The Four Team Seeded Playoff
How the committee should work
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It’s finally official -– there will be a four-team playoff.
Now get ready for the fight to put together a committee to make it happen.
The 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick officially and finally put out there - and the presidents approved - what everyone already knew. They want a playoff. There will be four teams. It has to be approved by the presidents and higher-ups for approval and to finalize the details, but for now, all the conferences are and the same page and they’ve all agreed that they’d like a four-team playoff in 2014.
“At our meeting with the Presidential Oversight Committee next week, we will present our views so the presidents can make their decisions,” said BCS director Bill Hancock. “On many issues we have achieved widespread consensus; on some issues, important and valuable alternatives have been suggested.”
“We have developed a consensus behind a four-team, seeded playoff, while recognizing that the presidents will certainly present their views, including a discussion of a Plus-One. We also discussed various selection methods and look forward to having these discussions with the presidents.”
So what does this mean? The BCS system might not be totally dead -– it might be kept around as a starting point for the rankings -– but it won’t be a deciding factor when it comes to which four teams end up in the playoff.
There will now be a committee formed to decide the teams that make it. The semifinal games will be played in existing bowls, while the national championship will change yearly like the Final Four and the Super Bowl.
Practically, this set-up gives all the main players what they need and want. Initially the SEC and Big 12 wanted the top four ranked teams to get into a playoff, while the Big Ten floated out the idea of a Plus One format or a way of putting in just conference champions. With the plan that’s being pushed forward, there’s the flexibility to do both.
If the four deserving teams are from the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, more than likely the committee will make sure the Big 12 and SEC –- no matter what the ranking, because there’s a difference between ranking and seeding –- will play in the new bowl game created between the two leagues, and the Big Ten and Pac-12 will almost certainly play each other in the Rose Bowl. At the same time, the SEC will get what it wants with a fallback in case it has two juggernauts like it did in 2011.
Now that there's a committee, it’ll work in factors like winning the conference championship as well as strength of schedule into the equation. It’ll also take into account the conference tie-ins, allowing the Big Ten and Pac-12 to get their wish of keeping the Rose Bowl relevant with one or both of those two almost assuredly to end up in Pasadena.
And then comes the issue of the committee.
For this to work, there has to be absolute, 100 percent transparency with each of the committee members needing to be able to explain in detail why each one chose each of the four teams.
Part of the problem with the current polling system is that almost no one believes that the voters know enough about every team they’re voting for. Coaches aren’t able to watch more than just the game they coached that day, and the Harris Poll is covered in a cloud of secrecy. Most fans will buy what the committee –- if there’s a committee –- will sell in terms of the top four teams as long as it makes sense.
More often than not the top two or three teams should be obvious, and while there will usually be some sour grapes by a few teams that don’t get in, as long as the conference titles are taken into account –- if, for example, Oregon would’ve made it in this year instead of Stanford –- at least it will appear to be reasonable.
This way, if there’s a killer team that didn’t win its conference title, like Alabama, then it can be accounted for. If the far-and-away top team –- like LSU was at the end of the regular season -– gets upset in the conference championship, this system would account for that, too, as long as there’s reason to believe that the committee voters didn’t just vote based on their eyeballs and can come up with some sort of reason or evidence for voting the way they did.
The other big question will be the committee itself. For this to work, there can’t be any former coaches involved. Bobby Bowden has already said he’d like to be a part of it, but fickle college football fans will scream and yell if it comes down to Florida State and one other team for a No. 4 spot and he picks the Seminoles, or if he picks against Florida.
There can’t be any former players. Even the most objective ex-jock analysts have an issue when it comes to public perception.
There can’t be anyone remotely involved with ESPN. There are way too many conflicts of interest considering the TV money that’s at stake.
It can’t be a panel of dozens or hundreds of media members who cover the teams or work locally, because regional biases would get in the way. If you thought the Heisman voting was broken down by where the voters are from, just imagine what will happen if the fourth slot comes down to Oregon and Alabama.
Not just to dream the impossible dream of being a part of a committee, but using national writers and columnists would work –- trust me, most of the national scribes you can think of would be the most objective voters –- if for no other reason than to keep all of us from ever dogging the system or the results. However, there are way too many egos involved and way too many big players who’ll demand to have a say for that to ever happen. The conference commissioners aren’t going to come this far and not pick and choose exactly the guys they need to help their individual causes.
In a perfect world, the committee will be made up of people who have no ties to college athletics whatsoever. The panel would be given objective facts -– again, conference titles, strength of schedule, the timing of key wins, etc. -– and would then vote accordingly. Again, that would never, ever happen because of just how big this will be and how many dollars would be at stake.
Whatever the committee and whatever the format, the criteria should be cut-and-dry easy.
1. Conference champions. Any and all reasonable efforts have to be made to include a conference champion over a team that didn’t win its league title.
2. Strength of schedule. The NCAA strength of schedule isn’t exactly perfect –- based purely on wins and losses –- but the second an outside source is used, the process will start to suffer from the same criticisms from those who don’t like the computer side of the BCS formula.
3. Road wins and neutral site wins. The committee should take the NCAA strength of schedule and then look harder at where the big wins came from and when. Oklahoma State losing to Iowa State might not look good on a spreadsheet, but the overtime loss combined with the barely-missed field goal in the final seconds, and with the tragedy surrounding the plane crash the day before, would be taken into account if the team was on the bubble. Wisconsin losing on the road on two bombs would be different than a team losing by 14 at home, and Alabama losing in a nip-and-tuck war against a juggernaut LSU team would obviously be weighed differently than Stanford losing by 23 at home to Oregon.
Unfortunately, the commissioners still didn’t make everyone happy, with the Twitter world immediately blowing up with fears that the SEC will dominate in this new format from here on, but there will be a playoff and, my fellow Americans, our long national BCS nightmare is over.
No, this might not be the perfect solution, but it will be better.
We’re getting a playoff.