A word of advice for those of you hoping for a simple, fair playoff plan to end future college football seasons: Don’t.
The men making the decision on the playoff — what it will be, where it will be, and who it will be — are too interested in their own self-interests to do what is logically correct and what is best for their game as a whole. They are motivated by greed. They are motivated by power. They are motivated to do whatever the heck is best for their own conference. The rest of college football — the other leagues, the players and coaches, and you fans — be damned.
In a simple world run by rational people who understand that a rising tide will lift all boats, a four-team playoff would be created in order to crown football’s national champion. The bowl system would be incorporated into that system in an attempt to save a little bit of tradition and, yes, in an effort to make sure the biggest conferences still make the biggest share of money. While that too could be classified as looking out for one’s self-interests, is there anyone out there who really believes the University of Nevada will be as responsible as the University of Alabama for the new TV dollars a playoff package will create? Is college football thriving because of the UCFs, North Texases and Western Michigans or because of the previous work of the Floridas, Texases and Michigans? So let the big boys keep most of the money while still providing the little guys with more cash than they’ve ever seen.
And for gosh sakes include the top four teams in the nation in the playoff. One would expect that to be the most obvious, simplest, no-brainiest part of the battle.
But it’s not.
Just weeks after floating an idea that would have created three semifinal games in the hopes of giving the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten and Pac-12 special treatment above all other leagues, Big Ten commish Jim Delany is at it again. Late yesterday, Delany told a group of reporters that the conference commissioners now working on a playoff plan are considering a proposal — no doubt backed by Delany and the commissioners of leagues like the Sun Belt and Mountain West — that would guarantee a slot in the playoff to any conference champion ranked among the nation’s top six teams. If four conference champs failed to rank among the top six, then and only then would the highest-ranked non-champs or independents be welcomed into the playoff.
It’s a busy day for yours truly so I’m just going to cut to the problem here. While last season would have ended with a playoff involving #1 LSU, #2 Alabama, #3 Oklahoma State and #5 Oregon (instead of #4 Stanford), imagine this scenario:
#1. LSU — 13-0 SEC Champion (from a 14-team league with a championship game)
#2. Alabama — 12-1 SEC non-champ (from a 14-team league with a championship game)
#3. Southern Cal — 12-1 Pac-12 runner-up (from a 12-team league with a championship game)
#4. Boise State — 12-1 Big East champ (from a 12-team league expected to have a championship game)
#5. Oklahoma — 10-2 Big 12 champ (from a 10-team league with no championship game)
#6. Ohio State — 10-3 Big Ten champ (from a 12-team league with a championship game)
In that event, the second and third best teams in the nation would be out of the playoffs, replaced by teams either a) from easier-to-win, smaller leagues or b) with lesser records. If you think that’s not a likely scenario, fine, but it would be a possibility under Delany’s “anything to keep two SEC teams from making the field” plan. And until last January, who would have predicted a two-teams-from-the-same-league BCS Championship Game scenario? What may seem unlikely today can quickly come to fruition tomorrow.
Too bad the guys making this decision can’t wrap their pointy heads around that fact.
How hard is it to simply take the four best teams in the country and put them in football’s version of the Final Four? Not all leagues are created equally. The SEC has proven that fact in eight of the last 14 and six of the last six BCS title games. It also happens to recruit and churn out more pro draft picks than any other league. And it just expanded to 14 teams making it even more difficult to win.
The Big 12, by comparison, looks to be a 10-team league for the foreseeable future. As we showed earlier this week, it’s recruiting zone is shrinking. Ditto the Big Ten. Those leagues — like it/don’t like it, fair/not fair — do not look to be on even footing with the SEC or even the ACC or Pac-12 moving forward thanks to their current footprints and the migration patterns of the modern American citizen. The idea of putting those leagues on a bigger pedestal than the one they’re already resting on is patently absurd.
Their advantage is the fact that they helped create this nation’s love for college football and that they will rake in bazillions of bucks via the new playoff system. The SEC and ACC should have an advantage because they’re 14-teams deep at this point.
Some of the smaller conferences will get an increase in funds and — with a playoff open to anyone ranked among the nation’s top four teams — more opportunities to play for crowns. Whether they deserve it or not.
Take the Big East (please). Here’s the group Boise State would have to best to win its league — UCF, Cincinnati, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Navy, Rutgers, San Diego State, SMU, UConn and South Florida. Hate to tell ya, Big East’ers, but winning that league would equate to finishing second, third or fourth in some of the bigger, tougher conferences. Winning that league and finishing sixth in the ranking should not automatically jump the Broncos over #2 or #3 ranked teams. Now, if Boise is deemed to be in the top four by the voters and/or computers, okey-dokey. But the eyeball or a computer chip will still have a say.
For the college football fan out there, you should drop to your knees and pray to your favorite omnipotent being that eventually — wisely — these commissioners will simply agree on a ranking formula that can be used to determine the playoff participants. If three teams come from one league, so be it. Everybody still makes money. If four conference champions get in, super. If four conference runner-ups make the field, fine as well. Just so long as the four highest-ranked teams are involved.
If the power brokers of college football are truly ready to respond to waning bowl ratings and falling attendance figures then they’d best start putting fans first, not their own self-interests. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.
And if the proposal Delany mentioned yesterday winds up getting a thumbs-up, here’s the scenario we at MrSEC.com would absolutely love to see play out in Year One of the new system:
#1. Ohio State — 13-0 Big Ten champion
#2. Michigan — 12-1 Big Ten runner-up
#3. Wisconsin — 12-1 Big Ten non-champ
#4. LSU — 11-2 SEC champion
#5. Boise State — 11-1 Big East champion
#6. Oklahoma — 9-3 Big 12 champion
That playoff would nix a pair of Big Ten powers in order to provide space for guaranteed league champions with lesser records. Such a scenario would also dole out a healthy dose of karma for guys like Delany who would rather do what’s right by his own league than what’s right by all leagues, all teams, and all fans… which is to just take the four best teams in the darn country and play ‘em off.