During a recent phone interview with Gary Stokan, the Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO, the conversation turned into a lively and candid debate about the merits of the BCS system and the effect a playoff might have on the current bowls. Here is a transcript of the dialog between Stokan and Augusta Chronicle sports columnist Scott Michaux -- two men who clearly have very different perspectives on what is annually the most controversial topics in college football:
AUGUSTA CHRONICLE: I've never been a fan of the BCS system. I know you guys tried to get in it and I understand why, but what bothers me most about it is the idea that the people trying to keep BCS going say that if they had a playoff it would destroy the bowl system. I don't understand why they have to be mutually exclusive. You guys are thriving outside of the BCS. So why would you not thrive outside of an 8- or 16-team playoff as well? Will the bowls not always be there no matter championship system is established?
GARY STOKAN: Well, I think what would happen ... First off, the BCS was solely put together to make sure we no longer had mythical national champions. There would be a game on the field where No. 1 would play No. 2 for a national championship game. I think it's done that since 1998 because prior to that, there had only been eight times that No. 1 played No. 2. so you had all these mythical national champions.
AC: But No. 1 and No. 2 are still a bit mythical. The team that's No. 3 right now might argue that they should be 1 or 2.
GS: That's fair. You have to take a look at what's the best means of getting to No. 1 and No. 2, which is always a discussion. The goal of the BCS was to do that. In this case, you wouldn't have Auburn playing in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon playing in the Rose Bowl. Those two would have never played. So if they both won their bowl games prior to the BCS, who would be No. 1 -- Auburn or Oregon? In some case it might be one of them is mythical or you'd have a co-champion. What's worse in America than a co-champion?
AC: No champion?
GS: America wants a No. 1. That's the way we were built and who we are. That's our culture. At the end of the day, you have to admit, the BCS does that. It's better than the old system in that it puts No. 1 and No. 2 on the field versus playing in different bowls.
That's number one. No. 2 is that if you had an 8- or 16-team playoff, as you mentioned, the difficulty would be if the Chick-fil-A Bowl is not in that it would destroy us because the focus of everybody would be on this playoff. For the players -- 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids -- who now would have played 12 games, would have played a championship game in most cases, and would have played four more games in a 16-team playoff? Now you're playing more games than the pros are playing. I will tell you that if you look at the rosters of teams, those that play that many games would be decimated by the end of the season. Injuries would be rampant.
AC: But that hasn't happened at Division I-AA, though.
GS: If you look at Division I-AA, and I'm not denigrating it now, if you look at the size of the kids in I-AA and the competition that they play week after week -- compare it to playing in the SEC where you're playing against kids who are 350, 6-foot-6 -- and you're playing 16, 17 or 18 games, there's no way these kids would last that long. And you may be doing permanent damage at that age with some of the injuries that they would have.
Also, for the players who I talked about it being a reward for the end of the season, now that player is going to get on a plane and fly to Atlanta on Friday, practice in the Dome that night, go to the hotel, have a meal, watch a movie, go to bed, get up, have meetings depending on if it's a night game and then they play the game, get a shower, get in a bus, go back to the airport and go home. Now there's no experience there. May be great for a fan, but for a player it takes away any kind of experience. You lose out on that.
AC: But why would your game be any different? South Carolina and Florida State would still probably be in your bowl game if there were a playoff. Why would you still not be a reward for them? Why would you have to go away?
GS: Those 16 teams that you have in the playoff, they've lost their reward and it's become very difficult for not only them but the fans. Now you're going to ask the fans to pay their season tickets, go to the SEC Championship game, and after that follow their team four different times to play playoff games.
AC: I don't think any system would likely end up going to bowl sites for any playoff games except the championship. I think they would end up doing it at home sites until the championship game. That would be a reasonable way to it. So Auburn would host a first-round game against Florida International or whoever got the 16th seed.
GS: So Florida International fans would have to go to their championship game and then go on the road ...
AC: You don't think they would want to do that?
GS: But to do that four times.
AC: They would likely not have to go do that four times. Going to Auburn would be their bowl game. You don't think they would want to do that?
GS: I don't think they would do that for that long a period of time with Christmas in the middle. I think that would be a challenge for them financially. Look at Connecticut. I was reading in the paper that Connecticut people were finding it difficult to travel once to the Fiesta Bowl. So I think it becomes a burden on the players physically and the fans financially travel-wise
AC: So even not a part of the BCS system, you still defend a BCS system? You would rather have that than a playoff system?
GS: Yes, partly because if you take the BCS and make it a playoff and we're not in it, now all of the sudden we become irrelevant.
AC: But how do you become more irrelevant than you are as not part of the BCS now? I don't understand. I don't think you're irrelevant. I don't think bowl games would be rendered meaningless by there being a playoff just as they are not meaningless now outside of the BCS. There are 10 teams that have been anointed as BCS teams as opposed to say 8 or 16 who might be anointed playoff teams. You're outside of those 10 now and not irrelevant. Why would you be irrelevant outside of those 8 or 16?
