see what teams they think are No. 1 and No. 2."
The stickiest issue surrounding a national title game is the criteria used for picking the two teams. Dodds would leave the decision to an NCAA committee made up of athletic directors and football coaches, using statistical information and the results of the bowl games.
"Over the years, we've seen a small group of schools dominate the polls, bowls and television," said Big Ten Conference Commissioner Wayne Duke at a 1984 NCAA meeting in Chicago. "It is the belief of the Big Ten that a football championship playoff would widen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots."
But to Duke's frustration, the concept of a college football playoff has gathered momentum. Dodds says the earliest such a game could be played is 1990, which would place it 23 years behind Pete Rozelle's colossus.