Random thoughts upon realizing football season is over, at least locally, and just how much that leaves one at loose ends:
1. More, please
More, as in more playoffs.
If Thursday’s inaugural College Football Playoff semifinal games proved anything, it’s that having to win a game to get to the big game was an idea that took about a decade too long to come to fruition.
Ohio State’s 42-35 upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl ranks among the two or three most exciting games in the bowl’s 81-year history, played in a terrifically electric atmosphere. And if Oregon’s 59-20 Rose Bowl rout of Florida State wasn’t exactly a thriller, it was a revelation of how good the Ducks are.
More than anything else — they meant something. No matter if it came down to a Bama Hail Mary or if it was a blowout, the winners earned their way to the championship game rather than having a pair of questionable polls do it for them.
And if a four-team bracket was great, wouldn’t eight be even greater? Yes, indeed.
The fact that the No. 4 team won makes valid the argument that Nos. 5-8 could have also done so. Beyond eight is too much, though.
Understand that this is coming from someone who has thought that there were too many obstacles to expanding the playoffs and that the men who control the game, namely the commissioners of the five power conferences, would keep using those obstacles as an excuse to squelch conversation on the subject.
That’s why they have supposedly locked themselves into a 12-year contract to stay at four teams. They were too afraid they’d join in with the public and like the idea of more too much.
And the public did. The semifinal games were the two most-watched programs in cable TV history. Alabama/Ohio State more than doubled the viewers of the Alabama/Oklahoma Sugar Bowl a year ago.
OK, so we’re going to eight. Here’s the best way to do it:
-- Keep the regular season as it is: 12 games plus the conference championships. No sport willingly contracts its season. But “encourage” an end to games against Football Championship Subdivision schools so that there are fewer meaningless exhibitions for fans to endure.
-- The eight teams in the playoff are the champions of the five power conferences, plus three at-large teams, chosen by the same committee doing all of the picking now. The committee also would seed the teams.
While conference championship games can and will produce occasional “wrong-winner” upsets, so be it. If you’re good enough, you’ll still get in. This is a pretty exclusive group.
-- Play the quarterfinal games on campus sites on the weekend before Christmas. This rewards the top four teams while cutting down on fan travel and makes for an NFL-style playoff atmosphere.
Supplying an equitable amount of tickets to the visiting fans will be tricky, but there’s got to be a way to make it work — maybe a lottery. Besides, the TV experience vs. sitting outside in late December isn’t a fair fight.
Don’t worry about the teams missing their “bowl experience,” either. At this level, the players don’t care. In fact, replace the bowl swag with the cold, hard cash the players deserve for playing an extra game.
Same way with conflicts with exams. Figure something out.
-- Play the semifinals at the current six CFP bowl sites, either Jan. 1 or the next-best date, rotating them through a three-year cycle for four years, if you find two willing to pay the freight, and you will.
-- Play the championship game as now scheduled — on the second Monday in January — continuing to put the site up for bids, even if some cities are finding the asking price exorbitant.
So there it is. You guys in charge can fill in the details.
Make it happen, though.
2. Another suggestion
While the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl were ratings winners, they were played in their traditional New Year’s Day time slots, when even casual fans are used to watching college football.
Next season’s semifinals at the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl will be played on New Year’s Eve. While CFP officials have expressed confidence that they can create new viewing habits for that day, they must be counting on lots of folks picking football over parties.
Here’s an idea: Jan. 2 is a Saturday, and there are no NFL games that day because the league has everyone finishing the next day.
Since ESPN is pulling the strings anyway, switch the Cotton and Orange with whatever is being played Jan. 2 so that the semifinals get their rightful closing spots and the Rose and Sugar don’t feel so anticlimactic.
3. Bully for Boise
The Group of Five schools should all send Boise State a bouquet for keeping their CFP bowl status secure by beating Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.
Boise was rated No. 20 in the CFP standings, below the former BCS-buster qualifying standards and 10 spots below the Wildcats. But by winning, the Broncos showed that, although Group of Five schools were only 4-75 against bowl-eligible Power Five teams in the regular season, they tend to do better in one-off bowl games. Louisiana Tech over Illinois and Houston over Pittsburgh are further examples.
Don’t look for a Group of Five team in the playoff as long as they stay at four teams, or maybe even eight. But don’t look for their CFP berth to be challenged anytime soon, either.
4. Super Sugar
While bowl games may be fighting a losing battle to remain relevant, nobody does what it does better than the Sugar Bowl.
Much of the hospitality activities for the visiting teams and their travel parties are hidden from public view, which is the way the Sugar Bowl has long done it and is, especially for playoff teams, the way they want it.
“This good thing about the Sugar Bowl is that they don’t wear you out,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said two days before his team won. “There’s certain other bowls that you just get your tail kicked in because it’s, ‘Go do this. Go do that.’ The Sugar Bowl is a different feel, and I want our players to know that.”
Of course, it helps to have two great visiting fan bases. The Ohio State University and the University of Alabama represent passion and support for their programs at the highest level. Combine that with all New Orleans has to offer, and it was a win-win for everyone.
CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock last week said cities wanting to bid on future championship games should “bring their ‘A’ game.” So far, the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans definitely have.
5. Looking ahead
The question remains: For the next two seasons, when the Sugar Bowl pits the top non-playoff teams from the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12, will the turnout be the same?
It all depends on the level of excitement about being in the game — both by the teams and their fans.
Bowls still mean much to schools when they’re seen as a reward for a good season, not a consolation prize for missing out on playing for the title.
Among the New Year’s Six games, the Sugar Bowl probably has the best chance for success because of the proximity of the leagues involved, but we won’t know the answer to that question for another 362 days.