By MILTON KENT
A Zen master once supposedly asked a student what was the sound of one hand clapping.
While that question is almost certainly imponderable, one can clearly ascertain the sound of many hands slapping themselves on the back.
That’s what is emanating from the summit of big time conference heads, after they decided that it was, at long last, time for a football playoff at the highest level of college athletics.
Yep, the leagues in what is affectionately known as the Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA think they’re ready to put on the big-boy pants and try to decide a champion on the field.
And not be fiat or by convoluted arrangements in some high-falutin’ bowl, but in an actual, honest-to-goodness playoff game.
Whoa, there, guys. Some of you fellas just discovered talking movies and electricity, while others of you just found out about fire and the wheel. You don’t want to move too fast.
Actually, the 11 conference commissioners and the athletic director at Notre Dame, the biggest football independent, aren’t really moving all that fast.
This playoff won’t happen until 2014 at the earliest, when they’ve finished shaking down television in the current BCS -– emphasis on BS – deal.
And this playoff, as discussed last week, is four teams and three games.
So, what’s the big deal? FCS schools long ago figured out how to stage a meaningful championship with plenty of teams in the mix. It’s been 35 years since the first playoff, and there are no complaints.
Supposedly, all the conference chiefs will have to go back to their respective leagues and the university presidents and try to sell them on this ever-so-slight move into the modern age.
No doubt, some of these university czars will stroke their chins, puff on their pipes and decry the impact that implementing a playoff will have on their student-athletes with something resembling straight faces.
They’ll say a playoff will unnecessarily extend football into the spring semester and have a detrimental effect on the players’ studies, all the while ignoring the idea that FCS schools have been able to pull off a 20-team playoff system, while keeping the entire schedule contained in one semester.
They’ll pull out the chestnut that to stage a playoff will do serious harm to the integrity of the college football regular season. As if allowing a school that doesn’t even win its own division of its league to play for what passes for a championship doesn’t do that (hello, Alabama).
All these presidents would have to do is to take a look at how Towson’s remarkable run last fall into the postseason just built more drama and more meaning into each successive Saturday to see that a playoff only enhances the regular season, not destroys it.
What the big boys fear is that a true playoff, say with 16 teams, where the champions of each of the 11 FBS leagues and five at-large schools get to play, would let smaller schools get a taste of the big feast they have, to date, kept to themselves.
In their worst nightmares, the recent men’s basketball success of smaller schools like Butler, George Mason and VCU would seep into football, and that the FBS and FCS might actually have to combine into one big not-so-happy coalition, a la college basketball.
Someday, an athletic director or coach at Michigan might have to explain to its gigantic alumni base how a school the size of Appalachian State won a postseason game in the Big House. Or how a James Madison could go into Blacksburg on a December Saturday and knock off mighty Virginia Tech.
Sound far-fetched? Heck, those things have already happened in recent Septembers. There’s no reason they couldn’t happen a few months later.
Well, actually, there is a reason it won’t take place. You see, those big schools are so busy having their minds clouded by the sound of their back-patting that they can’t focus on enacting a plan that would be good for all.
That, too, is as unimaginable as the sound of one hand clapping.