It has only been two weeks since the election, but President-elect Barack Obama is already getting pushback from some quarters in response to his policy plans—in particular, his lighthearted advocacy for a college football playoff. Obama has given two television interviews in the last few weeks in which he has discussed the need not just for a new economic stimulus package but for a new playoff system to determine the national champion in college football, a suggestion that has sparked vigorous debate in the always-spirited world of college sports. The current college football system pits the top two teams in the computer-generated rankings of the Bowl Championship Series against each other for the championship.
First, on Monday Night Football the night before the election, and then again in an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Obama playfully—but earnestly—displayed his willingness to use the presidency's bully pulpit to change a system football coaches and fans have been railing against for years. "This is important," Obama told 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft over the weekend, his tongue firmly in cheek after a wide-ranging conversation about the economy, foreign policy, and bailing out the Detroit automakers. "I think any sensible person would say, if you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season, and many of them have one loss or two losses, there's no clear, decisive winner. We should be creating a playoff system—eight teams—that would be three rounds to determine a national champion."
Obama acknowledged that the move would add three weeks to the season, something university presidents have fought against because it would keep players away from the classroom. But in a show of what some observers considered a spirit of "post-partisanship," Obama suggested a compromise, saying the regular season could be shortened to allow for more time for a playoff. "I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this," Obama said, chuckling. "So, I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do."
Since Obama first mentioned the idea two weeks ago, coaches and sports commentators have gleefully carried on the president-elect's call for football reform, but John Swofford, the coordinator of the Bowl Championship Series, issued a statement yesterday, throwing cold water on Obama's idea. "First of all, I want to congratulate newly elected President Obama, and I am glad he has a passion for college football like so many other Americans," Swofford said. "For now, our constituencies—and I know he understands constituencies—have settled on the current BCS system, which the majority believe is the best system yet to determine a national champion while also maintaining the college football regular season as the best and most meaningful in sports."
Swofford, as any old Washington hand would do, left the door open for future discussions. "We certainly respect the opinions of President-elect Obama," he said, "and welcome dialogue on what's best for college football." The political games, anyway, have already begun.