I’m Bernie Machen. Can we talk?

Bernie Machen talks with Dennis Dodd… boy, does he talk!

It’s just that the more I read, the more I’m puzzled. Astounded by a lot of it, but puzzled how a guy in his position could say some of this stuff all the same.

Let’s start with this exchange:

CBS SportsLine.com: Explain your reasons for endorsing a playoff

Dr. Machen: I think it’s still a long shot but we have had two interim meetings — one in October and one in March. At that (March) meeting I tried to make the point that this is something that if we don’t deal with it, we’re going to be locked into the BCS for another eight to 10 years.

Fox is pushing to renew right now. They want to renew what we have even though the deal has four more years (actually three) to run. Normally you would start the negotiation a year, 18 months from now.

There is some interest in Fox in signing us up for long (term), which would just kill it. They just want to lock up the property…

So what? It’s not like this is going to stop being a valuable property between now and then. Why can’t college football just tell Fox “we’ll get back with you when we’re ready”? Unless I miss something, this smacks of an artificial crisis.

Continuing on, he says

…I made the pitch that if you’re ever going to think about it now is the time to think about it. I can’t tell you how many votes I got or anything. My pitch is simple. This is in the best interests of college football. There is a lot of money that is not on the table that could be on the table…

How does he know?

Then, it really starts getting interesting:

SPLN: How would your playoff work?

Dr. M: Because of the baggage the NCAA has, it might hurt us to push it through the NCAA. But you could set up your own LLC (limited liability company). You could have an entity that is not part of the NCAA that would run it, but would run it with the kind of principles the NCAA uses to run the basketball thing.

I want something that represents all of college football. The NCAA obviously could benefit from it. I don’t think they need to benefit from it financially the way they do in basketball but they could bless it. If we ever got it to the point of taking it to the members, the members would support it.

I think he misunderstood Dodd’s question, but what an answer!

He’s flying by the seat of his pants with this stuff…

SPLN: If you do something like this, let’s say a four-team seeded playoff, would you necessarily have to have the NCAA’s permission?

Dr. M: No. … I wanted to assure the NCAA (of) the principles of inclusion. Helping all of college athletics is what I’m about. I’m not trying to fatten up the coffers of the SEC.

SPLN: But I assume you don’t want teams playing for “units” like they do in the NCAA Tournament.

Dr. M: Everybody can benefit … Kentucky and Vanderbilt and all these teams that don’t do anything get a share of (the BCS) money, whereas the Utahs of the world get nothing.

(Note: Under the new deal, non-BCS leagues as well as I-AA schools get increased money from the BCS).

I’m also going to meet with some TV guys to find out what the real bogey is that’s not on the table. And is there a format that brings more money to the table? All you have now is conjecture about whether there is really more money out there. I think there is…

… which makes him sound like he wants to please everyone and no one at the same time. He’s not going to propose a playoff format until he sees who’s in and who’s out, and for how much. But he’s ready to stiff the BCS as well as the NCAA, it seems:

SPLN: What about the BCS commissioners?

Dr. M: They say they want to work with me but they don’t. They want to protect the BCS. So I’m going outside the BCS. The only way I think it could happen is if a league like the SEC said we want to (go this way).

Make sure you read this amazing interview in its entirety. In it, Machen goes on to

  • knock the Big 10 and PAC 10 for cutting their own deal with the Rose Bowl (while at the same time acknowledging that he wants to get the SEC to drive the train on his proposal)
  • advocate elimination of the 12th game
  • advocate retention of the conference championship game (even though not all conferences employ one – so how does that fit into a fair playoff system? Bernie doesn’t say.)
  • dismiss incorporating the BCS bowls into his playoff setup as a “detail” (I wonder what he thinks of Notre Dame as an issue)
  • sound more sympathetic about seeing a playoff serve the needs of a Utah than his fellow conference members (noble, maybe, but does he really think he’s going to convince a Kentucky or a Vandy to sacrifice like that?)

This exchange near the end of the interview doesn’t have much to do with college football playoffs, but is hilarious, nonetheless:

SPLN: That raises another question. What did you think of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s open letter comparing the Big Ten to the SEC?

