If there is a playoff, it will be large but it will not be soon.
Tom Hansen should know. He is 71, headed for retirement at the end of the month and doesn't plan to be around, at least professionally, to see it.
"I hope you live a long, long, long time," the Pac-10 commissioner said. "I don't expect one in the near future."
Those are some of the parting words of the longest-tenured commissioner of a BCS conference. Hansen has become one of the most well-liked persons in college athletics over a 49-year career. So when he speaks, it's time to listen.
|Tom Hansen has been a prominent figure in the Pac-10 for decades. (US Presswire)|
Hansen is speaking to us but he is also describing what is being left for incoming commissioner Larry Scott. Scott, the former Women's Tennis Association CEO, admittedly has a lot to learn about Rose Bowl tradition.Dodd: The next Pac-10 commish, Larry Scott
The conference is transitioning from good hands. Hansen knows more about the inner workings of college athletics than perhaps anyone alive. He was once the No. 2 man at the NCAA, in charge of high-level TV negotiations.
It might not have happened had Hansen not served six weeks on an aircraft carrier. Look what it got him: A great reputation as he has guided the Pac-10 since 1983. That tour as a naval reservist served him well. In 1960, a former U.S. Navy rear admiral named Tom Hamilton interviewed him for a PR job.
Hamilton, then the Pac-5 commissioner, had the idea of creating a super conference decades before the Big 12, SEC and ACC reconfigured themselves. The old nine-member Pacific Coast Conference had disbanded in a bitter dispute over rules violations. Five schools remained -- USC, UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Cal.
Hamilton envisioned the Pac-5 as a base for a nationwide conference that would include the likes of Penn State, Notre Dame and the service academies.
"That conference could have changed the face of college football," Hansen said in Keith Dunnavant's fine book, The Fifty Year Seduction.
The Pac-10 was headed that way again in the early '90s when it considered inviting Texas and Colorado, which would have spread the league's influence east of the Rockies. The formation of the Big 12 ended that discussion.
The Pac-10 remains the West Coast academic and athletic foundation of major-college sports. It has given us the Rose Bowl, UCLA basketball and USC football. It remains the only league in the country with an enforcement staff that investigates member schools.
Under Hansen's guidance the league won multiple national championships. USC has ruled the decade in football. UCLA basketball has been resurrected under Ben Howland.
While critics gripe about the Pac-10's place on television, there is no easy fix. Networks don't want to pay enough for games that start at 10 p.m. ET. If there is an East Coast bias, the league will have to live with it.
Hansen worked well in small settings. When he was hired, there was only Hamilton and a secretary. Later, he would become the second in command at the NCAA under former executive director Walter Byers. Since then, Hansen has been at the center of some of the significant changes in college sports.
He was the NCAA's lead negotiator with the networks leading up to the 1984 Supreme Court case that stripped the association of its monopoly over televised college football. Hansen is proud to have guided the NCAA through the implementation of Title IX.
He leaves office with USC in the middle of a modern football dynasty. But the school is also being investigated by the Pac-10 and the NCAA.
With less than a week left in his career, he talks about what he has left behind and what is ahead for the Pac-10 and college athletics.
Q: Do you think we'll ever see a playoff in our lifetime?
Hansen: "I hope you live a long, long, long time. I don't expect one in the near future, just because of the many, many difficulties it would include. I don't think so because of the negatives a playoff would entail."
Q: Does the man on the street even understand what the BCS is?
Hansen: "I don't think the man on the street has the full picture to evaluate ... a playoff. I don't think they begin to envision the negatives of a playoff, which would have to be 16 teams for political reasons.
"Most people want to have one more game with four teams playing. That can never be. They vastly underestimate the complexity of a playoff, the fact that you have to play on the college campuses. You'd probably kill the bowl system."
Q: So you think it would have to be 16 teams to accommodate everyone?
Hansen: "Absolutely. We would have to have automatic qualification for the 11 (Division I-A) conferences. If Notre Dame qualified under the conditions that it does, now you've only four at-large berths left and you'd have a horrible argument over those."
Q: I was reading about the 1984 Supreme Court ruling that broke up the NCAA's monopoly on televised college football. Do you think the NCAA eventually would have opened up anyway and allowed more teams more appearances?
