COLLEGE PLAYOFFS COULD MAKE FOR AD BOWL-NANZA

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The writers, coaches and media have all had their say about who's No. 1 in college football after last weekend's bowl games. But if it were up to national marketers and media buyers, a system of playoffs would determine the rankings instead, resulting in a bonanza for the schools and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Nike recently proposed three potential playoff structures that could mean as much as $120 million to the NCAA and member schools, said Dick Schultz, whose last day as NCAA executive director coincided with the bowls. This year, bowl pay-outs to schools were estimated at $70 million.

And while it was widely believed the NCAA turned down the Nike proposal, presented in conjunction with Creative Artists Agency, Beverly Hills, Calif., Mr. Schultz told that failure to adopt the plan at this point "should not be viewed as a rejection" and some aspects are still under discussion.

Nike isn't alone. Walt Disney Co. and the Aloha Bowl have also submitted playoff plans. And General Motors Corp., already a sponsor of CBS' coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament and regular-season college football games, would be interested in a sponsorship of some sort if a football playoff comes to fruition.

"If the NCAA believes it is in the best interest of the schools and the sport, we would carefully look at any kind of such proposal," said Philip Guarascio, general manager-marketing and advertising for GM's North American Operations.

An NCAA committee, along with the TV committee of the College Football Association, is exploring a playoff. Mr. Schultz, a playoff proponent, said he eventually expects such a proposal to get the required two-thirds vote of the NCAA's 1,200 members but estimates the earliest date for a playoff would be 1997 or 1998.

The reasons for setting up a playoff system employing the bowls are obvious. Attendance and ratings are down for the post-season games, and bowl committees are finding it more and more difficult to get sponsors. But the overriding factor is money, especially given tight state budgets and lower levels of charitable giving.

"Money will talk, and there are more schools in need of money," said Alan Friedman, editor of Team Marketing Report, Chicago.

"Major advertisers would buy into it," said Bill Croasdale, president-national broadcast division of Western International Media, Los Angeles. "The sponsors for that would be the same ones who now sponsor bowl games. Automotives, athletic gear, financial services, insurance companies, major airlines and freight carriers will be there."

There's also network inter est. CBS Sports this year opted out of the New Year's Day bowl business, saying it became too expensive. But VP-Program Planning Len DeLucia said his network would react aggressively to "creation of a Division I col lege football structure."

NBC, with a lineup that included the Orange, Cotton and Fiesta bowls, was considered to have the best New Year's Day slate.

But media buyers believe NBC would trade that to have a playoff. They say such a lineup won't happen every year and whoever gets the tournament would get the championship game anyway.

Steve Sternberg, senior VP-broadcast research for BJK&E Media, New York, said a playoff would be a major event and increase ad support.

"A playoff would be one of the highest-rated post-season tournaments around," Mr. Sternberg said. "A football tournament would do better in the early rounds than basketball because college football does better than college basketball during the regular season."

"A playoff and recalibration of the bowls could add 5 to 10 ratings points to a current bowl if that game is pushed up a week [from New Year's Day] and is a semifinal or final," said Steve Auerbach, exec VP-electronic media for DeWitt Media. "That gets a healthy rights fee increase."M

Raymond Serafin and Les East contributed to this story.

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