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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.