Stewart Mandel traveled to Tampa, Florida, spoke with various CFB movers and shakers and proclaims the eight-team playoff currently has less life in it than Charlie Weis’ career prospects.
During my stay in Tampa, I spoke with numerous commissioners, ADs, coaches, players, bowl executives, TV executives and other industry officials. The consensus vibe was that of overwhelming satisfaction with the system they created four-and-a-half years ago. In nearly every key area it has met or exceeded their expectations.
Not coincidentally, I sense zero appetite across the sport for an eight-team playoff. Before the CFP started, I predicted the system would expand halfway through ESPN’s 12-year contract. I was wrong. There’s even less support for the idea now than there was then.
Now I could start to lay into this by noting the folly that a large part of his conclusion is drawn from Bill Hancock’s confidence in the current arrangement, but I’ll take a pass on the low hanging fruit to focus on another point Mandel makes.
For one thing, power brokers on both the playoff and TV side are pleased with the positive effect they’ve seen on the regular season. The BCS first helped turn the traditionally regionalized sport into a more national model; the CFP has only enhanced that.
In particular, the intense focus on the four-team race once the committee starts producing its weekly rankings in early November has raised the stakes for games that previously might have flown under the radar. [Emphasis added.]
So the shift to a more national model is seen as an enhancement. And the selection committee’s weekly rankings being flogged relentlessly has raised the profile of certain games. Before writing that, I wonder if Mandel thought about this year’s Iron Bowl, which was reduced to an irrelevancy in the eyes of many — prompted in large part by ESPN’s narrative — after Auburn’s loss to Georgia meant the Tigers had zero chance of attaining the national semi-finals. I guess we’re gonna have to disagree on that whole enhancement thing.
The rest of his piece is a mish-mash of contradictory signs of marketing acceptance and money-making (which is all that really matters, when you get down to it). This, in particular, is truly depressing:
Finally, give the folks in charge credit for achieving one particular vision. When I first interviewed College Football Playoff COO Michael Kelly in 2014 for my book about the playoff, he spoke of turning the sport’s new national championship game (the first to be played outside of the traditional bowl system) as “a hybrid” of the Final Four and Super Bowl.
This year’s game in Tampa felt like exactly that. Unlike initial sites Arlington, Texas and Glendale, Arizona — where events were spread out across large metroplexes — fans, media and industry folks all seemed to congregate in downtown. Media Day was at Amalie Arena, a fan fest at the adjacent convention center, concerts (with acts like Usher and Flo Rida) at a nearby park. Many of us stayed at hotels within walking distance of everything but Raymond James Stadium itself.
Expect a similar setup next year in Atlanta.
Mind you, the staggering costs involved did not exactly make the game accessible to the common fan. Even the lowest-priced tickets on sites like StubHub were approaching $2,000 by kickoff.
Yes, credit is certainly due. Pricing out the common fan from the biggest game of the season is exactly what the sport was missing to make it truly special.
At least it’s more convenient for the media now. That’s gotta count for something in Montana.