After years of hearing powerful voices — those protecting their own self-interests — solemnly claim that a college football playoff would be not only impossible to do, but also destructive to the game and the student-athletes and schools that play it, it’s kind of funny now watching the actions and hearing the discussions ricocheting around conference meetings about the way a four-team playoff should be implemented.
The answer is that it shouldn’t.
An eight-team playoff is the way out of the mess the BCS created over the past decade and a half. It won’t happen, at least not initially, because the same people who said any playoff was a bad idea are the ones saying an eight-teamer is the wrong way to go.
Change is a crazy thing. Yesterday’s antagonists become today’s protagonists, only as long as circumstances suit their wants and needs — and stacks of cash fill their bank accounts. But if college football’s postseason is to be “fixed” — oops, maybe for our purposes here we should say “repaired” — then why not do it the proper and thorough way? Isn’t that what Dad always said? If you’re going to do something, then do it … right.
Warren Buffett is reported to have said: “In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
Any plus-one system or even a four-team playoff is too limiting for the opportunity that should be offered at season’s end, especially in the college game, where teams and leagues are regionalized and there is no real vehicle in place to balance out that fractured status. And that limitation is at the heart of the current argument about how to fill out a Final Four dance card.
The Pac-12, the Big Ten, the ACC and the Big East want conference champions in the playoff. The SEC and the Big 12 want the four top teams, regardless of position in league standings, as determined by some ranking formula or by a selection committee. That’s likely born out of the SEC’s dominance of late and the league’s interest in getting more than one team in, at the expense of another conference’s champion.
Reasonable people — are there any left in the college football postseason debate? — can find merit in both arguments. And, beyond the concepts of fairness and equal opportunity, not to mention the inadequate nature of relying on opinions and formulas, that’s why the notion of four teams isn’t good enough, isn’t comprehensive enough.
Opinions and formulas will always play some role in an exclusive invitational tournament, but if the base is a bit broader, then chances for error in that regard are reduced. If eight teams — say, six conference champions and two at-large teams — were given berths, the odds of leaving a truly worthy team out would be considerably lower.
Those who worry about sucking the importance out of the regular season by increasing the number of qualifiers for the proposed playoff shouldn’t worry. It’s not like the NCAA basketball tournament where seven or eight teams from one league and six or seven from another can be included.
For football, it’s only a tiny fraction of the whole that would make it, and the emphasis on winning a league title — and doing so impressively because not every league champ would qualify — would be increased, not diminished. Conference races and league championship games would become insanely significant, all adding to the beauty of the regular season.
The two at-large berths would be so valued and so limited, it would create a dual benefit: 1) a great team from a great league with extraordinary tough levels of competition could finish second and still have a shot, and 2) an early off-game loss by an otherwise great team wouldn’t automatically leave the rest of the regular season without meaning, as far as national championship designs are concerned.
Which is to say, an eight-team playoff is inclusive enough to offer opportunity for the teams with fantastic seasons, from a variety of leagues around the country, and exclusive enough to maintain the import of what goes on from the beginning of September straight through November. It also gives room for an independent that has a stellar season.
It makes sense. It works. It’s fair.
Which are the exact reasons it won’t be put into place — at least not until those self-important people who are so adamantly against it, the same people who were against any kind of playoff from the beginning, quit patching holes in their chronically leaking boat and get aboard a vessel that floats.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-6 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.