Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Four-Team College Football Playoff Won't Work and That's a Good Thing

Compromise can be a good thing – our nation was founded on it.

Compromise can be a bad thing – it’s about to ruin college football.

When the college football powers announced that there would be a four-team playoff, there was much rejoicing. "Yes," we cried. "Finally," we screamed.

But then, reality started to set in. And it continues, up through this week as ESPN reports that the so-called “7th Access Bowl” is reportedly on life support. Yes, we know ESPN hates the Big East. But what you really need to take away from that story is that they have been talking about a “7th Access Bowl.” Weren’t we supposed to be getting a playoff?

college football playoff funny
As of today, and after several months, we know absolutely nothing about what the college football postseason will look like other than there will be a four-team playoff. How will teams be selected? Unknown. Who will select these teams? Unknown. Where & when will the games be played? Unknown.

This is the 4-team playoff that is supposed to save college football?

The problems surrounding the playoff began almost immediately. Instead of creating a true compromise in which everyone agrees to aspects that are least objectionable, college football is trying to be everything to everyone. They want to keep the bowl games intact, they want New Year’s Day to remain a college football staple, they want to create a championship game and they want to make more money.

There is one indisputable fact that everyone seems to be missing – once the 4-team playoff starts, the bowl games become meaningless. I know what you’re thinking as you reading this: the bowl games are already meaningless. You’d be correct. Now imagine them being even more meaningless.

Before the BCS started in 1998, it could be argued that all but a select few bowl games were meaningless. That was true to a point, but there were also about 20 less games so it still meant something for a team to make it. Before the BCS started in 1998, New Year’s Day was the focal point for all college football teams. Since the double-hosting model debuted in 2006, the title game is now played at least a week after that date.

In short, college football has basically spent the past 14 years doing everything in their power – and sadly, succeeding – in reducing the importance of New Year’s Day and bowl games. Now they want to save them?

Even the number of teams in the playoff is a brutal compromise that only opens college football up to even more controversy. Since 1998, only one major college team – Auburn in 2004 – has won all of its games and not played for a national title. There is a lot of chatter right now about how we could possibly see 4 undefeated teams this year in the SEC champion, Oregon/Oregon State, Kansas State & Notre Dame. Guess what? That’s not going to happen.

For the majority of the BCS era, the problem has been we've had 3 worthy teams for 2 spots. When you drop it down to #4, you open up who could potentially make a case for that spot way open. You think the controversy was bad last year when we were choosing between Alabama & Oklahoma State? Look ahead at 2014 when there are several 1-loss teams. Instead of one team screwed over, there will be 3 to 4 teams screwed over. This is progress how?

You either have a playoff or you don’t. The BCS was, in essence, a 2-team playoff for 120 teams. Even if you limit it to current BCS conferences, that’s a 2-team playoff for 72 teams. Is a 4-team playoff for 72 teams any better?

The bottom line – and I hope I haven’t buried the lead too much – is that the next iteration of the BCS is going to fail. The five power conferences have tried to consolidate power without realizing that Boise State means more than Indiana, that Louisville resonates more than Washington State or that any undefeated team trumps Iowa State.

The bowls have been saying for years that a playoff of any kind will destroy them – and they’re right. The Rose Bowl can cling to its tradition but will eventually have to accept that the world is changing. Who is going to care about that game when a semifinal is scheduled to take place that night? The much ballyhooed Champions Bowl between the SEC and Big 12 will likely never match 2 champions. It will be what the Cotton Bowl will be this year – is that really worth $80 million per year?

What boggles my mind is how no one associated with college football, and that includes ESPN, can see this coming. The current BCS model devalued the bowl system. The future BCS model will finish it.

And why are we at this point? Because college football’s leaders foolishly believe that the bowl system somehow keeps the sport vibrant.

Does anyone really think people are going to stop watching Alabama or stop packing Ohio Stadium because of a playoff system? All we really know is that fans are sick and tired of footing the bill for the BCS by paying exorbitant prices for tickets.

Despite this, I’m excited. I’m looking forward to the 4-team playoff. The sooner it starts, the sooner it begins to fail, and the sooner college football gets to where it should have been 20 years – a real playoff.

Sooner or later, college football will have an expanded playoff. Each of the 10 conference champions will get a berth. There will be between 4 and 7 at-large spots. Games will be played through December, New Year’s Day will be the home of the semifinals and the title game will be played the following Monday.

We’re almost there. We just need to suffer a little bit longer. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 20 years.

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