Iowa’s Fry Revives an Old Battle : Hawkeye Coach Insists Colleges Need Playoffs

Times Staff Writer

For some reason, Iowa Coach Hayden Fry is in favor of a playoff system to determine a national champion in college football.

It may have something to do with the fact his Iowa team probably played itself out of the championship race without ever taking (or fumbling, for that matter) a snap from center.

The way Fry tells it, his Hawkeyes, who meet UCLA Wednesday in the Rose Bowl, finished their season with a win over Minnesota on Nov. 23 and jumped to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll the next week.


But two top-five teams, Miami and Oklahoma, hadn’t finished their seasons.

Miami clobbered Notre Dame, 58-7, the following Saturday and, a week later, Oklahoma beat Southern Methodist, 35-13. In the AP’s final regular-season poll, Iowa (10-1) dropped to fourth behind Penn State, Miami and Oklahoma.

What? That’s exactly what Hayden Fry was wondering.

“We’re just as good if not better than any of the other three teams involved,” Fry said Monday at a Rose Bowl press conference. “I don’t think anyone really knows who’s No. 1, 2, 3 or 4, or even 5 or 6. That’s why we have to have a national playoff. There would still be some questions about it, but it would be a whole lot better than it is today.”

It should be noted that, if not for one slip-up against Ohio State, Iowa would be playing for the national title Wednesday, anyway.

Fry even has a playoff format in mind. He all but brought the blueprints and chart graphs with him Monday.

As Rose Bowl officials looked on, Fry said his plan would not change the present bowl system. As Rose Bowl officials sighed, Fry explained that the winners of the four major bowls (Orange, Cotton, Sugar and Rose) would meet in a post-bowl tournament.

There would one semifinal round followed by the title game a week before the Super Bowl.

“It would only involve four teams for one week and two teams for the second week,” Fry said. “I think it will happen eventually, but I’ll probably be out of coaching when it does.”

The argument you’ll get from bowl officials, of course, is that a national title game would lessen the importance of their bowl games, which are surviving quite nicely as is, thank you.

But Fry said something must be done to rectify the current poll system. He points immediately to his team, which ranks in the top five nationally in almost every offensive and defensive category.

Yet, unless they get a lot of help, the Hawkeyes aren’t going to win the national title. Their only chance would be to knock the holy roses out of UCLA and then hope No. 1 Penn State and No. 3 Oklahoma play to a tie in the Orange Bowl. And then, of course, Tennessee would need to defeat No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl.

And even if all that happened, Iowa still wouldn’t have a lock on No. 1.

“The best thing that can happen is for all the guys (AP voters) to abstain from drinking anything the night before the vote,” said Fry, who seemed almost serious.

Fry also added that the present poll system almost begs one team, say a Miami, to run up a score against another, say, oh, a Notre Dame, in order to impress the judges, so to speak.

And you’d be guessing right if you think Fry isn’t thrilled with the possibility of Miami ending up No. 1.

“Miami?” Fry said. “You want to examine their schedule? They talk about playing six games on the road. Wonderful. But who did they play?”

Apparently, Fry isn’t all that impressed with the Miami schedule that included Rice, Cincinnati, Colorado State, East Carolina, Louisville and Notre Dame.

As Fry rambled on, UCLA Coach Terry Donahue, who did manage to sneak in a few words at the press conference, listened intently.

And when all was said and done, he politely disagreed with Fry.

“I’m not in favor of a national playoff system,” Donahue said. “Until you standardize all entrance requirements and until you tell me that the players are going to profit from another game and how, in a quarter-school environment you can do it, I just don’t favor it.

“But I don’t want to debate over it, because we haven’t been much of a factor in the national championship, anyway.”

Of course, Donahue was missing the whole beauty of Fry’s plan. With the pact that automatically pits the Pacific 10 and Big Ten champion in the Rose Bowl regardless of national ranking, UCLA could win the national championship without ever cracking the AP’s Top 20.

OK, so there are some kinks to work out.