STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's the year college football finally adopts a playoff format. And our commentator Frank Deford says it's too bad that a moment that should delight fans is overshadowed by scandals.
FRANK DEFORD: For years, the great brouhaha in college football was its lack of a real playoff. And at last we have one, the four qualifying teams to be announced this Sunday. The irony is that the erstwhile playoff controversy finally is resolved in the year when football has never been more controversial - concussions, players beating up women and children, misbehaving - to use a polite adjective - misbehaving players getting sweetheart treatment from adoring police and coddled - to use another polite adjective - coddled college players getting sweetheart treatment from adoring professors, college football players looking to be unionized, the NCAA losing a huge suit involving the exploitation of players, and I've probably forgotten another scandal or two.
In just the past few weeks, the University of Michigan came under renewed criticism from the school's president himself for academic shenanigans with athletes, and Roger Goodell, the NFL's Humpty Dumpty commissioner, got made a fool of again by the courts. And yet - and yet - irony upon irony - the mere fact of the college football playoff only makes the sport more attractive, and we can be assured that this will be indisputably the most popular year in American football history. When it comes to football, just give the fans what they want and never mind the niceties of academia, neurology and jurisprudence.
The four playoff qualifiers will be chosen by a venerable committee of 12, which is rife with pigskin conflict of interest. Five of the selectors are athletic directors, plus there's also a retired AD as well as a retired conference commissioner, retired sports writer, retired coach, retired NCAA official, plus Condoleezza Rice, the go-to female for giving various old boys in sports a sanitizing woman's presence. If you'll recall, Ms. Rice was one of the first two women to be accepted as members of the Augusta National Golf Club. If I were Roger Goodell, knee-deep in job insecurity, I'd keep a weary eye out in her direction.
Ah, but prominently missing from the playoff committee is someone who could be the most honest expert. I was amused a few weeks ago when all those athletic directors had Mississippi State on top, with Alabama number five, as the two Dixie juggernauts prepared to meet. However, the Las Vegas line not only had Alabama the favorite, but gamblers even made Alabama the heavier favorite. And, of course, Vegas had it right, and the buddy-buddy committee was wrong as Alabama beat Mississippi State. The 11 gentlemen and one lady on the selection committee would be wise to leave some of those fancy credentials at the doorstep Sunday and simply check with the oddsmakers in Vegas before they meet to make history.
INSKEEP: That's commentator Frank Deford making history here every Wednesday.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.