College Football Playoff: The NCAA Presidents Only Got It Half Right

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College Football Playoff: The NCAA Presidents Only Got It Half Right
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It was officially announced today that the college football division I-A championship will be decided by a four-team playoff, the teams in which will be selected by a selection committee. This plan is to run from 2014-2025. 

College football fans who have been calling for a playoff finally got one. But as with just about everything else in college football, there has to be some sort of controversy when it comes to big decisions like these. 

Before we even get to the selection committee, let me tell you the four-team playoff that has been accepted is a great idea.

There will be those who believe the plan ruins the sanctity and tradition of the game while at the same time some fans who cried out for a playoff will feel this idea did not go far enough. 

I, on the other hand, agree with Virginia Tech president Charles Sterger. Via Heather Dinich of ESPN.com:

"A four-team playoff doesn't go too far; it goes just the right amount."

If I had to pick a side, I would say I am closer to the traditionalist side that doesn't mind the current system. At the same time I feel the change that has been implemented is good for the sport.

During the past months as the debate over the fate of the college football post-season heated up, I constantly hoped that the best regular season in sports held on to its significance. Well, I got my wish.

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Yes, like other playoffs, a given team only has to make a certain cut to be eligible for the national championship. But, more importantly, that cut is not quite so easy to make like in the NFL (12 teams), NBA (16 teams) or in college basketball (68 teams). There is still a premium placed on performing well against the best competition during the regular season to earn your spot. This means the playoffs to reach the top four start that first weekend in September, because only 3.2 percent of all division I-A college football teams will be in the playoffs.

The importance of giving the best teams (especially when there are more than two "best teams") a chance at the title was an imperfection with the BCS system I felt could have used a change to insure parity. 

This problem was most evident in a couple instances.

In 2003, we saw a split national title as the Associated Press named USC the best team in the land while LSU topped Oklahoma for the BCS national title. If we had the new system back then, 10-2 Michigan would have gotten their shot in a four team playoff with the three aforementioned, one-loss teams and there would have been no controversy. 

In 2004, only two of four undefeated teams at the end of the regular season got a chance to win the title. USC beat Oklahoma while Auburn only got to face Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Utah was also undefeated and the case could be made for their chance at a title. Even if you feel the Utes' conference was too weak, a one-loss Texas team with four wins over ranked teams sat at number four in the BCS and would have liked a shot. 

A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Oklahoma took on USC for the 2004 BCS Title

In both of these scenarios, a four-team playoff is a good answer. Preserve the regular season? Check. Prevent deserved teams from being snubbed? Check. 

The efficiency of these hypothetical situations is what leads me into the part of the presidents' plan that, well, isn't so efficient. 

In each season during the BCS era, a four-team playoff with the top four teams in the BCS rankings would have pitted four deserving teams against each other on the field to determine the national champion. (The only exception to this is the 2010 season in which I don't believe No. 3 TCU and No. 4 Stanford would have deserved a shot, but that is one year among the many that the BCS hasn't worked.) There is no need to create a selection committee and wreak more havoc than what we have today as personal opinion would affect the final decisions too greatly. 

I know selection committee proponents will respond with, "but college basketball fans never complain (at least to the point of discrediting the entire system) about the process."

Well, that is a 68-team field in which, statistically, the top seeds do not win most of the time anyway. What we are talking about is allowing only four teams a chance to win the college football national championship, so how we decide who to put there needs to be done correctly.

A selection committee leaves the door open for conflict of interest with so much money involved while the current BCS ranking system would serve as a seeding device that would work fairly. While some question the current BCS rankings, the issue of excluding deserving teams has really only come up when it comes to one or two teams being left out of the national title party. In this, one must realize that introducing a selection committee was unnecessary.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The decisions made on where to put each team in the college basketball championship aren't nearly as important as the ones that will be made by college football selection committee

Consider who might be put on the committee: university presidents or athletics directors as well as members of the NCAA. With bowl money essentially equal to the value of investment banks on Wall Street nowadays, someone's allegiance may be called into question. Members of the NCAA such as president Mark Emmert may not have the interests of a particular university in mind but may look to create the most eyebrow-raising match-ups, instead of the right matchups, to elicit viewers. I also don't need to explain how ex-coaches and ex-players factor into this.

A playoff in college football—only among the top four teams in the sport—preserves the best regular season. It preserves the sanctity of Saturday while ensuring a fair process at the top. A selection committee, though, only is going to lead to more controversy than what we have today as angry fans will point to members of the committee's personal agendas as reason for their team being left out. 

I would have been a strong supporter of creating a BCS committee to create rankings to replace the USA Today Coaches' poll in the formula, because coaches don't have time to keep up with the entire landscape of the game. Therein lies one defect of the BCS formula as it leaves rooms for human error. But if you want to talk about human error, take a look at what the Presidential Oversight committee just committed to for 12 seasons.

It would also be hard to oppose the selection committee as part of the final decision with some computer or metric element involved. That—along with another poll of voters who are at least knowledgeable—would be much closer to fair and correct and would prevent some of the bias from having too much pull. At this point in the process, though, I can't say everything has truly been figured out.

It is official; a selection committee will determine who plays for the national championship from 2014-2025 in college football. 

If you thought the last 14 years left fans scratching their heads looking for answers, prepare for a whirlwind of controversy you never expected.

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