Back in the early days of the BCS, then-Southeastern Conference commissioner (and BCS godfather) Roy Kramer dismissed criticism and controversy over his fledgling system by saying, “More people are talking about college football.”
Well, here we are 16 years later, the top two has been doubled to a Final Four and there’s twice as much discussion about the sport now than there was back then.
A four-team playoff keeps more teams in the conversation longer because a loss, especially early in the season, doesn’t eliminate their chances. Consider that in 2011 Oregon lost to LSU in its opener and then basically dropped out of contention although ultimately finishing fifth in the final standings while winning the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl.
With a playoff, Ducks fans would remain engaged.
The first field for the College Football Playoff will be announced Dec. 7. Between now and then, fans — both casual and hardcore — can read, hear, see and debate everything and more about the process, the merits of the contending teams and especially how, even though we’re only in Year One of a supposedly locked-in plan, tweaking — a favorite term from the time when the BCS was getting bashed from pillar to post that finally played out because the conference commissioners ran out of things to change — is inevitable.
Credit it all to the information explosion.
Back in 1998, the first year of the BCS, less than half of the populace was using the Internet. Twitter, which can carry a conspiracy theory and instantaneous outraged reaction around the world 20 times before all 140 characters are used, hadn’t been envisioned, as had neither dozens of other staples of our wired daily lives.
The weekly release of the BCS standings was a Sunday afterthought.
Now, ESPN waits until Tuesday, giving everyone time before, during and after to chew on things. The old commish’s wildest dreams have been fulfilled.
And yet, because everything old is new again, there’s as much misinformation over how things work with the CFP as there was with the BCS way back when.
Ever heard of “game control” until a couple of weeks ago? At least that’s easier to understand than “quartile rank.”
So before you spend Saturday conked out on the couch, here are a few questions and hopefully easy-to-understand answers about the CFP this year and beyond:
Is the selection committee system better than the BCS’ combination of human polls and computers?
The proof will be in the pudding, and it may even take a couple of years after that to know for sure. But so far, yes.
The work put in by the committee members shows in their willingness to not let previous poll position rule their thinking (Florida State from No. 1 to No. 2 to No. 3), although explaining the non-objective reasoning involved will take some work.
Blame that on releasing weekly standings where things are fluid rather than waiting until the end. But that’s a price to pay for the attention the early standings have created.
And while the human polls certainly had the familiarity factor going for them, they were flawed.
Look at the current coaches poll. Louisiana Tech, 7-4 after a loss to 5-6 Old Dominion, and Notre Dame, which has lost three straight, are receiving votes.
Does anyone really think these are Top 25 teams? And yet the coaches who do the voting are paid millions.
And while the computers might lost some of their mystique, and nobody’s calling their originators “nerds” any more, those folks never revealed their methodology, not even to the BCS folks who used their services.
If the current top four (Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State) win out, will that be the way they’re seeded in the playoff?
Doubtful. Selection committee chairman Jeff Long, the athletic director at Arkansas, this week talked about the weight being a conference champion brings, which is something Mississippi State can’t be unless Alabama loses to Auburn and the Bulldogs make the SEC title game.
That means the Big Ten champion (Ohio State or Wisconsin), the Big 12 champion (TCU or Baylor) and Arizona, should the Wildcats beat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, could displace a one-loss Bulldogs team that did not win its conference title.
TCU already has made a strong impression by routing Texas, and Arizona has already beaten Oregon on its home field. Now the Wildcats get the Ducks at Levi’s Stadium.
Obviously Mississippi State needs style points Saturday against Ole Miss.
Another thing to remember: The committee does not really want an Alabama-Mississippi State rematch in the semifinals because it assures an SEC team in the final and smacks too much of ratings-killer Alabama vs. LSU three years ago.
What’s the most overlooked part of the committee’s work?
Seeding the semifinals. While the emphasis has been on who gets in, deciding Nos. 1-4 is going to be big.
As said above, an SEC-vs.-SEC semifinal is unofficially a no-no. But beyond that, who’s No. 1 and who’s No. 2 determines which semifinal site they go to.
No. 1 Alabama would play in the Sugar Bowl, while No. 2 Florida State would travel to the Rose Bowl. For fans, that’s a considerable difference in expenses, especially for those planning to go to the title game in Dallas.
On the field, the matchups that the pairings create are important, of course. But since you’ve got to win two to win it all, not as much as the game site.
Why is so little attention being paid to the other CFP bowls?
Call it the fallout from having a playoff.
In the BCS, there were 10 berths to fill, with just two teams in the title hunt. So the other BCS bowls had top-tier billing, even if there were some dogs. (Utah vs. Pittsburgh in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl comes to mind.)
Now, there are six games with four teams going to two semifinals, so if potential No. 5 TCU gets left out, there’s going to be more disappointment than enthusiasm if the Horned Frogs are playing in the Cotton Bowl.
And nobody knows how much influence the conferences and the bowls are going to have over the ranking process that determine those bowls’ pairings.
Does the No. 3 team from the SEC get in because it will sell more tickets to the Peach Bowl than the No. 3 team from the Pac-12?
Since it’s a semifinal this year, it’s not a factor for the Sugar Bowl. But it will be in the future.
Will the fact that it took this long for teams from the Group of Five to make the Top 25 mean that their access is in jeopardy?
Not now. It’s written into the 12-year life of the contract.
But the fact that Boise State (No. 23) and Marshall (No. 24) are just now in the rankings points out that the committee is rating those teams’ true status vs. merely elevating them as long as they keep winning as the BCS did.
That could mean mismatches. Games like Boise State vs. Oklahoma don’t happen very often, and the gap between the Power Five and Group of Five seems bigger than the old BCS/non-BCS split.
Even then, all of the BCS buster teams finished significantly higher in the polls than they did in the computers. The computers always loved undefeated teams far above what their strength of schedules said.
Additionally, poor ticket sales could make the access bowls clamor for change. If that happens, the Group of Five might accept higher qualifying standards in exchange for more money.
Before the first four-team playoffs, there are rumors about going to eight or even 16 teams. ACC Commissioner John Swofford recently said that moving to eight would be “ideal,” and an ESPN survey of FBS coaches showed 44 percent favored an eight-team bracket and 17 percent went for 16. Is expansion before 2026 inevitable?
Everyone keeps saying the four-team format is ironclad for the next dozen years, and Swofford’s remarks apparently were taken out of context.
As for the coaches poll, most of those guys haven’t thought through the logistics and consequences of going from four to eight, much less 16.
Where would the quarterfinal games be played? Home sites?
A bigger issue: the rights of the athletes.
Is Johnny First-Round Draft Pick going to want to risk injury by playing another game, or two, without compensation?
Is a scholarship still enough without a share of the extra millions an expanded playoff would bring in?
And have no doubt that the money would be there, although the networks are content to let the schools come to them rather than vice versa.
These are issues the current commissioners are likely to kick down the road in a decade or so — when most of them will have passed the leadership on to others.