The landscape of college football has drastically changed over the last few years. We have begun to see massive multimillion dollar TV contracts, the conference re-alignment, and now, the development of a four-team playoff system to replace the BCS. The most poignant question is, is all of this good for college football? My answer is unequivocally "no."
The new playoff system was supposed to deal with controversy surrounding the BCS’s selection of teams playing for the national championship, especially those undefeated teams from, what were formerly called, non-automatic qualifying conferences. Because there are five major conferences and only four spots in the new playoff system, this “innovative” format effectively does nothing except make more money.
The ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC dominate college football. Not since 1984, has a team outside of these conferences won the national championship. This new system will not change that. In fact, the new system should make circumstances even worse. College football is now contained to basically five conferences and is simply an open competition between them.
It all comes down to strength of schedule, as this selection committee, however it is composed, will inevitably choose the four teams with the best record against the toughest competition.
Seems fair at first, however, during the non-conference schedule, it eliminates any reason for a team from a major conference with national title hopes to play against a team from a mid-major conference as it would diminish their strength of schedule.
Therefore, teams from non-qualifying conferences will not have an opportunity to showcase their skills against the best in the country anymore, thus deterring their case for a bid to the national championship game.
It is nice that the new playoff system keeps the rest of the bowl games in place for the schools not competing for a national title. However, for teams on the cusp, like Boise State, playing in a bowl game is no consolation for the chance at a national championship.
Simply put, if you want a chance to play for a title you must be a part of one of the major conferences—or be that spoiled step-child that is Notre Dame.
At the end of the day, this playoff format will continue the trend of developing super conferences for college sports. Football is the most lucrative of collegiate sport, and if a school wants a piece of the pie they must be a part of the national championship conversation.
TCU and the University of Utah have already left the Mountain West Conference for the Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences, and West Virginia as well as Syracuse is currently in the process of departing from the Big East in order to join the Big 12 and ACC.
The new playoff system should only increase this tendency. All of the schools mentioned above have respectable football legacies, and were therefore allowed to join in these traditional football conferences, leaving those less prestigious football schools in the past.
In order to compete, and continue to rationalize funding a major college football program, teams like Boise State, South Florida, Houston, BYU, Southern Miss, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, UConn and any other program hoping to rise in the ranks will either have to either join a major conference or, at the best, settle in mediocrity.
It will limit these schools’ ability to recruit, their capacity to make money and their motivation to win—drastically shrinking the relevancy of DI college football. Four playoff spots just will not do it.
In 2008, Utah was the only team in the nation to go undefeated during the regular season. Despite that fact, the Utes were snubbed from playing for the BCS National Championship by a one-loss Florida team and a one-loss Oklahoma squad. However, there was also a one-loss USC team and a one-loss Texas team.
Under this new system, does the selection committee choose to put Utah in playoffs over a Tebow-led Florida team, a Sooners team with Sam Bradford, a Texas team with Colt McCoy or a USC team led by Mark Sanchez? I doubt it.
Nevertheless, that year Utah went on to trounce an Alabama team that was expected to play in the national title game, until it lost in the SEC Championship Game to Tebow and the Gators. Ultimately it all comes down to this selection committee.
If the 14-year TV contract is signed, the fate of this experiment will be determined by how this selection committee is composed. In all likelihood, it will be made up of administrators, athletic directors and ex-coaches with affiliations to these major conferences.
The only way to include the mid-major conferences is to expand the playoffs to eight teams. That way there is enough leeway to allow all of the traditional powerhouse teams with one loss as well as the most dominant teams from the mid-major conferences.
It opens up the opportunity for Cinderella stories, expands the relevancy and competitiveness of college football outside the five major conferences, and gives football a postseason comparable to March Madness. I really don’t see a downside to this format.
Most importantly, are all of these recent developments good for college football and college sports in general? It diminishes the ability of small schools to make an impact in the college football landscape, kills traditional rivalries that are based close-knit conference ties in all sports and bases all college sports on the making money when none of the players are getting paid.