The day college football’s postseason forever changed

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As someone who has been beating a very loud the drum for a college football playoff since even before I came around these parts more than three years ago, today is a red-letter day.  Something, to be perfectly honest, I never thought I’d see without some type of intervention from the federal government.

In essence, the leaders in college football Thursday formally endorsed a four-team playoff.  And officially placed the Bowl Championship Series on life support, with plans to pull the plug beginning with the 2014 season.

Automatic qualifiers?  Dead, although it’s still to be determined whether that’s good or bad for those outside the power conferences.  A plus-one, in which a title game is held after all of the bowl games have been played?  Dead as well, meaning there will be a true playoff in college football, bringing it in line with every other major sport in the free world, professional, collegiate and otherwise.

Following the end of the meetings in Hollywood, Fla., the commissioners of the 11 Div. 1-A (FBS) conferences as well as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick issued a statement that read in part that the group “will present to our conferences a very small number of four-team options, each of which could be carried out in a number of ways.” Borrowing from JFK, within that document lies the dawning of a new age in major college football’s postseason.

The impact of today’s developments wasn’t lost on the organization perhaps impacted the most by the tidal wave of postseason discussion that’s swept over the sport the past several months.

“This is a seismic change for college football and commissioners are aware of that,” BcS executive director Bill Hancock candidly and correctly stated.

While it was a great day, a tremendous day, it was far from a perfect one.  In my dream scenario, at least an eight-team playoff would’ve been implemented right off the bat.  Officially, and has been intimated for months, there will be no eight- or 16-team playoffs for the foreseeable future. While far from unexpected, seeing it off the table is more than a little disappointing but far from surprising.

Baby steps, y’all.  Baby steps.

Many questions still remain, however.  The one that has seemingly garnered the most attention is also inconsequential, or close to it: where the games will be played.  Whether it be inside the current bowl structure; outside the bowl structure but utilizing those same host sites; or neutral or on-campus venues — yes, the latter one is still officially on the table, but don’t hold your breath — the two semifinal games (that feels so good to be able to officially type) will be held somewhere.  Again, the where is almost inconsequential.  The how?  Not so much.

The how, of course, is what process the newly-revamped postseason will utilize to determine which teams will qualify for the four spots in a playoff.  Many possible scenarios have been mentioned, from limiting the field to teams that have won conference championships to taking the top four teams in the final rankings — using computers or human polls or some combination of both similar to the current system — to three conference champs and a “wildcard” to just about anything else in between.  Another scenario that’s gaining momentum?  A selection committee, similar to the one utilized in college hoops for its postseason tournaments.

Regardless of how that question is answered when a final decision is rendered in July, this part of the equation is simply something the sport can’t afford to get wrong.

In that vein, here are some helpful hints for the game’s decision makers to help them not get it wrong:

  1. If computers are part of the selection process, make any program utilized open and available for public scrutiny and have strength of schedule as part of the criteria.  The importance of that, especially the latter part, cannot be overstated.
  2. If human polls are part of the selection process, the first poll of a given season should in no way, shape or form be released until at least three weeks of the season have been played, preferably four or five into the new year.  Based on the annual turnover nearly every team in the country experiences, a preseason poll based off the previous year’s results is not only useless but it’s actually damaging to the process of, at the end of the season, determining the four best teams in college football.
  3. If human polls are part of the selection process, the coaches’ poll should not be one of them.  That one should be fairly self explanatory.
  4. If a selection committee is part of the process, make it as close to possible to being a full-time job.  If the sport is hellbent on going in that direction, do it right.  The selection process is not something to be half-assed, and neither should the committment any future committee members make.

Today — and the several months preceding it — was certainly a step in the right direction toward righting the wrongs of the abominable system used to determine a national champion in major college football.  Still, though, there are many more steps to take.  And many, many ways for the leaders of the sport to somehow screw it up.

Keep every available appendage crossed.  These next three months or so are monumental for the sport.

Ken Sparks, fifth-winningest coach at any level in college football history, dies at age 73

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College football has lost a coaching legend of the sport that you may never have heard of.

Carson-Newman announced Wednesday morning that its legendary former head football coach, Ken Sparks, passed away earlier in the day at the age of 73.  Sparks had been battling prostate cancer since being diagnosed in 2012, but doctors stopped treating him in January of this year.

According to WBIR-TV, Sparks had been in hospice care for the last several weeks.

