The Slatest

Massive Ratings for College Football Playoff Call Bush Administration’s Credibility Into Question

Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer gets tackled.
Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer gets tackled.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images and Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

For years the entrenched authorities of the college football world resisted the idea that their sport would be best served by choosing a champion through a playoff. The real reason for this is that the sport’s previously existing postseason system—a hodgepodge of bowl games misleadingly called the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS—was a huge racket in which the organizers of each bowl made tons and tons of money for running ostensibly nonprofit organizations that put on a single event each year.* (The nonprofit Cotton Bowl Classic group is sponsored by Goodyear and has its offices at AT&T Stadium in Texas.)

However, “we don’t want to change the current system because it’s already working great for our vacation homes and high-end sports cars” is not an effective rhetorical message, so the BCS hired former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer in 2009 to head up its public relations strategy. Here’s what Ari Fleischer had to say about the possibility of a college football playoff when Bryan Curtis interviewed him for the Daily Beast at that time:

“A playoff scheme would be contentious and would create a whole new level of frustration between fans and teams,” Fleischer explained.


“It’s like saying we should get rid of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and hold smaller parades all across America,” Fleischer said.

(In that metaphor, I think the lesser parades are supposed to be playoff games while the Thanksgiving Day parade is, like, the beloved Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.)

And, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

“While the BCS has its share of critics, once people see both sides of the issue, they will see why the system has its great support.”

After years of agitation and fan demand, college football authorities finally gave into the pressure and switched this year to a playoff system. The result?

Screen shot/Yahoo

The details:

College football’s inaugural playoff championship game on Monday night is now in the books as the high-ratest cable television program of all time, drawing a staggering 18.5 overnight rating, according to Nielsen.

Is it possible that Ari Fleischer was totally wrong about a position he advocated in public with total certainty?

*Correction, Jan. 13, 2015: This post originally misstated Bowl Championship Series as Bowl Championship System.