ATLANTA -- If change in college athletics is like pulling teeth, you'd want Bernie Machen to be your dentist.
Florida's president -- and dental surgeon (doctorate from St. Louis University) -- wants to move quickly when it comes to a football playoff. Machen moved the discussion to a new level recently, convincing SEC presidents to discuss a playoff at their next conference meeting in June.
When CBS SportsLine.com sat down with him before Florida's second straight basketball national championship, Machen was more than revealing. The reason he is pushing his agenda is that Fox, he said, is pushing to extend its current BCS contract beyond 2010.
|University of Florida president Bernie Machen says he has some backing from key people. (Provided to SportsLine)|
"Which would just kill it (a playoff)," Machen said. "I made the pitch that if you're ever going to think about it, now is the time to think about it."
The structure of the playoff is merely a "detail." It's more important for him to work on the nation's presidents to go away from the BCS. Machen has a meeting set up on the subject with an upper echelon NCAA official who he won't name. Maybe more surprising is that Machen says that Walt Harrison "is totally with me." Who is Walt Harrison? Only the chairman of the NCAA Executive Committee.
The core idea: Set up a corporation that would run the playoff -- separate from the NCAA and the BCS commissioners.
"I've gotten a lot of inquiries from the non-BCS types and a few BCS types wanting to know what the hell are you doing this for?" Machen said. "Florida is creaming it why don't you just shut up?"
Yes, life is good right now in Gainesville. Machen's school is the first to own both major national championships in the same academic year. But he has stayed consistent. Before coming from Utah (a year before Urban Meyer left there), he was a playoff proponent. He remains one despite reaping millions from the BCS in the powerful SEC.
It remains unfair, he says, that SEC football weaklings Kentucky and Vanderbilt get more BCS money than his old school, which went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2004.
His anger first boiled over on the floor of the Georgia Dome in December. Florida had just won the SEC but at 12-1 still didn't know if it had qualified for the BCS title game despite No. 2 USC losing. Machen told reporters then that the system had to change.
Exactly four months later, the venue remained the same. The Georgia Dome was the site of the Gators' second consecutive national basketball championship.
In this conversation Machen takes shots at everything from Greg Oden's class schedule to the Rose Bowl's unwillingness to join the BCS. In sometimes-colorful language (cleaned up here for family computers) here it is, just like a good dentist.
Quick and painless.
CBS SportsLine.com: Explain your reasons for endorsing a playoff
Dr. Machen: I think it's still a long shot but we have had two interim meetings -- one in October and one in March. At that (March) meeting I tried to make the point that this is something that if we don't deal with it, we're going to be locked into the BCS for another eight to 10 years.
Fox is pushing to renew right now. They want to renew what we have even though the deal has four more years (actually three) to run. Normally you would start the negotiation a year, 18 months from now.
There is some interest in Fox in signing us up for long (term), which would just kill it. They just want to lock up the property.
I made the pitch that if you're ever going to think about it now is the time to think about it. I can't tell you how many votes I got or anything. My pitch is simple. This is in the best interests of college football. There is a lot of money that is not on the table that could be on the table.
We need to get some serious thinking. I've talked to several of the bowls. If we're going to do it we need to give the bowls a chance to be a part of it. To be honest, the only entities to be stuck about it are the Big Ten and the Pac-10. They like their sweetheart deal with the Rose Bowl
If the rest of us decide to go this way we'll see what they have to do. They've actually got a better deal than the rest of us with the Rose Bowl. ...
When I started talking about it on the floor of the stadium (at the SEC title game), I was lamenting the fact that we just won the SEC and I don't even know if we're going to the (gosh darn) BCS. It seemed ludicrous. ...
I'm going to meet with the NCAA because they're officially against it. I'm not going to tell you who, but I'm going to meet with the power structure before June.
SPLN: How would your playoff work?
Dr. M: Because of the baggage the NCAA has, it might hurt us to push it through the NCAA. But you could set up your own LLC (limited liability company). You could have an entity that is not part of the NCAA that would run it, but would run it with the kind of principles the NCAA uses to run the basketball thing.
I want something that represents all of college football. The NCAA obviously could benefit from it. I don't think they need to benefit from it financially the way they do in basketball but they could bless it. If we ever got it to the point of taking it to the members, the members would support it.
SPLN: If you do something like this, let's say a four-team seeded playoff, would you necessarily have to have the NCAA's permission?
Dr. M: No. ... I wanted to assure the NCAA (of) the principles of inclusion. Helping all of college athletics is what I'm about. I'm not trying to fatten up the coffers of the SEC.
SPLN: But I assume you don't want teams playing for "units" like they do in the NCAA Tournament.