Dr. M: It’s ridiculous. What a homer. I was at Michigan (as provost and dean of the school of dentistry). I know how they get in at Michigan. Don’t talk to me about the Nobel laureates at Michigan.

Just look at Greg Oden’s class schedule this semester. The Big Ten has fought the conference playoff, then they (complain) because Ohio State doesn’t have a game in 48 days. (Actually 51 between the last game of the season and the BCS title game. The Big Ten traditionally ends its regular-season football schedule before Thanksgiving).

Whose fault is that? What’s happened is the world has moved, the Big Ten is no longer calling the shots.

If Machen has a PR person, he or she is probably reading up on hara-kiri about now. I merely wish I could be a fly on the wall the next time Mike Slive and Jim Delany meet.

I honestly have no idea where this is going, but it’s clear he relishes the spotlight. I’d expect more of the same through the SEC presidents’ meeting, at least.

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18 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

18 responses to “I’m Bernie Machen. Can we talk?

  1. kckd

    Senator, we got into a pissing match before about this over on the vent and I apologize. I don’t want to go down that road again.

    But I would like to respectfully ask you for an explanation. I respect your thinking that any kind of playoff is worse than what we’ve got now. I don’t agree with that as I support a four team playoff decided by the polls and some kind of computer formula just as the two team playoff is right now. But again, I respect your view.

    What I tried to get some clarity on in the past is exactly what you mean when you say certain things to certain people.

    For instance: When I’ve stated that they can make a four team playoff work within the BCS system and that by moving the NC game back one week they have all but set it up to do so, you have stated that four teams will never be the end of it. That the presidents will see they can make more money and broaden it to 16 teams or more eventually.

    Perfectly good explanation.

    However, when someone else argues that we should have a 16 team playoff right now, you argue that it won’t happen because the BCS conference presidents are not gonna want to give up the money they have wrapped up in the BCS.

    Do you see where I think there is a conundrum here?

    On one hand you are telling me that they’ll eventually do away with the BCS if they start a playoff within it because they CAN make more money.

    On the other hand you tell a guy who thinks we should expand to a 16 team playoff right now that they CAN’T make more money.

    Again, I may be reading wrong, but can you further explain this?

  2. kckd

    I apologize to the vent, I meant the forum.

  3. Let me see if I can sum up my thinking for you on this:

    1. I’m not a playoff opponent per se. I’m against a playoff formula that does damage to the regular season. In my opinion, almost every playoff formula I’ve seen violates that premise, or would lead to a setup that would.

    2. A four team playoff would most likely not satisfy enough people to remain a stable option, not because of the quality of the teams included, but because of the teams that wind up being excluded. You will be excluding some conference champs, for example. You will probably be forced to give Notre Dame a leg up. You will be excluding teams from non-BCS conferences. All of which will put enormous pressure to open the tourney up to more teams. And once you’ve formalized a playoff, that becomes a much easier path to take.

    3. The money issue is complicated. Seeing Machen’s comments in the interview should be a pretty good indication of that. I’ve put up a number of posts about the economics of the postseason; do a search of this site for some detail on the subject. But briefly, here are some problems: (a) a playoff may generate more income for football, but it will also likely reduce the income received from the regular season; (b) if the NCAA becomes involved in the playoff, the revenue distribution formula will change radically; (c) the real profit in postseason football for the networks comes from the smaller bowl games, rather than the BCS ones and I’m not sure how the playoffs will necessarily change that.

    In short, when someone gives me a breezy assurance that playoffs = more $$ without anything substantive to back that up – and note that’s almost always what you see – I’m incredibly skeptical. The likely reality is that a small playoff setup won’t generate much more money than is generated now and that while a larger one may, it will likely shift the center of power from the conferences to the NCAA (although it’s clear Machen is trying to find a way to sidestep that issue). Once the NCAA is in, you’ve got to share the pie with a lot more schools.

    One thing to keep in mind is that most of these presidents may be good at running a university, but as CEOs running sports operations, they demonstrate time and time again that they lack good judgment. I have no confidence that suddenly in this one area, with so much at stake, these folks are going to hit one out of the park and make us happy. The only thing I think you can count on them to do is protect their turf.

