Duffy spelled out national playoff in his 1974 book
College Football Share

Duffy spelled out national playoff in his 1974 book

Celebrated national college football championship follows Daugherty's blueprint

Photo: Duffy Daugherty and Ara Parseghian exchange a joyless handshake following their 10-10 tie played on Nov. 19 ,1966 in the Game of the Century at Spartan Stadium.

Prophetic Duffy Daugherty must be shaking his head with an “I told you so” grin as he looks down upon the college football world’s big night.

The College Football Hall of Famer from his 19 seasons as Michigan State’s head coach is no doubt perched atop a Hawaiian Rainbow this time of year in his adopted home state. He always was a mirthful Irish leprechaun.

Forty football seasons ago, Daugherty proposed a four-team playoff selected by a “blue-ribbon panel” of 10 football coaches and athletic directors. He suggested utilizing the four major bowl stadiums of the 1970s -- the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton – as semifinals and championship sites on a rotating basis.

In other words, just about exactly the plan that is in place.

A 13-member panel was selected to rank and choose the Final Four. Ohio State beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon whipped Florida State in the Rose Bowl. The teams advanced to the modern Cotton Bowl (Jerry World) for the national championship game Monday night at AT&T Stadium near Dallas.

Daugherty explained his idea in his 1974 autobiography, “Duffy,” on pages 140 to 143. Actually, he says in the passages he first proposed the plan a decade earlier:

“More than 10 years ago I first advocated a play-off series to determine a true national champion. I still believe in my plan, although I have modified it of late. Having a national play-off is more sensible and practical than it was when I first proposed it.”

The only difference from Duffy’s proposal and the plan that developed was he wanted to pick the four semifinalists after the traditional bowl games. But that variation says more about how times have changed rather than Daugherty’s vision.

What Daugherty couldn’t know in 1974 was the Bowl Championship Series that was in place from 1998 to 2013 gradually chipped away at the tradition of bowl games. And in 1974 the thought of 12-game regular season and a 13th contest as a conference championship was far off in the future. College teams were only permitted to add an 11th regular-season contest in 1971.

Oregon (13-1), the Pac-12 champion, and Ohio State (13-1), the Big Ten champion, are both taking the field for the 15th time this season. In Duffy’s 1974 calculations, two games after the bowls meant 14 total contests.

It should be noted Duffy was on the record favoring a playoff before the whims of poll voting cost the Spartans at least a share of the 1966 national championship as voted upon by the Associated Press and United Press International. For Generation X, poll voting was the system in place before the BCS.

In 1966, Michigan State was ranked No. 1 the first half of the season, Notre Dame No. 1 the second half, they played to a 10-10 deadlock on the field in what was called the Game of the Century and they finished with identical 9-0-1 records. That’s pretty much the definition of even-steven.

Yet the AP writers and UPI coaches voted to crown Notre Dame alone as national champ. Only The National Football Federation got it right naming Michigan State and Notre Dame co-national champions as recipients of the MacArthur Bowl.

Dan Jenkins, the legendary Sports Illustrated writer, covered the Game of the Century. His story paraphrased Daugherty’s comments to him in the days before kickoff on Nov. 19, 1966:

“Daugherty said it was shame that such games come along only every few years in college football; that there could be one every year if the NCAA would only hold a football playoff.”

As stated above, Daugherty suggested a panel of football experts. In 1966, Americans weren’t enlightened to consider a woman for such a panel, but former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was among the 13 named in 2014 alongside former football coaches and active and retired athletic directors. They included Michigan State alum Tyrone Willingham, a former head coach at Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington.

Rice grew up a football fan with a father who was a high school coach in segregated Alabama; they listened to games together on the radio. When Rice was a Stanford provost, she signed off on hiring Willingham, who became the first black coach to win a bowl game when the Cardinal beat Michigan State in the 1996 Sun Bowl. Next, he was the first black coach to lead his team to the Rose Bowl as Pac-10 champions in 1999.

I’ll wager “Condi of Birmingham” can talk college football better and more reasonably than “Phyliss of Mulga.”

However, one aspect Duffy did underestimate was the financial impact. He envisioned a $5 million payday with 100-some NCAA schools sharing in the new revenue.

“That would mean $40,000 for the badly depleted athletic budget of each school,” Daugherty wrote.
Duffy receiving trophy

Those numbers, of course, are laughable today. If modern recruiting scandal rumors are to be believed, a $40,000 payday wouldn’t have satisfied the fathers of a couple of SEC Heisman Trophy winners for their son’s college commitment.

But who could have envisioned the influence of TV and technology on the game’s future economics? ESPN is reported to have signed a deal for the College Football Playoffs that pays $7.3 billion over 12 years.

Daugherty the quipster surely would have had something witty to say about how the college football is atwitter – now there is a word ahead of its social media time – over the first national championship playoff game.

I’m guessing Duffy would only like to see one change for next season. He’d hope to see Michigan State playing for the national title with a sea of green and white in the stadium stands.


Note: When viewing this video, it should be explained Notre Dame's George Goeddeke pointed out Daugherty called for a punt with 1:33 to play on a fourth-and-4 play from Michigan State's 36-yard line. However, he fails to mention Daugherty went for a first down four plays earlier on a fourth-and-1 at the Spartans' 29. The play-by-play of the final moments is detailed in Chapter 17 of "Raye of Light."

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and Chargers.com. He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer, MLB.com, Rivals.com and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."