Dr. M: Everybody can benefit ... Kentucky and Vanderbilt and all these teams that don't do anything get a share of (the BCS) money, whereas the Utahs of the world get nothing.
(Note: Under the new deal, non-BCS leagues as well as I-AA schools get increased money from the BCS).
I'm also going to meet with some TV guys to find out what the real bogey is that's not on the table. And is there a format that brings more money to the table? All you have now is conjecture about whether there is really more money out there. I think there is.
SPLN: What about the BCS commissioners?
Dr. M: They say they want to work with me but they don't. They want to protect the BCS. So I'm going outside the BCS. The only way I think it could happen is if a league like the SEC said we want to (go this way).
Except for the Big Ten and Pac-10, we could probably get most of the other conferences to give it a shot.
They are not helping by going off and making their own deal with the Rose Bowl. They are against conference playoffs. I would rather do away with the 12th game and keep the conference playoffs. The conference playoff brings in $1 million per team in the SEC. That's a big deal.
A lot of people are coming my way because they hate what the 12th game has done. To have to (schedule) a Western Carolina ... doesn't help the fans, it doesn't help the university, it doesn't help Western Carolina other than the payday.
If everyone is really worrying about the amount of time the kids are (putting in), that's bogus, man. Look at baseball. Baseball is essentially a 12-month deal. The people who are standing on the mountaintop for that are not really on solid ground.
SPLN: The skeleton is actually in place for a four-team bracketed playoff. The problem is waiting that extra week between the other major bowls until the championship game.
Dr. M: There's no taste for waiting this pregnant pause week until the championship. That pushes the limit of how late you can go. We had started school that day (Jan. 8). If you back it up and move the 12th game out of the picture, you've got early December (to play). I don't see it as a real issue.
SPLN: You have stayed consistent because you were saying this at Utah. Now you're at a power school in a power conference.
Dr. M: ... Utah is out there busting their chops, putting a competitive product on the field. I don't want to pick on them but let's just say the non-competitive SEC teams were staying at home and getting a bigger bowl share.
Ultimately, I think that's what's going to hurt college football. You're going to have these fat daddy conferences. The rest of the place is going to fall off the table.
SPLN: How do you incorporate the BCS bowls into a playoff?
Dr. M: That's a detail. I've talked to the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl. If we're going to do this in my lifetime we've got to get the bowls at the table. They said, "We'd be happy to be in (just) don't make our games meaningless."
SPLN: Do you sense any movement among your presidential peers?
Dr. M: I'll have the NCAA conversation here in the next couple of weeks. I've got to get the money thing, really, before I can talk.
Give me a number: Is it, $10 million, $20 million, $50 million more that we can put on the table? ...
So what happens, we have this meeting in June. They might tell me to go fly a kite. They might tell me to take it to the next step. I'm not sure what the next step is.
SPLN: The unstated stance of the commissioners is that they don't want schools that don't emphasize football gaining from those that do. In the middle are schools like Utah and Boise State. What it all comes down to is dividing the money. In other words, how much does the Sun Belt deserve?
Dr. Machen: Let's go to basketball ... You probably have 150 to 200 teams benefiting in a financial way out of 320 (there are 336 teams in Division I). I don't really want to see an influx of people on the bottom of I-A thinking they're going to get free money.
If you look at distribution of basketball money, I would say 60 percent of the teams get something out of it. I would be happy with that.
SPLN: On another subject, is there any way to explain the athletic success at your school the past two years?
Dr. M: More and more schools are going to try to copy our model. It's a family oriented, team-oriented system. There are kids who started on some tournament teams this year that we backed away from because of the academics.
We're the ones who started this thing about the storefront schools (giving away degrees). I started that because I got (mad) that some of our competitors were taking kids that we knew didn't belong in college.
What's going to happen I hope is that everyone starts to realize, you can win the right way. You can graduate your athletes.
SPLN: That raises another question. What did you think of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's open letter comparing the Big Ten to the SEC?
Dr. M: It's ridiculous. What a homer. I was at Michigan (as provost and dean of the school of dentistry). I know how they get in at Michigan. Don't talk to me about the Nobel laureates at Michigan.
Just look at Greg Oden's class schedule this semester. The Big Ten has fought the conference playoff, then they (complain) because Ohio State doesn't have a game in 48 days. (Actually 51 between the last game of the season and the BCS title game. The Big Ten traditionally ends its regular-season football schedule before Thanksgiving).
Whose fault is that? What's happened is the world has moved, the Big Ten is no longer calling the shots.
SPLN: Does the rest of college athletics have a chance against Florida?
Dr. M: My fans here are telling me that the Ohio State thing has gotten ugly. They have us on their radar screen. They dislike us as much as they dislike Michigan.