Hansen: "We already had. I was the architect. About '82 we went to two networks. We went to cable as well. Admittedly, that was trying to stave off the College Football Association. It was clear that television was growing to the point that we had to expand."
Q: A lot of people said that was the first step toward the BCS ...
Hansen: "I think it was a weigh station on the road toward the BCS ... It was a major step in changing the way Division-I football was structured and operated."
Q: When you came to the Pac-10 was it, back then, also the only conference that investigated itself in the case of NCAA wrongdoing?
Hansen: "Yes. That had been done because of some problems in the late '70s, early '80s."
Q: How uncomfortable is that for the membership with brother investigating brother?
Hansen: "Because it's been supported well by the presidents and been thoughtful and positive, it's gone well. It's been very measured and careful.
"Our people support it because we can get an investigator to campus almost immediately. The NCAA, with all of its responsibilities, can't do that. When our investigator arrives on campus our people know him. Whereas the NCAA investigator is almost always a total stranger.
"The other [conference] members also have confidence that once our person gets in there things are going to get cleaned up. Whereas, again, the NCAA doesn't get there for a period of time. That's some of the reasons why it has been supported."
Q:That leads to the next question. When do you think the USC thing will be wrapped up?
Hansen: "Very difficult to predict because of the legal entanglements. I'm speaking more about [Reggie] Bush than I am about [O.J.] Mayo. With Bush you have a case that I think is becoming more prevalent.
"Fifteen years ago before the NCAA took the boosters out of recruiting, the boosters established relationships. They took care of the financial needs of the high-, high-profile athletes in college. Now you've got the agents doing that.
"Once the student-athlete decides to become a professional you have no leverage to use to get that person to talk to you. All these outside forces, even the university, can't leverage that."
Q: How frustrating is that in getting a fair conclusion to this?
Hansen: "It's enormously frustrating for us, for the university, for the NCAA. Justice delayed is justice denied."
Q: If it ever comes to vacating or forfeiting USC victories, the BCS commissioners might be in the awkward position of having to take away a championship. How uncomfortable would that be?
Hansen: "I think it would be very uncomfortable. Yet, over the years in the NCAA that same responsibility has fallen to faculty representatives, athletic directors and others. It has been done by peers, although not as quite as directly as competitive peers as commissioners would be."
Q: Would commissioners have the guts to take that step?
Hansen: "It's also a fact that the BCS commissioners or I-A commissioners wouldn't have been involved in any investigation or finding of facts. It's a very different, and I think quite awkward, situation."
Q: Does the Pac-10 need to expand?
Hansen: "Probably not. If Division I-A stays basically in the same structure, I don't think so. The reason a conference expands is to get more football TV homes for television purposes. Short of going to Texas, which we tried to do in the early '90s, there is no other institution that brings more TV homes than our average.
"Our TV area is about 18 million [viewers]. We need someone with more than 1.8 million TV homes. The state of Texas has about 7 percent [of the total viewers]. That works but nothing else really works."
Q: What are you going to do in retirement?
Hansen: "I'm not going to run around and consult like some of my friends who are retired. I'm going to be content, I think, to play golf and work in the yard and travel.
"One of things that is amusing. We have never spent much time exploring the Bay Area or Northern California. Because we've spent so many weekends at games and at meetings we haven't done that. That's one thing that is high on our priority list."
Q: Is the Rose Bowl still the same as it was because of the BCS? Has it retained its magic?
Hansen: "I think it has, particularly when we come back to a Pac-10-Big Ten game which is really the basis of it. We were surprised by the number of times that didn't happen [because of the BCS]. That's come back now somewhat. The addition of the fifth game was critical to that. When you hosted the national championship game, you didn't lose the Rose Bowl.
"I think the most exciting time you could ever experience was two o'clock on January 1 when the teams are lining up for the kickoff. It's almost like the stadium starts to levitate a little bit. It's a glorious, glorious thing to be a part of."
Q: Can your BCS brethren weather this latest storm from Capitol Hill?
Hansen: "I think so. I don't take that as more than politics instigated by the senators or congressmen from certain areas ... We understand that. The federal government has no business trying to regulate the postseason. I don't think there are many in the Congress that seriously consider doing so."
For the full transcript of the Hansen interview see Dennis Dodd's blog, Dodds and Ends