    Everything tells me that if you establish a four team playoff, you’ll eventually see football follow the same path that college basketball has taken. That’s not a good thing.

  4. kckd

    Ok, but I will admit that I’m not getting how you can say you’re not against a playoff, as long as it doesn’t damage college football, yet every playoff scenario you only see damage to college football.

    In other words, the very next step you see as damaging because it opens pandora’s box.

    Ok, second thing, which I think we’ve gone over before. Your opposition to the four team playoff, (non-bcs teams left out, numbers five and six complaining) Do we not already have that now?

    Again, the non-BCS teams are non BCS. I don’t really care. Will they make a fuss? Sure. Do they have the power to really do anything about it? No.

    If they did, they’d already have done something by now. And you didn’t see much in way of protest for BSU or UTAH for that matter being MNC’s.

    Plus UTAH actually would have qualified for the top four tournament in 2004.

    I appreciate your response. I still don’t think you answered my question, but I think I understand why you do what you do.

    But I will say this, if you are right about what you say, we’ll be having a 16 team or more playoff in the future. I don’t think you are. I think it will hault at four. Maybe expand to eight, but not more than that. And that wouldn’t significantly change the dynamic enough for me to give up college football.

  5. I can think of at least two ways that a playoff setup wouldn’t do much damage. I’ve suggested both of them at my blog

    here: http://blutarsky.wordpress.com/2007/03/14/a-modest-proposal-or-a-delusional-exercise-take-your-pick/

    and here: http://blutarsky.wordpress.com/2006/12/07/building-a-better-mousetrap/

  6. kckd

    Ok, your first proposal:

    It would take years for all that to happen and you’d be dead by the time they got it done. Me too for that matter and I hope to live at least another forty. In those soccer leagues you can also go down a division. So you’d have teams jumping in and out of conferences all the time. That’s one thing that makes HS football suck. Some teams get a good rivalry going and the GHSA moves them to another region three to four years later. Start a new one and then they are moved back.

    The second one:

    Good Lord man, do you think for one instant that there isn’t gonna be complaining with your scenario here? Think Utah wouldn’t be saying in 2004, if AU gets a shot why don’t we?

    Also, if they’ll expand a four team playoff on a dime to make more money, why wouldn’t they take one glimpse at the first play in game to the championship, see the money it generates and not think they can make twice as much if they just match the no. 1 with no. 4 next time and do it every year. (IMO, this would be the best scenario as you know)

    The first one will work, but Lord knows what football will even look like once it gets done.

    The second one: Your own arguments used in other scenarios say it won’t.

    A few other points:

    The writers pulled out of the BCS because they were PO’d that USC was not in the championship game and did not respect the process. The BCS never formally asked them if they could include their poll, they just did it. The AP for the first time stated, “we don’t want you using our poll.”

    The preseason polls might have caused AU to miss the MNC, but someone with an undefeated record still would’ve been left out. Is a preseason poll worth anything? NO. But is it the source of the problem? No, not even close. The problem is that we’ve got a box sized for two teams to decide the national championship, but every other year we’ve got three to four teams who deserve to get in.

  7. You keep changing the argument on me.

    You accused me of being opposed to all forms of a playoff. All I did in my response was point out to you that I’m on the record as having a different position from that which you called me out.

    As for “do you think for one instant that there isn’t gonna be complaining with your scenario here”, if that’s your standard, no proposal short of a very large tourney (or my “only conference champs admitted” scenario) would work.

    And there aren’t any additional revenues with my “flex” proposal, because there aren’t any additional games. You’d just use one or two of the existing BCS games to get to the championship.

    By the way, I wouldn’t count on playoffs being the automatic revenue generator you seem to think they might be. See my post today about the ratings for March Madness.

  8. kckd

    Again, I’m not getting into a pissing match here.

    Can you explain then, if it’s about additional games, why can’t you have two of the BCS games being semifinals? That would be no additional games also.

    A play in game is an additional game if an additional game means one team plays in two bowls. If one team can do it why can’t two?

