Don't Get Too Excited About This CFB "Playoff" Just Yet

Sort of

The topic many college football writers and bloggers will be talking about this week is the now-approved, so-called four team college football playoff to replace the 1-vs-2 BCS situation currently in place.

Let me start by saying the BCS system, while much-maligned, basically did what it was outlined to do back when it was brought to college football in the late 1990s. The goal was to make sure that 1 played 2 in a big-time bowl game. That was it. It wasn't intended to solve all problems with the college football championship boondoggle. Sometimes it didn't quite please everyone, and there were several years where it could have been a complete mess had a couple of teams not obligingly rolled over late in the season. But for the most part, it pitted 1 versus 2, which is neat on that given night.... but which doesn't really feel like any other playoff in any sport.

You might insert the obivous joke here -- "Why is a Purdue site owner writing about college football playoffs? Pssshaw! Purdue won't be in there!" But maybe that makes me that much more qualified, since I'm unbiased and, usually, unaffected.

ESPN is happy in their coverage of this new "playoff" because they're supposed to be. Remember, ESPN isn't independent any more than the GM of the NY Yankees is independent. ESPN has a vested interest in people being excited by this playoff, so they've got writers talking about it being "celebrated" and giving "kudos." I'd say not so fast, because this isn't really what anyone has been pining for. Is it better? Sure, I suppose it's a step forward, but it's really only a playoff in the most basic sense and it's not even going to be based on obvious, on-the-field stuff. The four participants are going to be a committee.

The thinking here isn't hard to see -- let's call it a committee and everyone will accept it since the NCAA basketball tournament is so popular. But that's got 68 teams, and every year people criticize the committee for something. Now their margin for error is far slimmer. Make a mistake here, and people are just as pissed off as when an undefeated Boise plays an undefeated TCU so that at least one of them will have to go away. Or when an undefeated Auburn team in 2004 doesn't get a shot at the title.

I also don't think people are thinking about the in-the-moment differences. As the season winds down right now, we know who is in contention for the top 2 spots and who isn't. Then there are usually a few long shots who could sneak in if the chips fall right. With the new system, even if a team is unbeaten and is #4 in whatever ranking system we're using at that point, they won't know for sure that they're in.... they'll have to then sit around like fringe teams do on selection Sunday in March. While that's fine for fringe teams that barely deserve consideration, it's not fine for an undefeated college football team in November.

And what rankings will we be referring to? I'm all for not having rankings until mid-October. Let the teams play and do the first voting/calculating on October 15. No more preseason nonsense that gives some teams a downhill grade to start with and others an insurmountable uphill climb. Play 'em out, and then when you have a real idea of who's who, then rank them.

I'm also fine with using some iteration of the BCS rankings...combine computer polls, human polls, etc., an algorithm to include a factor for just dag-nab, awersome the SEC is, ya'll, and then spit 'em out. But to have everyone play to the finish line and then have a committee decide? A committee that will most certainly have sketchy ties to those who run the BCS bowls? It all but guarantees corruption and more lying to college football fans. Just like the previous asinine lies about how a playoff would "ruin" the "tradition" of the Mineke Car Care Bowl or the majesty of the Pinstripe Bowl when two 6-6 teams duke it out. Or that a playoff brings unnecessary expense to fans or interferes with all those exams that these very serious students are taking....between Christmas and New Year's Day, one presumes.

Anyway, the point is, we've been fed blatant lie after blatant lie and I just want to put it out there that I only think it's going to get worse. When an 11-1 LSU team is 5th in the nation and Utah is 12-0 and 4th and the committee decides that LSU should go, we're going to be right back where we were.

And no, I'm not one of those people who says "Well, just like the tournament, wherever you cut it off, the next team will whine." Yes, I know that, but I don't care about that issue. If you don't make it, tough. If the rules/qualifications are clear from the beginning, then you can't bitch when you fall just short. However, the rules on how to qualify for this new, wonderful, unicorn-filled, utopian playoff system are very much not clear. It's the same crap -- everyone play hard and maybe you'll get rewarded.

Only now, instead of knowing that you absolutely must finish #1 or #2, you don't know what you have to do. Win a conference title but finish #5? Go undefeated but be in a certain conference? Pay off the committee? Who knows?

The ESPN article lists the following as things the committee will consider:

The committee will consider win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion.

Wow. So W-L record is easy. Strength of schedule is hard. Are we talking a computerized, defined, hard-to-argue strength of schedule? Or those Doug Gottleib-type graphics where someone like him (think Mark May) decides what's a good win and a bad loss?

Head-to-head results? Uh, what? Like if the #5 team has beaten the #4 team, the #5 team gets selected? That's weird and if that's indeed what that means, it doesn't sound like it's too likely to happen often. Or do they mean the committee will look at opponents that teams being considered have in common? Who knows?

And, of course, there is the perceived importance of winning your conference title. I suspect this is here just to keep conference commissioners happy as well as those who think it's stupid for Alabama to be in the position to win a national title when they didn't even win their division within the SEC, much less the conference. (Yes, I know they were great -- but they lost on the field to a team that shouldn't have had to play them again.)

So there you have it! It's all so simple! A committee will make a decision.... and so all those sycophants currently chirping -- "Finally, it will be decided on the field!" -- are actually wrong. It'll be decided on the field after who gets to go onto the field are hand-picked.

Yeah, sounds like heaven.

Friday Gumbo (CMigrator copy 5)

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