Gordon Monson: Utah got only part of its just due, BYU got a raw deal, and Utah State could have gotten more

It’s past time to expand the College Football Playoff, the Tribune columnist writes

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham celebrates with Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80). The Utes defeated the Oregon Ducks to win the 2021 Pac12 Football Championship title at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Dec 3, 2021.

The news isn’t breaking, but the college football postseason is broken.

It’s always been broken.

The fact that it remains so in the year 2021 is … well, sad and sorry.

And the relational examples of what’s happened to Utah, BYU and Utah State are all relevant to the conversation.

You’d think by now the powers that be atop the college game would have figured out a better way to wrap things up, could have found a more equitable manner in which to properly finish a season-long endeavor that stirs so much interest and generates so much money.

Just because there is so much interest and money is no excuse for allowing the jumbled, inconclusive postseason to go on as is, particularly since the game is so regionalized, so fractured. It needs a comprehensive conclusion, one that brings everything together, answering all the questions.

College football shouts and screams for it. But too many powerful ears are still not hearing. Too many bigwigs are concerned only about their own realms, and not the greater good.

There are plenty of excuses made for why a better system isn’t already in place … say, an eight- or 12- or 16-team playoff at the FBS level. We’ve heard the excuses, and none of them are reason enough to stay stuck on an abbreviated four-team mini-tournament, while the NY6 bowls are filled out by a mix of tradition and opinion.

Listening to the annual pretzel logic used by the selection committee for who gets opportunity at the end and who doesn’t, who’s ranked where and who isn’t, is … salty and twisted.

Let’s localize the narrative.

BYU compiles a record of 10-2, going 5-0 against the Pac-12, 6-1 against P5 teams, and ends up ranked No. 13, outside of a chance to play in a NY6 game, left instead to play UAB — who? — in the Independence Bowl. The Cougars deserved better, and maybe when they are part of the Big 12, they’ll get what they deserve. But with the current system, you never know.

Utah finds itself on both the advantageous side of that system and the disadvantageous. The committee ranked the Utes at No. 11, which is good for them, considering their 9-3 record, and the fact that they lost to BYU and San Diego State. Oregon State, too. It was nice that the committee recognized the improvement made by the Utes, but also puzzling that the initial part of their season was given a pass.

BYU is upset about Utah leaping past it, despite the Cougars’ head-to-head win.

This is where the discussion gets frustrating, not favoring one rival over the other, but rather that it is necessary to be had, at all.

Look, BYU had a fantastic season. It should have a fantastic opportunity at the end of it, too. It does not, and that sucks. Going to Shreveport against the Blazers, who were the second-place team out of CUSA’s West Division, on Dec. 18 as a reward is nothing less than a kick to the onions.

But Utah had a beautiful, memorable season, as well, and the Utes earned their spot in the Rose Bowl as Pac-12 champions to face Ohio State. Their play over the last 10 games was darn-near flawless. No issues here with them playing in Pasadena on Jan. 1. But even that’s not enough. They should have a shot at a national championship, alongside.

Every P5 conference champion should be in the playoff, and maybe other league champions should also have a chance at it, depending on circumstances. Stellar at-large teams should be in the mix, too.

The league winners are no-brainers, regardless of what their records were during the regular season. As mentioned, the college game is regionalized, making it difficult to determine with exactness which team had the toughest row to hoe, which team is most worthy.

Bring it together in long form to see for sure.

If it were done that way, perhaps all three of Utah’s FBS teams would make an ideally expanded playoff. Utah State, as champions of the Mountain West, should get fair consideration.

I get it, opinion would still come into play, but the firm candidates every year would be set, and then a compelling scramble for the other slots. An eight-team playoff makes room for five power champs, three at-larges. A 12-team deal follows that form with more room. Sixteen teams? That’s almost too good to even imagine.

Three words: Make. It. Equitable.

Controversy would swirl even in a 16-team format among the last teams in and the first teams out. But scooping up that number of teams would likely include all the candidates with a legitimate shot at the national title.

As it is, we get the four privileged selections, and then a smattering of teams in the NY6 bowls, some benefiting from traditional set-ups, some gaining the eye and the favor of the selection committee, as it sees fit.

That committee justifies its position by way of ranking teams in an order that, in the spirit of George Orwell, proves that certain programs are more equal than others.

That’s not fair. It’s not just. It just is.

Same as it ever was.

The challenge for conference commissioners and other brokers in the college game is to get rid of the excuses, get rid of the reasons not to expand the playoff, get rid of the justifications for twisting logic, and find solutions that work for the greater good — and for the fans of college football.

FCS teams have been enjoying an expanded playoff for what seems like a thousand years now. Student-athletes don’t flunk out of school because of it, they handle the physical grind just fine, and they crown a proper champion.

At the FBS level, there are complications, such as scheduling and conference championship games. FCS teams don’t have to deal with established bowls, bowl contracts and bowl organizations that are looking out for and protecting their own business interests. But all of that could be ironed out with proper coordination and cooperation. Top bowls could be weaved into the expanded playoff, other bowls could continue to exist, inviting teams outside the most accomplished.

There’s a more deserved place for darn-near everybody.

Opinion and controversy will never be completely eliminated.

But they can be tamped down a bit.

Wild swings, diverse situations, like these last chapters of 2021, like what is happening now to Utah and BYU, respectively — two fantastic teams that had similar seasons, one being rewarded, but potentially not enough, the other being punished too much, is messed up.

Happens every year somewhere in college football’s postseason.

It’s not breaking news, but it is broken.