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Is a playoff a pipe dream?
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After Barack Obama was elected President he wanted to weigh in on college football's bowl system.

Obama stressed the need for a playoff in college football so the games were decided on the field and not in some jaded computerized Bowl Championship Series formula. As a college football fan, I have always wondered how much buzz and excitement a playoff format could bring.

The NCAA college basketball tournament brings March Madness to a new level with all the marketing of office pools.

Implementing an eight- or 16-team playoff in college football could be a marketing firm's dream. That's why I had to ask Barry Alvarez, the University of Wisconsin Athletics Director and Bret Bielema, the UW football coach their feelings on a playoff system at Monroe Badger Days last week.

Alvarez was adamant and rejected the idea of a playoff system.

"I'm not in favor of a playoff," Alvarez said. "I think the bowl system we have has been good for college football."

Alvarez is a proponent of bowl games since they have been a cash cow for the Badgers and the Big Ten.

When following Alvarez's opposition to a playoff system, I think you can follow the money.

"Everyone has complained about the BCS, but it's generated money," Alvarez said. "People forget that it's about young people. I haven't seen anything yet to show that a playoff could work. College football is still the only sport where every game counts. I haven't seen anything that is feasible."

The Big Ten disperses all the bowl payouts equally to all 11 schools. After Wisconsin lost to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl this year, the Badgers received a little more than $1.89 million based in bowl payouts. Over the last six football seasons, UW has received more than $11.6 million from Big Ten Bowl payouts. Most schools don't want to give up millions of dollars to create a playoff and weaken the financial gain of playing in other bowls, it seems.

Playing in a bowl game isn't always as lucrative as it may seem.

In 2005, UW played in the Outback Bowl with a payout of $1.4 million. However, the UW athletic department's net income was less than $150,000 since there was a lot of money spent on travel and lodging in Florida.

Bielema on the other hand proposed a concept where the top four teams ranked at the end of the year have a playoff where (No. 4 plays No. 1 and No. 2 plays No. 3 with the winners meeting in the national championship.

"I think there is always an argument about who the top two teams are," Bielema said. "There is not many arguments about who the top four teams are."

John Jentz, UW's associate athletic director and Business Operations official, said the Big Ten share of net bowl revenue goes into the conference revenue line item and helps support overall operating expenses each year.

The money UW budgets for expenses and revenue for bowl games is monitored every year. Jentz said bowl net margins are used to help offset other sports postseason expenses throughout each year

"The NCAA funds most but not all expenses," Jentz said. "It is not our intent to have a large net margin, nor spend unnecessarily to use it all."

Any playoff system proposed will have to find a way to protect the millions of dollars that is generated for conferences like the Big Ten and for schools like UW through bowl games.

A 16-team playoff system in college football could work.

In Division I-AA football right now, the playoffs include 16 teams. In Division I college football, a playoff could feature 16 teams with four rounds. Teams would be seeded one through 16. Brackets could also be seeded like the NCAA men's basketball tournament with a football selection committee consisting of coaches, athletic directors and retired coaches. The playoff field could include champions from all 11 conferences and five at large teams selected by the selection committee. That may seem like a radical proposal, but that would bring the idea of a Cinderella team having a true shot at a national title into the picture. For the less radical, the playoff system could just include the top 16 teams according to the BCS rankings.

The creation of the BCS in 1999 was supposed to squash the argument of which team was No. 1 at the end of the year. The BCS national championship game is not a cure-all.

It has only intensified the debate.

One of the problems with the BCS system is that it cannot give appropriate weight to difficulty of schedules. Teams who play weaker schedules are rewarded.

The BCS rankings tend to penalize some teams for an early season loss more than a late season meltdown. Non-BCS schools have almost no chance of ever playing in a national title. There's no ambiguity with a playoff system. The best teams that day win and advance.

An undefeated Auburn was left out of the title game in 2004, Boise State's undefeated 2006 season which included a win over favored Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl was not worthy of a chance at a national championship.

Imagine all of the excitement and marketing that could be done in a playoff. If one coach is willing to extend the season a couple of weeks, why not turn college football into a real playoff format with the top eight or 16 teams, which would extend the season three to four weeks. The playoff could be played on Saturdays in the down time before the smaller bowls start.

There are more lucrative ways to make money than a bowl system that is watered down and lost its luster with too many meaningless bowl games played after New Year's Day. If college football went to a playoff, signing a lucrative TV contract would be a good thing for many schools. In November of 1999, the NCAA announced a $6-billion, 11-year contract with CBS Sports that expanded the network's exclusive right to televise the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The time for a college football playoff is now. In the spirit of Obama, "Yes, we can, "Yes, we can!