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College Football Playoffs: Baby Steps

Good first step, but they should have gone further

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It's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than the BCS. Fans have clamored for it for years, and finally after months of negotiations the BCS commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick endorsed a 4-team, seeded playoff system. Assuming the BCS presidential oversight committee approves the plan during it's meeting on June 26th, a 4-team playoff will replace the current BCS model starting in 2014. It's been reported that the semi-final games will be played at current BCS Bowl sites (Fiesta, Rose, Orange, Sugar) on a rotating basis and that the title game will be predetermined before each season and given to the highest bidding city. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney on the process:

We're very unified. There are issues that have yet to be finalized. There's always devil in the detail, from the model to the selection process, but clearly we've made a lot of progress.

Despite dragging their feet and being years behind on adding a playoff system, I give them credit for finally doing the right thing. However, I have several issues with the format they chose to implement. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they gave us a playoff, but it's just frustrating that after all these years, when they finally put in a playoff system; they used a very flawed model.

1. Why only 4 teams? I believe 8-teams would be the perfect number, though I would be OK with 16-teams. The anti-playoff people always use the argument, 'well if you went to 8 teams then you'd have number 9 & 10 complaining like you have 3 & 4 complaining now.' While that's true, the last several teams will complain, I'm much more comfortable leaving the 9th and 10th team out over the 3rd and 4th or 5th and 6th. For example, each year after the selection of the 68 team March Madness field, fans and pundits spend the next day or two complaining about the snubs, but at the end of the day no one actually believes those teams had a chance and ultimately no one cares. Same thing applies here, the 5th-8th teams being left out is a legit problem to me; teams ranked 9th and worse, not a problem. Could a team ranked 9th or worse possibly win the title, sure, it's possible, but I don't want to model the college football playoff after the NBA playoffs which has over half the league getting in and several mediocre teams included that frankly don't belong.

Example, last year's final Harris Poll right after the conference title games and before the bowl games looked like this:

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma State
4. Stanford
5. Oregon
6. Boise State
7. Arkansas
8. Wisconsin
9. South Carolina
10. Kansas State

I have a much bigger problem with leaving 5th ranked Oregon out, than South Carolina or Kansas State. Oregon was a legit national title contender who could play with the best teams in the nation. South Carolina and Kansas State had serious flaws, overachieved, and I don't think anyone thought they could have won a title if put in a playoff.

Hopefully this 4-team playoff is just temporary to get something on the books so to speak, and a 8 or 16 team playoff is being worked on. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott seems to hint that this was a compromise and further tweaks could come in the future:

I'm sure it won't satisfy everyone," Scott said. "Until you have an eight-team or 16-team seeded playoff, there will be folks out there that aren't completely satisfied. We get that. But we're trying to balance other important parties, like the value of the regular season, the bowls, the academic calendar.

2. The part of this proposal that scares me the most; the selection committee responsible for picking the 4 playoff teams. The selection committee wasn't the worst proposal, that would be the "only conference champions allowed" option, but I don't know if I can trust whoever is in this group. I'd prefer they use the coaches poll, AP poll, and a computer formula that factored in strength of schedule, margin of victory, etc; then average out each teams ranking. Using a small group of people runs the risk of bias affecting the results more than if you use a large voting base in a poll. Also don't like that they've said conference championships will play a pivotal role; it should be the 4 best teams, period. I don't need a 9th ranked ACC Champ or a 22nd ranked Big East champ in my football Final Four. If the SEC or Big 12 happens to have more great teams than the other conferences, so be it. This is supposed to be a way to determine a legit national champion, but if you're not including the best teams; then it loses it's validity.

Overall, I'm happy. I think they came up short in what they should have done, but this 4-team playoff model is a step in the right direction. Too bad we have to wait until 2014...

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.