Sparks was the head coach at Carson-Newman from 1980 through November of 2016, when he stepped down because of health concerns. During his time at the Div. II program — the first baker’s dozen years they were an NAIA school — the Eagles went 338-99-2. Sparks laid claim to five NAIA national championships and qualified for the Div. II playoffs 15 times in 24 years, although they failed to win a title at that latter level.

The 338 wins for Sparks are the fifth-most at any level of college football, behind only John Gagliardi (489), Joe Paterno (409), Eddie Robinson (408) and Bobby Bowden (377).

Alabama won’t be rushing Bo Scarbrough back this spring

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Not surprisingly, Alabama is going to err on the side of caution when it comes to one the most productive horses in its backfield stable.

On a second-down carry late in the third quarter of the national championship game loss to Clemson, Bo Scarbrough went down with an injury that turned out to be a fractured bone in his lower right leg.  The rising sophomore running back has recovered enough to be a participant in the Crimson Tide’s spring practice during some drills, albeit in non-contact mode.

Following the fourth practice of the spring Tuesday, Nick Saban made it clear made it clear that, while Scarbrough is getting some work in, the football program won’t be pushing him.

“Bo is doing more and more every day,” the head coach said according to al.com. “He did quite a bit today in practice, non-contact stuff, but he’s sort of gaining confidence. Our goal for Bo is by the end of spring, he’s fully confident that he can do everything he needs to do. Whether he ever scrimmages or is really something that we’re not that concerned about.”

It’s expected Scarbrough, barring a setback between now and then, will be fully recovered well ahead of the start of summer camp in early August.

Scarbrough’s 812 yards rushing year was second amongst Tide backs, while his 11 rushing touchdowns were second on the team.  He ran for 180 of those yards and two of the touchdowns in the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Washington, then had 93 yards and two more touchdowns before going down with the injury in the title game.

Western Kentucky hoops star to give Hilltoppers football a try

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Coming off a season in which he was the best player on Western Kentucky’s men’s basketball team, Justin Johnson is going to try his hand at another sport.

According to the Bowling Green Daily News, Johnson will practice with the Hilltoppers football team for the remainder of spring practice. The 6-7 forward will, not surprisingly, spend his time at tight end.

At the end of practices this spring, a WKU official told CFT, both sides will determine what if any future Johnson has in the sport.

Johnson admitted in one interview earlier this basketball season that he grew up wanting to play linebacker for Ohio State, and he did play two years of football at his Kentucky high school. Despite the fact that both Kentucky and Louisville had interest in him as a tight end, he ended up signing with WKU’s hoops team in 2014.

That decision has worked out well for both parties as Johnson has led the team in scoring and rebounding each of the past two seasons. He led Conference USA in the latter category as well as double-doubles, and was named second-team all-conference after his junior season.

Victim of alleged WKU football attack plans to file charges

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A former Western Kentucky fraternity member says he was attacked by a group of Hilltoppers football players and plans to file charges.

Jerald Armfield, an alum of WKU’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, told WBKO-TV he was caught in an ongoing feud between the fraternity and the football team:

“I went to the house in the best interest of the fraternity and Western as a whole to prevent any type of violence from occurring. We got up there and realized they were all hiding behind garbage cans, trees, and buildings.”

“I never in my wildest dreams thought they would attack me in the manner that they did. They all started surrounding me. One of them threw a rock at me. It was within a few seconds that one of them punched me in the face.”

“I fell down. I was kicked several times. The whole time they were beating me, I was begging them to stop, telling them I wasn’t here the night before, I had nothing to to do with it, like please stop, please stop, and they didn’t.”

Armfield said between nine and 10 people ultimately attacked him; it isn’t known for sure how many of that group are on the football team, though the program’s involvement in the incident is being investigated.

“We are aware of the allegations involving a few members of our football team,” the program said in the statement when word of the altercation broke three weeks ago. “We are cooperating fully with the authorities. However, at this time, we have not received a police report and cannot provide further comment.”

While the status of the investigation is currently unknown, Armfield told WBKO he would like it to end with multiple charges. “I made it very clear that night when the police arrived on the scene that I wanted charges pressed,” he said. “As far as I know a detective from Bowling Green Police Department has it. As it stands right now, I still want charges pressed. They need to be held accountable for what they did not only as citizens but as students at Western.”