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Jim Litke column: A cartel by any other name still a cartel

The cartel formerly known as the Bowl Championship Series has changed its name.

Because nothing says college football playoff better than, well, College Football Playoff.

Yeah, it’s unimaginative. The capital letters are pretentious, too. But tell me you don’t envy the marketing consultants who were called in and practically dared to give the old BCS crowd a dose of their own medicine.

Consultant A: “How about the SEC Championship?”

Consultant B: “Just because they won the last seven doesn’t mean they’ll win the next seven. Besides, it’s already taken.”

Consultant C: “The Grifters?”

Consultant B: “Same problem.”

Five minutes of silence ensues.

Consultant A: “I got it. How about college football playoff?”

Consultant B: “Hmmm. Short, and to the point, but let’s make it caps. Okay? We’re unanimous, then? ... Good, call room service and have them send up lunch.”

Consultant A: “Just so it looks like we actually did something for all that money?”

Consultant B: “Exactly. Because game recognizes game.”

In fairness, there’s plenty to like about the redesign. Most important, after two decades or so of ignoring public opinion, the blazers who hijacked college football’s postseason have finally agreed to some semblance of a playoff.

For another thing, those dreaded capital letters NCAA are still nowhere to be found. And for a third, there will be seven big games instead of five, and with both semifinals and four other major bowls scheduled for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, the sport is reclaiming what used to be its best day of the year.

But the downside is considerable, too. It still concentrates too much money and even more power in the hands of too few. By effectively gutting what used to be the Big East, the commissioners of the five remaining power conferences – SEC, ACC, Big 10, Pac-12 and Big 12 – will be able to reserve even more slots in big-paying bowls for their league members, and take home an even bigger share of the extra loot a playoff system brings in.

Plus, chances that an outlier like Boise State, or a team from the Mid-American or Sun Belt conferences, would get a title shot, or even a slot in one of other payday games, aren’t much better than they were under the previous system. Even if the hush money they’ll receive to forget about anti-trust challenges might make it a little easier to take.

There’s also the matter of choosing a selection committee to decide which teams wind up in the playoffs. The same cabal will have a disproportionate say in that matter, too. So far, they’ve hinted at something modeled after the committee that picks the teams for the NCAA basketball tournament – made up of conference commissioners and athletic directors – but with far less transparency.

That much should have been apparent when Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said one aim of the redesign was to come up with something “more like the Masters than NASCAR.” While most of us thought that reflected a desire to distance corporate sponsorship from the new name, what the good-old boy network probably had in mind was a dozen or so guys in blazers deciding things pretty much as they pleased.

Speaking of misdirection, there’s already a website up and running, collegefootballplayoff.com, encouraging visitors to cast their votes on a new logo. Above the four choices is the slogan, “It’s Your Playoff. It’s Your Choice.” Of course, if there was really any truth in advertising, that slogan would have included a third sentence: “But it’s still our money.”

The odd thing is that the really good news for fans of the game came in a much-less publicized move Tuesday at the same Pasadena, Calif., hotel. It was an announcement by ACC Commissioner John Swofford that league members had agreed to sign over their TV rights to the conference through 2027, effectively shutting off any more realignment of conferences for the foreseeable future. Three of the five other major players – the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 – already have similar agreements in place, and while the SEC hasn’t asked its schools to do the same, the league is so rich that chances any member would bolt are about the same as Alabama Coach Nick Saban taking a day off from work.

If nothing else, that signals the almost-certain end of a chaotic era. The big-name schools and conferences won’t be playing musical chairs, or shuffling rivalries like Michigan-Ohio State all over the schedule to squeeze out a few extra bucks. There’s already a name for that, and it won’t require marketing consultants to find it. It’s called a truce, and even more than a playoff, it means the game will be healthy once again – or at least until the next cash grab comes along.

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