Monday, June 25, 2012

Not Far Enough: College Playoffs Redux

So we finally got what we wanted.  We pissed and moaned, kicked and screamed, cried foul from the rooftops and raised hell from the grassroots up.  The BCS is dead; long live the ... oh, wait.  This ain't a eulogy.  This here is rapture.  College football (almost) has a playoff system.  Hallelujah!!!

And yet, the bastards still got it all wrong somehow.

Four teams.  Four lousy F&$% teams.  That's it?  That's the grand solution?  Four teams isn't a playoff system, it's a dysfunctional oligarchy that is only fractions better than the BCS itself.  Let's say for instance that next year Alabama, LSU, and USC are unequivocally the three top teams in some order.  (Likelihood: 87.3%)  Vying for the fourth spot, say we have undefeated conference champions Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, and Boise State, a one-fluky-midseason-loss-but-Big-Ten-Champs Wisconsin, and a South Carolina team that steamrolled their schedule and whose only loss was in the SEC Championship game to 'Bama.  Some of those squads probably would not deserve to make it, based on whatever semi-legitimate criteria governed the decision.  Nonetheless, someone(s) with a just and righteous case for inclusion would likely get hosed in the above scenario.  And no, it won't be that crowded at the top most years.  That doesn't mean the "teams getting utterly screwed" angle won't be in play.  So why create a system in which the same old recriminations we've been bandying about for years would still be possible?  In many instances, the argument of the fifth team out will be no less valid simply because now four teams instead of two have the right to vie for the crystal football.  Having only four teams will almost certainly still exclude someone worthy of at least a chance at settling things on the field every year.  We couldn't do better than this while we were "fixing" the problem?

Oh, and we're going to have a committee that ranks and selects these four programs in a supposedly appropriate fashion, you say?  Exactly how will this paragon of objectivity be comprised?  Of people with a deep and intimate knowledge of college football, I'd hope.  But allow me a few suggestions:

1. Absolutely no former Division I coaches.  It seems like every year, there's at least one rumor that percolates about someone making a shady move with the Coaches Poll in order to help their own cause or slight a rival.  You think that loyalty and bad blood just evaporates when these guys retire?  Say they get Bobby Bowden to sit on this committee, for instance.  There is no way in hell that man is ever going to let Florida into a playoff if he can help it.  (Not that Florida is any real title threat for the foreseeable future, but you take my meaning.)  Or suppose Bob Stoops is retired in ten years and they ask him to serve a turn.  You're telling me he's not advocating for the Sooners and torpedoing the Longhorns and Cowboys every chance he gets?  Please.

2. This committee needs fairly substantial, if not complete, rollover every few years.  Otherwise animosities, alliances, fractious arguments, choosing sides, and all the other crap that goes along with any organizing or governing body are going to emerge.  You let people sit in positions of power for too long, they will develop not only delusions of grandeur but biases detrimental to the fairness of the process.  I say two years, tops, for any sitting member.  After that, they must wait six years before sitting another term.

3.  The ranking/seeding/selection probably should not resemble the autocratic juggernaut that is David Stern's control of the NBA Draft Lottery. You are doing a new thing here, so do it correctly: televise the damned process, like they do on C-SPAN.  All the minutiae, the debates and arguments and especially the people making them, ought to be public domain.  Accountability and transparency are the only way to stop the cycle of suspicion and anger and calling bull$%^& that has plagued the sport since time immemorial.

Now, back to the four teams debacle.  Howsabout we make it eight, or better yet sixteen?  (Yes, I am aware that there is a provision in the current proposal that allows for revisiting expansion in a few years, but why wait?)  I wrote a post last year about college football playoffs that was, in retrospect, more than a little overambitious.  By which I mean it was a soapbox rant of impossible logistics and staggering proportions of delusion, for which I am now compelled to apologize.  But buried within the morass of madness are a few concepts that I feel still hold some water.  

Chief among these is the idea that we don't need to divorce ourselves from the bowls entirely, at least not those with the greatest traditional import.  Say we have 16 teams as chosen by the Starbucks Official  NCAA Football Playoff Selection Committee.  We auction off naming rights to the first round, so hypothetically the 1 and 16 seeds could meet in the TicketCity Bowl, 2 and 15 in the Champs Sports Bowl, etc.  For the Elite 8 round, the Outback, Gator, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls rotate between highest-seed ownership each year.  The Rose and Orange Bowls are the Final Four venues, and the Championship Game is the Championship Game.  That's going to keep Bowl sponsorship revenue coming in, and the bidding for naming rights should at least offset to a degree the "loss" of the other twenty-odd worthless, podunk bowls.  Also, we keep the neutral field intact.  Is there a realistic reason this can't work?  We're already deferring the implementation of this system for another few years, assuming it passes tomorrow.  We can't figure this out in two years' time?

Four teams is a nice start, but it's not a solution.  If we're going to have playoffs, let's make them sensible.  I know it sounds insane to ask sensibility of the NCAA, but this is, after all, the dawning of a new era.  Why not do something radical?   

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