Never too early to talk college football
Posted June 13, 2013
Is it college football season yet?
No? Man, it's too hot already outside, and I'm jonesing for the start of the season so we can finally see how this new playoff is going to work.
What? Oh, we're still a year away from that. That's right, we've got one more year under the old Bowl Championship Series. Next year is when everything changes for the better.
Yeah, not so much, I'm afraid.
The four-team College Football Playoff goes into effect after the 2014 season and will NOT dramatically alter the college football landscape. In fact, it will be very hard to notice a tangible difference at all, unless you're the third and fourth teams in the final standings. In theory, the two teams that will be the next-best in this year's final BCS rankings would slot into a semifinal matchup were the system already in place. So, it's not really a playoff at all, it's just an extra game.
I can't think of a playoff that starts in the semifinals.
However, it IS better than the system that we have because we've yet to figure out a way to honor more than two major conference undefeated teams.
Auburn was denied a national championship shot in 2004 in spite of an undefeated season and an SEC title. No way on this, or any other, planet that would happen today, but it did nine years ago. The best part of the four-team system is that it is highly unlikely that this will ever happen again.
The next best part of the "playoff" is that there will be a human selection committee, much like we see in basketball, baseball and the other sports that have larger tournaments. However, the NCAA has yet to define the makeup of that group or the criteria they will be asked to consider. And, to me, this is going to be a major problem.
If the committee is made up of conference commissioners and directors of athletics, like all of the other NCAA selection committees, we're going to have a constant battle over the fairness of the system. We all know that the SEC is, by miles, the dominant conference in college football. Four SEC schools have won the last seven national championships, and four more that didn't have recently finished in the top ten of the final polls.
That is across-the-board butt kicking.
But, you know that ADs and officials from the B1G and the ACC and the Pac-12 and the Big XII don't want to see two or three teams from the SEC in the playoff, no matter how deserving they may be, so we're going to have a heated debate over favoring conference champions. This is going to create a very real problem for the playoff. Especially at the outset, the one element that the new system needs is credibility, and if we arrive in January of 2015 with anything less than the four best teams duking it out for the championship – the FIRST college football championship of this era – then the sport will be looked at as the loser.
The whole reason for a playoff, even this four-team version, is to eliminate the controversy. And, as we've seen in both basketball and baseball selections in recent years, in those committee rooms – or in limousines on the ride to committee rooms – deals get made. We can't allow that to happen if we want this to be a trusted system, unless they want to scrap the model already and just open it up to eight teams which will allow cover for the league officials to favor some conference champs and still not deny those truly deserving of a shot at the title.
Since we've been told that expanding the field is not on the table – though I promise you it's coming in the next contract – getting correct both the committee and the criteria to be considered is paramount. Whom do we trust to make the right call on the teams?
Conference commissioners and athletic directors? Aren't they busy doing other things, like commissioning and directing athletics?
Current coaches? You know, the coaches' poll has always been an integral part of the BCS formula? (Sticks finger down throat)
What about national media members whose job it is to cover the entirety of the sport? People like national college football writer/commentator Tony Barnhardt, or CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd, or ESPN's Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, though that would probably eliminate the Mid-American Conference champion.
If we're just choosing four teams, there's no way to remove doubt unless you utilize people without allegiances. Everyone has biases, we all went to school somewhere, but coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners have at least an indirect financial stake in who gets into the final four, and that element must be removed.
In a recent conversation with Kevin White, Duke's very candid director of athletics, I asked him if he wanted to be on the committee and should conference champions be given strong consideration.
His two answers: "Absolutely not" and "absolutely not.'" He had no interest in devoting that amount of time to that process, and we agreed that the only way this system works is if the four best teams are thrown into the ring to see who climbs out with the belt. If the best four teams all hail from the same conference, then that's who should play. Anything short of that is a hit at the veracity of the system.
And, in year one, even though we're a year away, the most vital piece of the equation is that we truly believe they got it right.