Friday, June 15, 2012

College Football Playoff System

The college football playoff system - this has been discussed ad nauseam for the past several years, so it seems. This is actually not a new issue, the system of nailing down a full proof policy for selecting a champ in this sport has been going on forever. I LOVE NCAA football, it is my favorite sport by far. However, it has come under some scrutiny about how it's National Champion is decided. Even the government has been involved with the BCS selection process and it's lack of effectiveness! Commissioners of the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick have been meeting this week to discuss the best possible alternative for deciding the national champion ( which will go into effect in 2014). 1 thing is for sure, the current system is going to change, it's not even up for discussion at this point. Here's a breakdown of the current/proposed:

1) CURRENT SYSTEM: The top 2 teams in the BCS face off in a National Championship gave within a pre-determined bowl game/site. The BCS formula is calculated by: 1/3 Harris Poll (human poll), 1/3 Coaches Poll (human), 1/3 Computer based calculations. Most people don't understand how the calculations are made and do not like the computer basis. It does take away from a lot of the clear conflict of interest voting that goes on in most polls.  The current system definitely makes every single week of NCAA FB compelling, not just the final 3 games or so.


a) PLUS ONE SYSTEM - The Plus-One system is gaining popularity because, unlike many other proposed formats, it would not significantly extend the season for players and coaches. THERE IS A LOT OF CONFUSION ON THIS IN THE MEDIA AND ON THE INTERNET: the plus one IS NOT a 4 team playoff, a 4 team playoff would involve seeding (1-4) and a bracket for those 4. This involves playing all bowl games as scheduled normally, AFTER all of the bowl games are played, a national championship game will be decided (#1 vs. #2). The bowl game season should paint a clearer picture of who the true #1 vs. #2 is......key word "should".

+ PROS - only adds 1 game vs. an 8 + team playoff, leaves all bowl traditions intact (Rose Bowl, etc.)
*is the most seamless change by far, literally only adds 1 game to the season, everything else is business as usual.

- CONS - is this really going to make people say "yes, now we know which 2 teams are truly the best"!, (EX: The Pac 12 champ is a 4 loss Oregon team, they play undefeated #2 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and Wisconsin wins by 3, meanwhile #3 Oklahoma plays #4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl and wins by 28, assuming the #1 team wins, you still have a huge controversy on your hands for who plays them, etc.
* who decides who plays in the national championship (new formula, same question)? (BCS?)

b) OFFICIAL PLAYOFF BRACKET - This would include some odd number of teams (4,8,12,16, etc.) - who knows how many would be needed to deem this sufficient. The four team playoff here is the most popular as of right now with most conferences, it looks like this will be the system inevitably. These playoff games would REPLACE the teams' selected bowl games (vs. option 2a) in the semifinals, and add 1 more bowl game for the champ.

+ PROS (4 team) - only adds 1 game to the core schedule
* the playoff element will further narrow down the best teams (vs. 2a)
* will be compelling TV and add much needed intrigue to bowl games

- CONS - who decides which 4 teams play in the playoff (new formula, same question)? are conference champs only allowed? BCS rankings? etc. CRUCIAL here, selection process will make or break this option.
* which bowl games do you eliminate for the semifinals? where are the games played? should a higher seed get home field? etc.
* who gets what seed?
* this will inevitably turn into an 8 or 16 team set up after time. 
* will it minimize the suspense of the regular season? 
* would sitting out starters be an option? (ex: SEC championship game, #1 undefeated Bama vs. #6 Auburn, if the furthest Bama would fall would be 3 or 4 would they sit their players until the semis?)

As you can see, as people are finally getting what they have been asking for for several years now, they are also realizing the SAME ISSUES will arise. Does this alleviate the question of who truly is the best CFB team? In option 2b, yes, but VERY MILDLY. The #5 team in the BCS (or whatever method you use for 2b) is going to be cheated, the same thing as the #3 team now being cheated. The #5 team in the BCS in 2011 was a 1 loss Ohio State team that was LOADED, an undefeated TCU was #2 (once again, can you say without a doubt TCU was better than OSU? NO!). In 2012 the #5 team in the BCS was Oregon, do you think if there was a 4 team BCS playoff last year Oregon wouldn't have felt deserving of being 1 of those 4 teams? What if we add more teams? The best example is NCAA BB, where not 4, not 8, not 16, but SIXTY FOUR teams are selected to the tournament, and after the selection show there is a 2 hour discussion on the teams who deserved a spot in the field of 64. Regardless of the number of teams in a playoff, the snubs will be alive and well. I think the system as is worked perfectly last year, LSU and BAMA were by most accounts the best 2 teams in America. If 85% of America felt they were the best 2 teams, that's the best you can do, it will never be 100%.

Does adding a playoff system TRULY give us a clear cut champ? No. So why are the powers that be meeting? Its simple, for their own interests. Aside from the money of having an extra bowl game (for the bowl sites and teams), the semifinal games can add tremendous exposure for programs, it will be must see TV. All of the major networks will want in, all of the bowl games will want in, all of America will want in. Everyone involved is looking out for their own books and behinds (duh), the Big 10 does not want a playoff, they want the Rose Bowl to remain intact. The SEC DOES want a playoff (4 team) and wants it to where multiple teams from 1 conference can be in the final 4, not just conference champs (hmm, I wonder why). The less top heavy ACC wants a playoff with ONLY conference champs, which would somewhat guarantee a spot for them and cut out the #2 SEC or Big 12 (hmm, I wonder why). Notre Dame doesn't care what the system is, as long as conference champs aren't praised (hmm, I wonder why). These are the powers that will be voting, it doesn't surprise anybody that it will come down to politics amongst the voters.

My opinion is that the 4 team playoff (2b) truly is a slight upgrade from the current system, but an upgrade none the less. As long as we all realize it will not fix the issue of selection controversy and have realistic expectations for it, I believe it will do very well WHEN it is implemented in 2014. It's rare that you see a bowl game aside from the National Championship where 2 top 4 teams play, this would add 2 more of those games to the DRY bowl season. The decision for the system will be made at the end of this month, stay tuned, the decision will be sure to change the face of college football forever.

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