    Your first proposal is an offering, but pretty close to a fairy tale wouldn’t you admit? What’s the possibility of all of that happening? Maybe I should rephrase: A “realistic proposal”.

    The play in game would easily be much more hyped than any other bowl game save the NC game. It would be analyzed from head to toe just like the NC game. They could and would demand more money to cover it nationally. It would have a bigger payout to the schools if they had such a thing.

    Question: Do you think for one moment that they would only do something like that in a year where there were three teams who deserved a shot?

    Again, there would be more money for the same reasons you give for any kind of playoff system. Again, why not have two games that way, within the BCS system. No extra games really. Just two BCS games the week before the MNC as play ins in stead of one. How is that different?

  9. kckd

    One other thing, as far as the scenarios that cause other teams to complain about not getting a shot.

    That seems to be an argument you fall back on as reason not to have a playoff. I used it because it would seem that if you think that’s a good reason not to have a playoff, your own scenario would want to make that point moot. I’m just pointing out that anyone can use the same argument you used to strike down other proposals for your own.

    “if that’s your standard, no proposal short of a very large tourney (or my “only conference champs admitted” scenario) would work.”

    I assumed this has been your whole point about not wanting a playoff. Your idea that a four team playoff or eight team playoff won’t fix anything because someone is still gonna complain. Well, I’m just using your own argument against you here. For the same reasons, yours doesn’t fix anything either.

  10. To me, there’s a big difference, both psychological and practical, between having a formal four team playoff and flexing the BCS to accommodate situations where there are more than two teams who are in the final mix for a MNC. You obviously disagree. That’s fine. Just keep in mind that the two gentlemen that I had the playoff discussion with over on Kyle’s site were equally convinced that a four team playoff wasn’t sufficient.

    One consideration: last year, had you simply flexed the BCS, the obvious way to handle the matter would have been to let Michigan and Florida play for the right to meet OSU. With a formal four team tourney, you would be opening up a huge controversy over which school would take the fourth position. That isn’t my “whole point” about my objection to a tourney, but it does indicate that in many years your proposal would create as many problems as it would purport to solve – which again is one reason why you’d eventually have a consensus to expand.

    As for your point about the AP’s withdrawal from the BCS, maybe you know something I don’t, but at least publicly, conflict of interest was cited as the reason for shutting down the relationship:

    http://www.sportsline.com/collegefootball/story/8023798

  11. kckd

    Senator, I’ve told you before, there is only one problem I want to solve and I want to do it the simplest way possible. No use rehashing here.

    I consider you a sensible guy most times. But your first solution is the equivalent of saying our problems will be solved if the radical Muslims convert to Christianity or Buddhism. It’s nice but it ain’t gonna happen. Heckuvalot further away from that than other things you have argued would never get done.

    The second one is again far fetched. Why would the powers that be go through the trouble to set up a 2 and 3 game in years where there is a question and not simply go ahead and make another one. If they can do one under the BCS they could certainly do two. Your argument about expansion maybe valid, but it’s also valid when applied to your own logic.

    And guess what, think that in 2000 there wouldn’t have been controversy with your scenario. FSU and Miami would have played to face OU. But guess who else had only one loss? Washington. And guess who Miami’s one loss was to? Washington. Those other Dawgs would’ve been howlin’ at the moon.

    Again, your own arguments against the four team playoff can be used just as effectively against the plus one system on occasional years.

    I’ve always hated the plus one. Essentially you’ll have the same debate, maybe even a bigger one. When should you use it? (only when some fans are up in arms because their team might not play in the championship game?) What happens if you have four to five one loss teams and one undefeated? We’re at the same situation aren’t we?Who decides? If you think for one instant that will solve anything you are wrong.

    But most of the four team playoff opponents are guys who want a bigger playoff. I’m all for giving us a legit NC with no big questions asked and keeping the regular season meaningful. And outside maybe one or two teams a year, the four team scenario will do that. Heck, even the BCS has had a lock before the season was over. Remember OU and KState in 2003? Couldn’t have gotten beat down worse and were still no. 1 on Sunday.