GS: I think because the media would start to put all the effort and all the focus on the playoff system and we would become irrelevant from a bowl system because you wouldn't use the bowl system for any of the playoff games, which is what you said. We'd become like the NIT in basketball.
AC: But aren't you that now? You're still a reward and a very good reward, but aren't you already that?
GS: I go in with the perspective that we're not the NIT right now where you do go in that we're the NIT, which is fine.
AC: But why would you go in with any different perspective if you were still the Chick-fil-A Bowl, still with South Carolina against Florida State, still on New Year's Eve, still on the same TV network? Why would you be any different? The fans of those teams and the same media for those teams are still the ones who are paying attention? That's what I cannot separate myself from and why I think it's the most disingenuous argument I've ever heard from the BCS people -- that bowls would die because you aren't any different and the reward is still there.
GS: But you wouldn't be because now you've just taken the top slots for 16 teams (15 games) and you just said all of those games would not include the bowls in those.
AC: For cost and travel reasons it's not feasible.
GS: You may believe this or not, but we've been in business 43 years and some bowls have been in business for 100 years in the case of the Rose Bowl. We have built to a large extent the brand of college football. You can't dismiss that we have helped build that.
AC: I don't dismiss that. And I still think you would be valuable.
GS: In our case at least, in our 43rd year, we are going to give $6.7 million in payouts which puts us over $100 million that we have given back to universities across the country. $100 million! We've only been in business for 43 years and some have been in business for 75 years or more. You can't dismiss the contributions the bowls have made and you've got to take that into consideration.
AC: I don't dismiss it and still think you all would still do it. I still think ESPN would be you're primary network. I don't think anything would change. Your payout wouldn't change. Your charitable contributions -- you being the one bowl that does consistently give charitable contributions -- wouldn't change.
GS: I'll give you an example and you've got to admit this. If you take a look year to year from 1998 when this started to now, there is a lot more focus in Oregon playing Auburn in Glendale, Ariz., in the BCS Championship game than there is on the other four BCS games. Do you agree with that?
AC: Yes, I do agree with that. And I believe your bowl is better than most of the other BCS games.
GS: I appreciate that. But there's a lot less exposure now for those four BCS bowl games than there was when they were just the Rose, Orange, Sugar and the Fiesta bowls. Because you have a national championship game. And rightfully so.
AC: Right, because you've made that one game mean everything.
GS: That's what America wants. We want a No. 1. So now you've got the national championship game, you've got four BCS games and then you've got the rest of us bowls. So we're getting less exposure and less media attention. Now you layer on top of that a national championship game and in between that a 16-team playoff, we become, like in a caste system, really irrelevant in the landscape. You've seen what happened to the NIT. It went out of business because the NCAA playoffs grew to 65 teams.
AC: That's because they went so far that the NIT was becoming the 70th through 90th teams as opposed to the 30th through 50th teams. They were much more relevant when the ACC regular season champ who didn't win the tournament went to the NIT. That's a numbers game. I don't think the numbers would change any in college football. There would still be room for the same 70 teams to go to the postseason in football.
GS: But you become less relevant in the American mentality because America is about playing for something and winning. When there's a playoff put in place, that would be the case. We would lose relevancy like the NIT has. It becomes less interesting because the focus media-wise would be on the playoffs, and rightfully so.
AC: But every scheduling idea I've seen says the playoffs would be starting the two weeks after the championship games and resume after the New Year. The bowls would still have a two-week window around the holidays like they do now and the semifinals would be played after Jan. 1 and the championship a week later. So the bowls would not be competing in that time with any television against the playoffs.
GS: The other thing you have to take into consideration is exams.
AC: I understand that. Georgia Southern and William & Mary and the rest of those Division I-AA teams have managed to do it. I just find every argument against a playoff disingenuous. And in terms of bowls, I think you guys would be enhanced as always being a great bowl destination no matter what attention was focused on the playoffs. You're already secondary to Auburn-Oregon now.
GS: Some people would say we're third. What's developed is the national championship game, then the BCS games and then after that we hope there may be us and the Capital One who have ranked teams playing. Then you've got the other bowl games. Rightfully so because that game means more. That's where we may have a disconnect in our philosophies. I've seen it since I started here in 1998. In fact I went back and I made a comment that first year and said with teams in the BCS getting all the focus, our games have become less relevant. Roy Kramer (former SEC commissioner) didn't think too highly of that, but that in actuality is what happened. And I think it would happen even deeper, and rightfully so again, if there was a playoff.
I understand there is a desire in America always to have a No. 1 champion and I think the BCS for right now has probably developed the best way to do that.
