A champion for common sense

By Gary Shelton
Published May 31, 2007

He is the right man for the job. He is fighting the right fight. More than ever, this is the right time.

In other words, University of Florida president Bernie Machen doesn't stand a chance.

Poor Bernie. All he has in his favor is the justice, common sense and the voice of the people. All he wants is a better sport, a bigger payday and a true champion. And what good is any of it going to do him?

All Machen wants is a college football playoff.

Why, then, does he suddenly look like Don Quixote?

This should be a simple argument. It's like arguing for sunsets and books and a comfortable night's sleep. Who doesn't want to take the mythology out of the championship? Who wouldn't rather see players decide a title instead of programmers?

Even as Machen argues for a playoff system at this week's SEC meetings in Destin, however, you can feel the resistance build from the old-schoolers. By now, the arguments are so familiar that you might take them to be legitimate. They are not. You know it, I know it and, if they told the truth, even the representatives from the Phony Baloney Bowl in Coldcut, Conn., know it.

The interesting thing, however, is that now, a college president admits he knows it, too. And bully for Bernie for saying it out loud.

Let's face it. If the logic of a playoff is ever going to strike college football, it will do so at the level of college presidents. It doesn't matter how loud the fans moan or how often the columnists groan, and it won't matter which coaches are robbed and which athletic directors are riled. This is going to be a decision for presidents, which is why Bernie Mach is suddenly the grand marshal of the Let's Have a Playoff Parade.

For those of us who have supported a playoff, Machen is the perfect guy to lead the fight.

Not only is Machen a president, he's the president of the defending national champion. That grants him a little extra credibility when he talks. Yes, the system worked out for Florida last season.

On the other hand, Machen knows how close the Gators were to missing their chance to embarrass Ohio State. If Southern Cal had beaten UCLA, for instance, Florida's players would have spent the rest of their lives trying to convince everyone else what they could have done if only they had the chance.

It also is worth mentioning that Machen is the president of a school in one of the fat cat conferences. It is one thing for the president of, say, a WAC school to rail about the injustices of the system. But the SEC is one of the BCS conferences that split up 86 percent of the bowl money last year. Say this much for the status quo: It pays pretty well.

In the end, one suspects that might be what Machen really has to overcome. Under the current system, the power conferences get to print their own money. Why would they want to change things?

Look, we have all debated this before, but if Machen is willing to take the microphone, he needs a few backup voices. So let's repeat.

- Let's put it plainly: The BCS doesn't work. It didn't work for Miami in 2000, and it didn't work for Oregon in '02, and it didn't work for Southern Cal in '03, and it didn't work for Auburn in '04. It's a flawed system doomed to flawed results.

- No, the debate is not good for college football. Every year, you hear that, as if a little injustice spices up the sport. Again, if the discussion is so good, let's do away with the Final Four and the College World Series and the other national title games of every other college sport. Also, ones that are played at every other level of college football.

- No, it won't stretch out the season to a ridiculous amount of time. For a four-team playoff, which seems to be a good place to start, here's how much longer you need to make the season: Zero. Want a playoff? Just seed the top four teams in two of the BCS games. Last year, that would have been Ohio State and Southern Cal in one bracket, Florida and Michigan in the other. The winners would then play in the national title game. How simple is that?

- No, it won't destroy the other bowls. The Peach Bowl would remain unaffected. Whew.

- No, it wouldn't ruin college rivalries. With four teams playing, every game still would be crucial, because one loss might knock you out of the top four. Certainly, two would.

If Machen wants a little advice, here it is: Keep things simple. The more complicated a system becomes - and I'm sure Machen is being flooded with them this days - the easier it is to reject.

Mess with the 12th game, a payday game, and you're going to lose some people. Suggest the rules should be changed so all conferences can have a title game, and you're going to lose others. Suggest a stark change where 16 teams play in eight bowls to start a monthlong tournament, and doors are going to be slammed in your face.

Still, it's a worthwhile issue. Go get 'em, Bern.

Oh, and wear a helmet.

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.