The selection this week of Colorado and Georgia Tech as college football's best 1990 teams has once more raised debate concerning the feasibility of a national playoff system that would answer the No. 1 question on the field. The result: an odd assortment of bedfellows -- including bowl directors and conference commissioners -- favoring the current bowl structure vs. several coaches supporting a playoff.
The Buffaloes (11-1-1), who entered the Orange Bowl with the No. 1 ranking and seemed to cement it with a 10-9 decision over Notre Dame, finished first in the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters, edging Georgia Tech in the fifth-closest vote ever. But the Yellow Jackets (11-0-1), who pounded Nebraska by 45-21 in the Citrus Bowl and finished the season as the only undefeated Division I squad, edged Colorado by one vote in the United Press International coaches' poll.
"I still like the bowl system," Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Gene Corrigan said. "Having one more game at the end of the year would be stressful."
As might be expected, several major bowl directors spoke in near unanimity against a playoff system, predicting the demise of the bowl structure if a tournament -- even one that would allow the major New Year's Day bowls to rotate hosting a title game -- is implemented.
"I just don't know why anybody would want to mess with a system that's been good for college football for so many years," said Jim Brock, longtime executive director of the Cotton Bowl. "I don't want to do anything to diminish our game. We're against it and we'll fight until hell freezes over."
Brock suggested returning to the old system, in which a national champion was determined before the bowls. The Associated Press went to a post-bowl system in 1968; United Press International followed suit in 1974.
"Sure, this idea is a fantasy, deciding everything before the bowl games start," Brock said, "but it would make the bowls festive occasions again."
Festiveness is not in the forefront of the minds of television executives, however, not after the vast amount of money the networks have invested in college football coverage. Len DeLuca, vice president of programming for CBS Sports, said the decision is an institutional one -- to be made by the universities -- but added there is great revenue opportunity in a playoff system.
"Our experience with the NCAA basketball tournament shows that American viewers are drawn to a single-elimination, natural national championship process," DeLuca said. "The interest curve in football is totally askew. It heightens in late November, then the viewer has to wait three weeks until the major bowls.
"There are issues that have to be surmounted, like classtime and exams," he added. "They seem to be surmountable. If these issues are confronted and satisfied, then you have a hot property."
But, in terms of generating revenue, the major bowl directors have a hot property right now.
Mickey Holmes, executive director of the Sugar Bowl, spoke in terms of "finality," citing the likelihood of the demise of the bowl system if only one bowl game were to hold a national championship game each season.
"If you inject finality into the system, the value to the carrying network and to the game's sponsor will drop dramatically," Holmes said. "Right now they're willing to roll the dice with us. Take away the dice roll and the bowls will go the way of the dinosaur."
Bob Matheison, chairman of the Citrus Bowl, agreed with Holmes and Brock that this season's dual national champions have been good for the sport and its fans. "Split votes have happened before, and I don't think they're a major problem," he said. "We can say we had the number one team here, so it was a great year for us."
Brock was more direct. "The debate is good. It's good for Colorado and Georgia Tech," he said. "I don't mind if there are 50" national champions.
But the reality of multiple champions does not please everyone, not least of whom is Louisville Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who led Miami (Fla.) to a title in 1983. He told the Associated Press, a playoff "is mandatory as soon as possible.
"Our timing is better than it is in basketball or hockey. We're in mid-semester break. We have a month of holidays."
The same goes for Auburn Coach Pat Dye. "Sure you should have one. It's a simple scenario. You let four bowl winners play off. It's two more weeks, 14 games instead of 12. Basketball plays 35."
Don't use that logic around Brock. "You cannot compare it to the basketball tournament. It's like comparing apples with oranges, there are so many differences."
Corrigan said the problem with the current system does not lie in co-champions, but in lax enforcement of the Nov. 24 bowl decision date. Several bowls made commitments to teams before that date, resulting in lackluster matchups when those schools slumped at the end of the season. The most noticeable case was Virginia, which lost two of its final three games after its selection to the Sugar Bowl.
"Teams jump early," Corrigan said. "The bowls could create a game with number one against number two if they waited, but everyone felt the necessity to jump. I want to have schools hold off on making decisions before December 1."