In a blind mad rush to further commoditize and professionalize amateur sport, we’ve taken college football, destroyed it with the BCS and then shit all over those ruins with the playoff system.
Prior to the playoff system, bowl games were decided by the Associated Press and UPI polls, an assemblage of writers and coaches. Bowl games were set with the rankings and tradition in mind. Each year, without controversy, a national champion was crowned.
From 1936 to 1997 the two polls at the end of the season didn’t mesh 11 times—an 85 percent success rate over six decades. So what if there were multiple champions crowned? That just meant more than one team had a really great bowl game and claim to a share of the title.
In the decade and a half of the BCS, there was controversy over the eventual taker-homer of the big giant football crystal ashtray EVERY year of its existence.
That’s a 100-percent failure rate.
This year’s four-team College Football Playoff™ playoff with the new upside-down-unicorn-horn-which-blooms-into-a-football-vagina-on-top trophy is merely a re-branding of the BCS’s unfulfilled wishes.
The playoff’s participants are all 10 conferences, as well as the FBS Independents (yes, they capitalize the ‘i’—whatever, they’re not the College Football Grammarians™) like Notre Dame and BYU. The new entity which represents the schools is called the CFP Administration, LLC. Nobody knows much about this corporation other than that it’s based in Irving, Texas and it’s a company that makes money off college football; so they’re kind of like a bookie, but legal.
The College Football Playoff™ site (which I think my cousin registered in like 1998) also lists a Board of Managers, Management Committee, Counsel and College Football Playoff staff as deciders in “the execution of the playoff.” Spoiler alert: apparently they kill the playoff at the end.
The computer which helps tally the results is pretty much the same—think of the BCS as the Craigslist of rankings devices: Janky, yet the only thing out there pretty much. The key voters/committee members also make up the Board of Managers and the Management Committee and the Counsel and College Football Playoff staff are pretty much the same. See: sexagenarians whose wealth of experience is likely only matched by present-day inefficiencies and hang-ups (Tom Osborne? Check. Mike Tranghese? Check. Pat Haden? Check. Tom Jernstedt? Check. Archie Manning? Check.) Oh, and Condi Rice is in too so the class photo isn’t all Haggar slacks and Cialis bathtubs.
And the format is the same. Only now, the two finalists get a pair of marquee bowl match-ups instead of one = $$$ for those schools along with the LLC.
The number four-ranked team will face number one and number two will face number three at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. The final will be Jan. 12 at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T stadium and then Arizona the next year then Tampa then back to Texas or whatever.
A look at the brief and tortured history of the BCS reveals the problems never arose from the teams in bowl games from the one through four slots—they came from everywhere else: Bowls skipping over worthy schools and bidding others with more money, bigger alumni bases or a conference cache; big-program coaches launching campaigns for their schools to leapfrog or upend smaller-conference challengers with better records; coaches forced to run up the score to mesh with the computer’s algorithm for purported excellence and idle schools leapfrogging schools who lost their conference championships—penalties for playing in to a playoff.
That’s exactly what’s happening this year, but with potentially more big players getting left out.
If the final four were announced today, it would go something like this: No. 2 Oregon would play no. 3 Florida State and in a please-wake-me-when-its-over moment for the entire nation save for one very red region east of Biloxi, no. 1 Alabama would play no. 4 Mississippi State. At least this prohibits an all-SEC final and the ratings Hindenburg of 2012: Alabama 21, LSU 0 …thirteen people watched the game in its entirety and that’s because the hotel bar remote at the Shreveport Homewood Suites was broken.
This leaves out one-loss TCU, Baylor and Ohio State—all of whom deserve to be dancing as much as the current top-four (we’re especially looking at you Florida State and the rest of the ACC’s ability to supremely fold in the second half). Small-conference but can-play-with-anyone Colorado State with one loss and undefeated Marshall would also prove the new LLC includes all conferences in name only.
But then it gets more complicated from there.
What if, say, UCLA—who’s playing the best football in the country over the last five games—were to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship on Dec. 5? With two-losses, should QB Hundley and his ability to put up 250 yards passing on anyone in a half plus a maturing O-line and stifling D, be left out? Should Oregon and the eventual Heisman winner automatically drop from relevance and never be heard from again, cancelled out by a division rival they couldn’t take two from on the road?
How about if Ohio State lost to Wisconsin in the B1G championship game Dec. 6? Both teams would end up with two-loss seasons and similarly drift into college football’s abyss because they didn’t have schools like Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, Kentucky, UTM or Vanderbilt (Mississippi State) or Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss or Western Carolina (Alabama) on their tough-as-nails SEC dance cards.
What if two-loss Georgia, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Kansas State, Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State and Missouri were to win out? Georgia and Missouri are SEC schools and yet they don’t seem to command the same respect as Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss or LSU. What if Bama loses to Auburn and Mississippi State loses to Ole Miss to deliver four two-loss SEC teams?
Hell, what if Missouri beats Arkansas at home in the season finale and wins the SEC championship by taking down Bama at the Georgia Dome Dec. 6? Should there be an ALL SEC final four? Surely Clay Travis who fake goes to tailgates and fake talks about football while he fake writes a blog for Fox would think so.
Would anyone else?
Playoffs aren’t about who’s on the cover of SI at the beginning of the season. It’s not about who won last year. It’s not about Nick Saban. It’s about who’s healthy and dealing the hot hand at crunch time. It’s the separation between who’s exhausted and falling asleep at the wheel and who’s going to ride with the gas light on for four more exits or until there’s a McDonald’s at the same off-ramp. Who can, in the course of a single drive, one big play, one step on the secondary, change the events as they should be written and re-write (if not re-right) the course of history. Playoffs are wild cards and underdogs and Cinderella breaking it down in front of the DJ booth, both arms in the air, make-up running and feet blistered and bleeding as she screams along with
Violent Femmes Taylor Swift into the morning light.
But a two-game playoff is none of that. It is a semi-final and a final. It’s the Williams sisters walking into Wimbledon and drawing one another in the first round. It’s Michael never having to face Isiah to get to Stockton. It’s Tiger and Lefty roshambo’ing for the first three rounds and teeing off in sudden death. It’s nobody showing up to claim the bronze in pairs figure skating. It’s being left off the e-vite because the former Secretary of State caught tails instead of heads (how do you think we went to war with Iraq?)
I’m not the only one thinks a two-game playoff can’t hide an at-best unsustainable and at worst criminally flawed system that colludes the NCAA with its biggest football brands. There are others. “If we’re going to go anywhere,” former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe told the New York Times at the start of the season, “I’d rather go back to the old bowl system.”
Until there’s one representative from each of the 10 conferences plus two at-large wild-card teams for a 12-team, four-week playoff, (the one through four seeds get a first-round bye) the old bowl system and its 85-percent success rate is still the undisputed champion of college football.