  12. I’m not sure you’ve read what I’ve posted carefully. I can live with the BCS, because I’m not sure that any of the alternatives wouldn’t lead to something worse (i.e., weakening the regular season). I’m not particularly motivated to rescue an Auburn, if it means that we start down a path that leads to a football March Madness.

    You ask “Why would the powers that be go through the trouble to set up a 2 and 3 game in years where there is a question and not simply go ahead and make another one.” Because it’s a minimalist approach to the “problem”. It does the least damage. I don’t see why an undisputed #1 team should have to play a qualifying game. For that matter, in years like 2005, why should there be a qualifying game at all?

    This is all a matter of priorities. You obviously agree with Tuberville that the system needs to be upended to make sure that years like 2004 never happen again. I don’t. Ohio State in ’06 and Texas and USC in ’05 did what they had to do in the regular season to play for the MNC; to require them to qualify again in the postseason to play for the MNC cheapens what they accomplished in the regular season. You may find that an acceptable tradeoff, but I don’t.

    And, just as importantly, once you formally establish that, you’ve started down the slippery slope to an enlarged playoff. After all, if it’s OK to make Texas and USC play again in a four team tourney to qualify for a championship, why not eight, or sixteen, or sixty four?

  13. kckd

    Let me ask you this then. Why not just call it a season for the #1 if they are undefeated and there are no others. In a way, aren’t we asking them to prove it one more time by playing in the MNC game against a team that has a loss. Heck, they made FSU do it again in 1996 against a team they’d already beaten.

    If a playoff was a horrible way to decide a champion, we sure have chosen the horrible way in every other sport except college football.

    You never given any really viable excuse for why a four team playoff is bad or worse than the two team playoff. You only offer that it will be a cancer that spreads. And I say to you that you mustn’t kid yourself for one second. If a four team playoff can spread, so can a play in game on occasional years.

    Again, common sense says after reading your posts, you believe things are about as good as they can possibly be right now.

  14. “Why not just call it a season for the #1 if they are undefeated and there are no others. In a way, aren’t we asking them to prove it one more time by playing in the MNC game against a team that has a loss.”

    I don’t disagree with the logic behind your question there.

    However, there is an answer. Traditionally, such a team has always played a postseason game. One postseason game. If that’s the case, it might as well be against the best opponent the system can provide.

    As for your final comment, it’s no secret that I’ve summarized my position on the subject as “better the Devil you know than the one you don’t”, otherwise described as “be careful what you wish for, you might get it”. ;)

  15. kckd

    Yes, you have. My point there is, why not just say, “this is the best we can do?”, r ather than offer up two scenarios that will never happen. And honestly, I don’t find either of those an improvement.

    As far as your first point, if we’re gonna tweak the system to make it better. Wouldn’t saying OSU won out in the regulars season do that in your opinion? Why can’t we can the NC game in that situation? We’ve forgone the traditions of the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, etc. etc. for the BCS. Why not forego that one as well?

  16. “As far as your first point, if we’re gonna tweak the system to make it better. Wouldn’t saying OSU won out in the regulars season do that in your opinion? Why can’t we can the NC game in that situation? We’ve forgone the traditions of the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, etc. etc. for the BCS. Why not forego that one as well?”

    Again, I’ve already said I don’t argue with your logic there. Guys like Kyle King think that we ought to junk the BCS and go back to the old bowl setup and not worry about forcing a BCS #1 vs. #2 match. Honestly, that wouldn’t bother me nearly as much as a 16, 32 or 64 school tourney.

    I do think you overstate the point, though when you argue that we’ve forgone the traditions of the bowls with the BCS. For the most part, there’s been a serious attempt to preserve the conference matchups that have been a part of the process. The biggest changes we’ve seen recently in the bowls are in those years when the Rose Bowl hosts the MNC, which is due to the BCS, and the fifth game, which is due to schools like Tulane blackmailing the BCS powers that be.

    The BCS is a balancing act, no doubt. Is it the “best we can do”? I have no idea. I just think before we go rushing down the road to a formalized tourney, everything ought to be carefully analyzed. Machen certainly comes off as half-baked on the subject. If he’s a prime example of how this is going to be approached, then maybe the BCS is the best we can do.

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