College Football Needs a Commissioner

College football is the most nakedly self-interested of all the sports we love. 

That’s why it’s failings are the most human, the most susceptible to special interest capture, the least logical, a banana football republic.

Most sports have a common interest that unites them in pursuit of a common pot of championship gold, college football does not.

Think about the sports you love for a minute, it’s easy for the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL, hell, even college basketball to decide upon an egalitarian method of crowning a champion.

Why?

Because in their essence these are all benevolent dictatorships on a yearly quest to distribute money to winners. 

Roger Goodell, David Stern, Gary Bettman, Bud Selig, the NCAA Tournament, all of these work to advance the higher interest of the sport, forcing individual stake-holders to bow to a higher power.

You may not like any of these men — and you might think they’re all petty, unfair, or unwise — but you don’t question their authority to act in the best interests of the league.

College football is uniquely different, it’s a national sport with a regional power structure, a balkanized cabal of leaders with no one who looks out for the good of the sport as a whole.  

Every conference commissioner is responsive to its constituency first and second and third and on to infinity. 

That’s great when it comes to advocating for individual positions — team owners and leagues argue amongst themselves about everything before a commissioner leads a proper course for the betterment of the league — but it cloaks all college football decisions with the palpable stench of bias. 

What’s best for the SEC or the Big Ten or the ACC or the Big 12 or the Pac 12 isn’t always best for college football as a whole.

Where’s the uniting force who can nudge the commissioners and the public down a benighted course that makes the most sense for everyone?

That individual doesn’t exist. 

There is no college football commissioner who serves the best interests of the sport and not the best interests of an individual league.

Yet no one ever discusses this. 

Indeed, the only person who I’ve ever heard aggressively advocate for a college football commissioner is Tim Brando, and he’s 100% right on this.  

Even still, after decades of saying it couldn’t happen we’re at the doorstep of playoff change. But what’s happening now that we’re here? Fractions are emerging that have nothing to do with the betterment of the sport and everything to do with advancing the individual conference goals.

That’s expected. 

After all, a good conference commissioner puts his league in a better position. 

But what happens if putting his league in a better position serves to conflict with putting the sport in a better position?

Who exists to balance these competing interests in college football?

No one. 

Imagine if individual NFL divisions argued about playoff plans that would favor the AFC East or the NFC West, to the detriment of the rest of the league?

And there was no commissioner to adjudicate these disputes.

You’d have chaos. 

Which is what exists in college football right now. 

Today ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who just weeks ago said he favored the simplicity of a 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 playoff, came out in favor of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s needlessly complicated top six conference champions system.

It’s mind-boggling. 

Yet it seems likely that the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big East and the Pac 12 will all end up supporting this hybrid atrocity. 

All Swofford needs to do is look at the results of Delany’s plan over the past 14 years, the ACC wouldn’t have added a single team under Delany’s plan.  

Delany’s plan holds the dual distinction of being both more complicated and less fair than using the top four teams in the BCS standings. We have a name for those who choose the complicated and less efficient over the uncomplicated and efficient. 

Congress. 

That fractious and balkanized body presently has an approval rating of around 14%.

Anyone with half a brain can see that the top four teams should advance to a playoff.

Period.

Regardless of their geographic location, regardless of their conference affiliation, just put the four best teams on the fields and let them play.

Don’t put a selection committee in a closed room, don’t create a complicated formula that takes anything other than the top four teams, just pick the top four teams and let us see the result on the field. America is a meritocracy, reward the best, not the best at gaming a system. We don’t need the Bernie Madoff of playoff plans, an unsupportable pyramid of excess that ultimately explodes upon itself in a giant cataclysm of fan indignation when a team receives a bid it doesn’t deserve.

Someone needs to make this case on behalf of the sport, not with a conference constituency behind the positions, but with the best interests of the sport as a guiding principle.

Roger Goodell, David Stern, Bud Selig, or Gary Bettman would recoil in terror at the arguments being put forward by some conference commissioners right now.

Because those men would understand that ultimately the best decisions need to be made on behalf of the sport, not the individual conferences.

How bad are things getting as college football wobbles towards a playoff?

I’m actually holding out hope that TV executives get involved and read the commissioner’s the riot act — if you want us to pay as much as possible, it has to be the four best teams.

Period.

How crazy is college football right now?

ESPN is the most trustworthy entity soon-to-be involved in negotiations.  

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