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A 1976 Playoff Proposal

Had this proposal been accepted the 91 season wouldn't have ended in a slit NC

A 1976 Playoff Proposal

On January 2nd, 1976 the final polls of the 1975 College Football season was released with the 11-1 Oklahoma Sooners being crowned the National Champions. The Sooners had just defeated Michigan in the Orange Bowl 14-6 and it was clear that OU was deserving of the 1975 National Championship. Or was it? The ending results of the 1975 season led to an interesting meeting in St. Louis, Missouri later in the month of January.

Oklahoma was without a doubt one of College Football's powers in the early 1970s. The Sooners had finished no lower than #3 in the country from 1971-1974 and 3rd year coach Barry Switzer entered the 1975 season with an incredible 20-0-1 record. A season prior, the Switzer's team had won the National Championship with an 11-0 record.

The 1975 season saw the Sooners start 8-0 before they faced a 5-3 Kansas team in Norman, OK. Oklahoma was a heavy favorite, but 4 fumbles and 3 interceptions helped Kansas hold Oklahoma to its lowest scoring total in 9 years. A crowd of 70,286 stood in shock as they witnessed Barry Switzer lose for the first time in his 29 game career at Oklahoma. "It ain't much fun" explained Switzer after the game, but by season's end Switzer would be the team having all the fun.

Oklahoma finished the year with 3 wins over Missouri, a 10-0 Nebraska team, and Michigan in the Orange Bowl. While the Sooners were definitely one of the top teams in College Football, they might not have been the best.

The team that finished second to Oklahoma in 1975 was the Arizona State Sun Devils, who were the only undefeated team in the country. The Sun Devils played the role of Boise State this season as they were still members of the Western Athletic Conference(they joined the PAC 10 in 1977). ASU ended the 1975 regular season 11-0 and faced Big 8 member Oklahoma who was 10-1 in the Fiesta Bowl. Trailing 14-6 at the end of the 3rd quarter, the Sun Devils were able to tie the game early in the 4th. Then in the final minutes Arizona State kicker Dan Kush kicked a 29 yard field goal to give ASU the win and a 12-0 finish. Following the win Athletic Director Fred Miller made state "I think our record speaks for itself. A 12-0 team is deserving of a National Championship"

Alabama ended the year with the longest win streak among teams in power conferences. The Crimson Tide lost its opener to Missouri, but won 11 straight including a 13-6 Sugar Bowl win over Penn State to finish the year 11-1(#3 in the AP). Following the Sugar Bowl Alabama Coach Bear Bryant went on rant about how he thought a playoff should be added to College Football. Bryant stated that polls deciding National Champions should not include bowl games "It takes all of the fun out of the bowls" he said. Bryant felt that all bowl tie ins with conferences should end and a National Playoff System needed to happen.

Bear Bryant said that he would present his playoff idea to the NCAA at the upcoming convention in St. Louis. "I don't think coaches should set it up" he said "I think it should be a board of knowledgeable people that do it. Just let five people pick the playoff teams, pair them, and tell them where to play" Bryant did say he would be in favor of using the bowls in a playoff, but didn't want the conference tie ins to continue.

Ohio State entered the bowl season undefeated and was playing a UCLA team that it beat earlier in the year 41-20 in the Rose Bowl. Woody Hayes' team dominated its regular season opponents by outscoring them 374-81. Hayes' team entered the game #1 in the country, but the loss knocked them down to #4 when the final polls were released.

Four teams could have made its case for the National Championship in 1975, but it was Oklahoma who the voters crowned as champion. This led to many coaches, media members, and NCAA Administrators to start discussion in favor of a playoff at the NCAA Convention in St. Louis.

At the time there were 134 Division I schools playing football. A school like Furman was competing for the same National Championship as Notre Dame in the mid 70s. All 134 schools in Division I would be represented at this Convention.

A group that called itself the NCAA Playoffs Feasibility Study Committee, headed by Temple Athletic Director Ernie Casale presented a playoff proposal to the NCAA's Executive Committee in January of 1976. The group also included former Texas Coach Darrell Royal. The proposal by Casale's group proposed that a 4 team playoff would begin after the January 1 bowl games concluded. The group wanted a committee to select the 4 participants on January 2. In his proposal Casale admitted it would be easier if no bowls existed, but no one wanted to hurt the bowl games. Casale said that schools could bid on host sites to determine where the games are played.

Orange Bowl President Jim Armstrong was one of the sharpest critics to this proposal. Armstrong stated that the bowl games would not only be hurt by this proposal, but it would be their "death nell". Commissioners Chuck Neinas of the Big 8, Wayne Duke of the Big 10, and Boyd McWhorter of the SEC were all against this proposal as well.

Southern California Coach John McKay was actually invited to join Casale's group, but refused by saying "Why do we need playoffs?" McKay said a few days after his last USC team beat Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl.. "Because the pros have them? We have something better. We have eight or 10 teams who win their conferences, win bowl games, have great seasons. Ten winners instead of one. Everybody's happy. The alumni are happy. Recruiters are happy. They all say, 'We're No. 1.' The coach gets a raise. The players have a good time and get a new watch. Has anybody stopped to ask the players what they think? They're the ones who do all the work.

While they were in the minority a few coaches were in favor of the playoff system. As noted above Bear Bryant favored a playoff, as did Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer. Former Oklahoma Head Coach Bud Wilikinson(at the time working for ABC) said "The Bowls as they are do not prove a thing". Wilkinson felt the bowl games were more entertainment for the players rather than a true competitive event.

Unfortunately, for playoff supporters, most of the other supporters of this plan were not men named Bear or Bud. Instead the support was coming from places like Appalachian State, Fresno State, and Idaho.

The proposal at the convention did not receive the simple majority votes that it needed and of course the 4 team playoff has
never happened. The division among the smaller programs like Appalachian State and bigger programs like Ohio State eventually led to the development of the 1-AA(now FCS) in 1978.

Had Casale's proposal been accepted we would have never had split champions in 1990, 1991, 1997, and 2003. We also might have never seen teams like 2001 Nebraska, who didn't win its conference, participate in the National Championship game. There would have been the chance to see a school like Boise State, TCU, or Utah participate in the National Championship Game. Instead we've gone through years of controversy and anger. Will this summer finally provide a 4 team playoff for College Football? Or will proposals be shot down like Ernie Casale's was in 1976. 
Matt Barber
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