AC: I'm never going to be sold on that argument. I still cover bowl games and like bowl games, I just don't like champions being determined by a lottery and a beauty contest. That's what it is. TCU is not as pretty as Auburn and Oregon and I understand the arguments about that. But I also think that if TCU got on the field with them, they'd have a chance of beating them. That's to me what sports in America are about, right?
GS: I contend that ... God bless TCU and Terry Patterson has done a great job and who they have on their schedule they have beaten ... but I challenge anyone to consider that if they thought TCU would be undefeated playing an SEC schedule, then I would ...
AC: But that's speculation.
GS: But it's not speculation.
AC: It is speculation. We don't know. Maybe they would be. I agree, I don't think they would, but I can't say for certain that they would not. I can't SAY that. I would not have thought Auburn, as terrible as they were last season, would be undefeated in the SEC this year. I could not have said that 12 months ago. Then they got a special player who made a difference.
GS: But they played the schedule.
AC: That's right. And who knows if TCU had had the opportunity to play them they might have surprised people just as Boise State surprised Oklahoma not long ago and Utah has surprised teams. I think people would be stunned at the parity at the top in this country.
GS: But again if you look at Utah -- I'll argue this one maybe as vehemently as you argue for a playoff -- there's no way Utah, there's no way that Boise, there's no way that TCU could go through an SEC schedule and have an undefeated season. They don't have the depth.
AC: You talk about taking mythology out of the championship, but you are projecting mythology onto this. We cannot know until they have an opportunity to do so. We're only speculating. Very few teams in the SEC ever go undefeated, ever. Georgia can't do it.
GS: Those teams would be lucky to be ...
AC: Well, we'll find out in your game next year just how Boise State can do against an SEC team.
GS: That's the difference. You're missing the point. The point is that everybody says that Utah did this and Boise did that, but they played one game on one day. If you have to go through a schedule, there's just no way that they have the depth.
AC: That's why you have to go through a playoff. If they can't go through a playoff ... that's where you let the cream rise to the top.
GS: I contend a playoff doesn't do that either because a playoff is just one game.
AC: Like a bowl is one game?
GS: At the end of the day, to have a regular season that's as interesting and as important as college football ... I mean I played college basketball and coached college basketball and I can tell you right now that college basketball is as disinteresting as anything in the world until March, until they play the ACC Tournament and until they play the NCAA. In the case of football it's just the opposite. The regular season in college football is as relevant and more interesting than any other sport in the country.
AC: And would it not be if you had to be your conference champion to get into a playoff? Would it be any less relevant? How could it be? The people at Georgia and Georgia Tech when they played each other this year -- two very mediocre teams this year -- and that game was relevant. That relevance in football is a numbers game compared to basketball. They don't play 30 times. You still get one shot most of the time against an opponent.
GS: No. But they play each week and each week is a part of the playoffs. That's what I think the media doesn't understand. We have a playoff now and it starts in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game every year. It started for LSU and North Carolina on that first weekend.
AC: But apparently it doesn't get to start for TCU then. If TCU doesn't get to be in the picture because they didn't get to play in one of the big conferences, then how are they part of a playoff? And why should the ACC be more a part of the "playoff" than the Mountain West when the ACC isn't as good, probably? Or the Big East? I'm an ACC diehard, born and raised in the ACC. But I'm not arguing that it's the SEC.
(Conversation briefly cut out here with lost cell signal before resuming)
GS: This is a subject that has so may permutations and issues to it that you can't just point to one thing and say it's mythical that we don't have No. 1 and No. 2 playing. Well, you have to take into consideration, kind of like Rubik's Cube, the other issues and permutations that go along with it. Do I think it's the best system right now? Yes. And I think by taking into consideration all those permutations it does the best job of taking us to a place where No. 1 plays No. 2 on the field.
AC: Do you think something will change and there will some day be a playoff?
GS: Well. we all know in life that very few things don't change. Life is full of changes. We've evolved from what I called the wild, wild west in the bowl business to the alliance. We evolved from the alliance to the coalition. We evolved from the coalition to the BCS. So, is there something down the road? I don't know. But life is full of change, so who knows what the future will bring.
AC: Thank you. I appreciate your time.
GS: I enjoyed the conversation and I love the debate.
AC: It's a debate I get pretty emotional about. Sorry about that.
GS: Oh no. I love it. I love passion. That's what it's all about and there are good points on both sides. At the end of the day because we have to take into account some of the constants in the formula such as the (university) presidents and their stance and the regular season being important for the conferences and their TV contracts, etc. You start to round it out and say OK, a playoff probably doesn't make the most sense because there are all these issues. What makes the most sense? I think we're there right now. Does something change in the future? Maybe there's something in the offing that might take it to the next level. Whatever's best for the game of college football, that's what I'm in favor for.
AC: OK, that we can agree on. Thank you very much again and good luck.