The death Friday night of one system used to determine the best team in college football officially — and thankfully — gave birth to a new one.
Florida State’s thrilling 34-31 win over Auburn closed the book on the 2013 season, bringing with it an end to the controversial 16-year run of the Bowl Championship Series. In its place beginning with the 2014 season will be the aptly-named College Football Playoff, a system that’s been more than a decade in the making.
For those who are unaware or have simply forgotten, the CFP will feature four teams (for now) that will be selected by a committee consisting of former athletic directors, coaches, a media member — and an ex-Secretary of State. The championship game will be bid out to different cities — Arlington in 2015 (following 2014 season), Glendale in 2016 and Tampa in 2017 have already been announced — while the two annual semifinal games will rotate among six bowls: the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A.
The Jan. 1, 2015, semifinals will be hosted by the Rose and Sugar Bowls.
While there’s certainly a sense of excitement swirling around the CFP, there’s also, as is ofttimes the case when change is involved, some trepidation. Below are but a few of the pluses and minuses of the new system that will be used going forward to crown a national champion.
Simply put, four teams vying for a national championship is better than just two. Personally, I’ll feel much more comfortable arguing over which are the fourth-/fifth-best teams than the second-/third-best under the old system. The more teams you have in the field, the less chance that a deserving team gets snubbed. At least, in theory that’s the way it works.
The fact there are “only” four teams is viewed by some as a negative. Many people, myself included, thought the field should’ve been pushed to eight teams right out of the gate; still others thought 16 teams was the way to go. The current contract calls for a four-team playoff through whole of the 12-year agreement. My guess? Roughly midway through that 12-year deal, the powers-that-be will realize how much money is being generated by the four-team playoff, will realize how much additional money could be stuffed into its coffers by adding more teams to the playoff, and will increase the field to eight around the year 2020.
No current coaches being involved in picking the teams vying for the title of FBS champion may be the single greatest development wrought by the CFP. One of the most unnecessary injustices of the BCS was including a poll whose voters consisted solely of coaches — or people in the football program voting for their coaches. With the exception of bye weeks, a head coach’s sole focus on game day is on that day’s opponent. It’s utterly impossible for a head football coach at a major FBS program to be asked to make accurate judgments on which teams should be ranked where. Add in the inherent biases for teams in their own conference, and the coaches’ poll was rife with inconsistencies and made a further mockery of the easily-mocked BCS. Good riddance, coaches’ poll; you will not be missed.
Out with the coaches, in with a narrower, just-as-human element. Out of all the issues, pro and con, when it comes to the CFP, the selection committee is the one that will receive the most attention both positively and negatively because it’s the single-most important facet of the playoff, the linchpin for the entire process. As humans will serve as the sole arbiters of who’s in and who’s out, you have to think that bias, on some level, will still be in play. Yes, committee members will have the ability to recuse themselves when there’s a conflict of interest on a particular team, but the perception is that “Guy X” — or “Gal X” in the case of Condoleezza Rice — will attempt to impact the process based on previous or current relationships. How the group will determine the four playoff participants is a work in progress and a source of worry for some. It’s not all bad when it comes to the selection committee, though. The select members have either a deep background in the game of football or an in-depth knowledge of it or both. They will spend hour after hour after hour during the season debating and discussing and, ultimately, selecting the four teams that will qualify for the playoffs. Best of all, the group won’t release its first set of “rankings” until the midseason; another way the coaches’ poll got it wrong was selecting a preseason Top 25 and adjusting from there. Still, this selection committee will be among the most scrutinized group in the history of sports, especially during the first year or two as everyone feels their way through what could be an awkward — and controversial — beginning.
For those who enjoy postseason college football, the CFP will be a boon. Of course, you will have the semifinals serving as two games above the previous norm. Additionally, and as fallout from the creation of the CFP, the five non-power conferences — the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt — have created their own set of bowl games in addition to the 35 “traditional” bowls. Essentially, you’ll have upwards of 40 or more postseason games beginning in 2014. Whether that’s about 15-20 too many is another argument for another day.
Pro-BCS folks would argue that a playoff will diminish the importance of what’s easily the most meaningful regular season in all of sports. Forget the fact that, theoretically, more games during the regular season will become important because four spots will be available in this new format instead of a mere two. Also forget the fact that there are now seven prime bowl games instead of the five BCS bowls for which to qualify; anti-playoff proponents espouse the fear that the first three months of the season will be watered down because of the CFP. That won’t happen, but it’s certainly a scare tactic that’s used incessantly — and misguidedly — by the anti-playoff crowd.