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Football playoff unlikely to come anytime soon

Enjoy yourselves, college football fans, as you watch next week's national championship game. It may be a poor substitute for a playoff system, but it's all you're going to get for a while.

It's true that, among fans, enthusiasm for a playoff has been gathering momentum. Various commentators from all walks of life, including myself, have championed the cause. Even President-elect Obama has weighed in, calling for an eight-team, three-game system.

Still, college football's powers-that-be show no interest in giving fans what they want. In fact, the Bowl Championship Series recently signed a new contract with ESPN to broadcast the title game through 2014. Doesn't sound like anybody's contemplating a change to me.

The reasons for such recalcitrance have been widely discussed. College presidents, athletic directors, and conference commissioners argue that extra games would pose academic problems for student-athletes and ruin the grand bowl traditions.

But fans aren't buying any of it. Such concern for academics was notably absent when those same presidents, AD's and commissioners added a 12th game to football's regular season and expanded the NCAA basketball tournament field to 65. And surely, we think, smart people can figure out how to crown a champion on the field and still preserve the bowl games.

No, fans suspect it's all about money - which, of course, it is, but in a way I've only recently come to understand. I call it the Shirley Eddings principle.

Shirley Eddings was the cutest girl in fourth-grade, and I had a major crush on her. But she wouldn't give me the time of day. So I decided if she wasn't going to like me, rather than have her simply ignore me, I would do whatever I could to get her attention - acting silly, pulling her hair, pelting her with spit-wads.

The leaders of college athletics view football fans collectively in much the same way. They're afraid that no matter what they do, a lot of people won't like it. So rather than try to please them, they're going to give them something to talk about, ad naseam, on drive-time radio and fan Internet chat sites.

And talk we do. From August to December, we argue and discuss and analyze to death the central questions: Who will play in the national championship game? Who'll be left out? And why, for Pete's sake, isn't there a playoff?

Which is exactly what the BCS mavens want: not for us to be happy but to be a little on edge. That's what generates ratings, not just for a single game but for months of sports programming. And that's why ESPN is willing to commit $500 million to support a system most of its audience doesn't even like.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the game. Raging against the machine isn't going to change anything. In fact, it might just make things worse.

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. Visit his Web site at www.robjenkins.com or e-mail him at mail@robjenkins.com.