Monson: College football’s playoff needs more change
A four-team tournament will only invite more controversy.

By Gordon Monson

Tribune Columnist

Published: July 5, 2012 01:39PM
Updated: June 27, 2012 11:49PM

“Just because everything is different doesn’t mean anything has changed.”

Irene Peter

There is some satisfaction that comes from the pivot made by school presidents and conference commissioners when they approved and announced a four-team playoff for college football, starting after the 2014 season.

It had been a long time coming.

Too long.

With a couple of exceptions, the same people who were slapping one another on the back and accepting credit for finally catching up with the will of the fans, moving the game forward and using plain good sense were the ones who had so stubbornly taken the opposite position, proclaiming the evils of any playoff format for the better part of forever.

Change is a funny thing. Advocates scream all the day — or decades — long for it, being called revolutionaries and lunatics throughout, and then hardheaded antagonists at last open their eyes to a partial view of the obvious and take the bows.

That’s what happened on Tuesday — and make no mistake, it was only a partial view.

This thing isn’t right and isn’t done, yet.

And I’m not referring to the greasy work ahead of finding a fair way of divvying up the booty bound to be generated by the culmination of a new postseason. I’m talking about the scope of the format itself.

It’s too narrow.

And that narrowness will lead to more of the same narrow-mindedness that made the ever-so-slow progress to this juncture so maddening. The present step forward will lead to more steps after the first go-round ends. But that deal finishes up 12 years after the launch in 2014, the semifinals rotating among six bowls and the title game going to the city with the best bid.

It’s positive change. But not complete positive change.

Four is not enough.

Eight is enough.

Sixteen would be epic.

As is, the yet-to-be-assembled selection committee is going to set off an annual explosion of controversy and claims of conspiracy, providing postseason championship opportunity to such a small field.

Let’s say it the way it is: Four is an arbitrary number. It’s convenient for those who lag in progressive thinking, but it makes no sense for the sake of fairness. What makes the supposed fifth-best team, based on whatever criteria is used for judging that, truly less worthy than the supposed fourth-best? The purpose of a playoff should be to get a full pool of the teams with the best seasons together to see who is the best of the best. College football is so fractured regionally, how is it that the champion of one strong league can be left out when champions — or even runners-up — from other leagues are included?

The so-called bracket creep that concerns the still hesitant is a non-factor here. When college basketball invites 68 teams, and the eighth-place team from the ACC or SEC is included, that could be a problem for the Big Dance, but only a peripheral one. The main goal has already been achieved — real contenders for a title are in the mix.

And that should be the top priority for football, too. Get the champions of the best leagues from regions around the country into the playoff, along with a couple of at-large teams. If candidates, after that, are left out, it’s more difficult to feel sorry for them.

Just four spots will stir trouble, with the same biases that kept the BCS in place for so long still cluttering the picture.

Here’s the thing, though: More change will come. Revolutionaries and lunatics will once again blend into the mainstream. Or is it the other way around?

College football’s playoff will grow in time from four teams to eight — too bad it didn’t happen straight from the jump — and maybe even to 16. It’s going to happen, just like the playoff was always going to happen.

When it finally does, everyone will look back and wonder what took so long for everything to be different and everything to be changed.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.