Conference Comes First

By Adam Caparell - May 05, 2008

Pat Fitzgerald may be the youngest coach in Division I-A at 33 years old, but the Northwestern head coach is decidedly old school when it comes to talk of the plus-one model or any type of playoff.

"I'm a Chicagoan. I grew up dreaming playing in the Big Ten and I'm a big believer in the bowl system," Fitzgerald said at last week's College Football Hall of Fame announcement.

One of the newest members of the Hall of Fame, the former Wildcats linebacker doesn't want to see any changes to the landscape of college football's postseason that would harm the bowls.

"I believe that it gives communities and multiple teams the opportunity to have special years," Fitzgerald said of the current postseason format.

Fitzgerald's conference, the Big Ten, has been heavily critcized for being one of the staunchest opponents of any kind of playoff. The conference has cited it's longstanding matchup with the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl as a big reason why they're opposed to a playoff and Fitzgerald is 100 percent behind the league.

"To me the traditions in the Big Ten we have work," Fitzgerald said. "I believe the model that we've had for a number of years and the tradition will outlast the current topic of playoff, playoff, playoff."

But the two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award winner is happy to see one change to the postseason format: the addition of two new bowl games.

"Sixty-eight tams are going to have a postseason and feel good about themselves," Fitzgerald said. "We were a 6-6 team last year and we didn't get in. And I know if we were a 6-6 team and got in and made it to 7-6 it would have been a real special year."

Many would argue that college football already has enough bowl games and that mediocre teams should not be rewarded with a postseason game, but Fitzgerald would disagree.

"I don't think you'll ever find a place where you could cut if off here and say it's fair to all the teams," Fitzgerald said. "I think the tradition, the pagentry and the opportunity for more athletes, more schools and more fans to enjoy the bowl season I think gives everyone that much more fun."

Fitzgerald's 2008 Hall of Fame classmate, former Notre Dame and South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, differs from the Northwestern coach when it comes to talk of the plus-one model.

"I would like to see an add-one, but I'm am opposed to anything that would disrupt the bowl games beacuse, what have I been to, 22 bowls, I've never been to a bad one," Holtz said. "My son (ECU coach Skip Holtz), you thought they won the national championship when they beat Boise State in a bowl this past year. It's not just about the national championship game."

But it's the biggest part of all the recent BCS controversy. Holtz isn't a fan of the decade-old system, but says there has to be a happy medium with whatever postseason format is ultimately chosen.

"There are two areas we have to satisfy," Holtz said. "One is the expereince of having a successful season and going to a bowl and the other is let's legtimize the national championship."

Last season, Holtz thought USC was best team at the end of the regular season and would have liked to have seen the Trojans get a shot at the national title. And he can sympathize with teams like Georgia who felt they should have gotten a shot as well. There were more than few years during his days at Notre Dame that he felt the Irish should have finished atop the polls - specifically 1989 and 1993 when the Notre Dame finished second in the AP's final Top 25.

Posted by Adam Caparell at 11:16 AM on May 05, 2008

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