The Playoffs Are Here
It really wasn't that hard
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Really, was that so hard?
After years of begging, pleading and praying, fans are going to finally get a playoff for a sport whose champions were more often than not decided by opinions and guesswork.
Under the new playoff plan, two teams will play one extra game. That’s it. It’s not any more complicated than that, even though it will seem that way at times.
To little surprise, the panel of 12 college presidents – the self-important sounding BCS presidential oversight committee – gave the thumbs up to the playoff plan created last week by the 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
Starting at the end of the 2014 season - with the first games to be played on January 1, 2015 – there will be a four-team playoff with the playoffs operating within the current bowl structure and the championship to be played at a national site decided years in advance. It will be like the Super Bowl or Final Four in terms of national bidding for the title game.
A committee of some sort will decide on the four teams worthy of the playoff with an emphasis put on conference championships and strength of schedule as the main components. However, there will be a difference between ranking and seeding in terms of how the teams are chosen. Just because a team is ranked in a certain spot according to some system, that doesn’t mean it will be seeded there.
The key to all of this is the flexibility. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have been steadfast and resolute in their desire to keep the Rose Bowl relevant, and to not have to play a playoff game in SEC country if they don’t have to. The SEC and Big 12 were against the idea of only putting in conference champions, allowing for the possibility of a second team from a conference to end up getting into the final four.
According to this plan, the Big Ten and/or Pac-12 can make sure the Rose Bowl serves as a playoff game when needed, and the same can go for the SEC and/or Big 12 with its newly created major bowl game to also serve as a likely playoff destination. Meanwhile, the rest of the bowl system will remain intact.
Basically, after all the hullaballoo, and after all the screaming and yelling, and after all the closed door meetings, the seismic shift in the college football landscape comes down to one basic concept that made it all come together: nothing really changed.
Remember, last year at this time the idea of a college football playoff wasn’t even on the table. There were ideas thrown back and forth, but no one ever thought the slow and stodgy conference commissioners would ever be able to agree on the color of the sky, much less a way to determine a way to better crown a national champion.
For this to work, the idea couldn’t be radical. An eight or 16-team format would’ve been too clunky and too tough logistically to work out the details, and a plus-one format – running the bowl season as normal and putting the two best-looking teams in a national championship – wouldn’t have solved the problem. The plus-one wouldn’t have done anything more than move the debate and argument from early December to early January.
The champions-only model – taking the four highest-ranked conference champions – would’ve automatically excluded some of the best teams like Alabama of last year and Texas in 2008, while choosing just the top four teams according to the BCS rankings would’ve meant keeping the wildly unpopular BCS around while also potentially turning a playoff into the SEC Invitational.
Going forward, instead of, for example, Oklahoma State playing Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl last season, Oklahoma State would’ve played Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl with the winner to go on to play in the national championship. There will still be an Orange Bowl, a Sugar Bowl, a San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but now, instead of a BCS championship between two teams determined after the regular season, that one extra game will be between two teams that played in two of the biggest bowl games.
This won’t be anything like the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in terms of selection committee and seeding. The job of the March Madness committee is to determine which bubble teams are worthy of getting in; finding the right cities and sites for each team; and seeding accordingly so each bracket is relatively even. For the football playoff, all four teams are going to be juggernauts. While there will always be a team or three angry about not getting in, there won’t be any lightweights among the chosen ones.
Also, seeding won’t really matter. Seeding makes a big difference in bigger playoff formats, but in a four-team system the champion has to win two games against two of the three teams no matter what. So just because some ranking system has, for example, an SEC team No. 1 and a Big 12 team No. 2, that doesn’t mean they won’t play each other in the playoff game if the Rose Bowl-bound Big Ten and Pac-12 champions are ranked third and fourth in some way.
And with this move also comes the death of the ranking system being relevant. From the poll-and-bowl days to the BCS, rankings have meant everything to college football and the way things are run. Now, a committee might take a look at the schedule of a 10-2 team ranked ninth in some poll and determine that it’s more deserving than an 11-1 team ranked third. Rankings will be nothing more than a market indicator rather than a be-all-end-all determining factor, and considering the inherent biases and general ineptitude of the voters who can’t and don’t watch enough games – a coach can’t pay attention to everything that’s happening – the most flawed part of the system is gone.
This also means the end of the BCS. A public relations disaster from the start, the BCS was actually a far, far better system to determine a national champion than strictly going by the polls and bowl system, but it wasn’t a playoff and it was always seen as a ridiculous and unnecessary way to avoid coming up with a simple four or eight-team format.
The idea of a BCS conference now won’t exist. There will still be bowl tie-ins – the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions will always go to the Rose Bowl if they’re not in the playoffs – but now there will simply be little bowls, medium bowls and big bowls. The line between being a BCS-level bowl and a good bowl matchup will be blurred without the BCS label attached to any of the games.
Now comes the hard part. Coming up with the basic playoff format was easy, but the conferences now have to get into a knockdown, drag out cage match to figure out how to divide up the billions and billions of dollars that are about to flow in. The ACC and Big East are going to still want their slice of the pie, even though they’re living in an SEC/Big Ten/Big 12/Pac-12 world, and Notre Dame is going to want to have its pie and eat it, too, by getting a cut while not having to join a conference.
But all of that is the stuffed-shirt, business page side. Everyone will get rich – except the players – and everyone will benefit from the massive exposure that will come from possibly being the biggest sporting event in America outside of anything the NFL does.
The conference championships will take on a bigger meaning with more importance, meaning more TV revenue and through-the-roof ratings. The two bowl games that become playoffs will take on a bigger meaning with more importance, meaning more TV revenue and through-the-roof ratings. And then will come the national championship, which will end up blowing away any of the most watched college football games of all-time because now the average fan will believe what they’re seeing really and truly is a title game.
And all took was 16 years of a BCS era to finally get here.