NCAA Football: Is the New Playoff Format an Improvement over the BCS?

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NCAA Football: Is the New Playoff Format an Improvement over the BCS?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Alabama celebrates one of the last BCS Titles to be awarded. The BCS will be replaced in 2014 with a 4 team playoff.

For years, we college football fans whined and moaned about the travesty that was the BCS, demanding a new system. Well, starting in 2014, the system known as the BCS will be no more, replaced by the one thing we fans clamored for more than the demise of the BCS: a football playoff.

No longer will we have to see unbeaten teams left out of a chance to play for a BCS title because their preseason ranking was too low to overcome. No longer will a plucky little team like Boise State be kept out of title contention because the “Big Six” conferences have a stranglehold on the big money bowls.

We finally will get to see a champion decided on the field, not on the hard drives of anonymous computers somewhere out in this vast country of ours.

Finally all will be right with the college football world, with everyone having an equal opportunity to earn a title shot in the new four-team playoff format adopted by college presidents in Washington, DC a few short days ago.

Or is it?

I don’t mean to splash cold water on the idea of the four-team playoff, but the question has to be asked if this system is really that much better than the BCS.

One of the main complaints about the BCS format was that the system lacked any sense of fairness. There were too many years when undefeated “mid-major” programs, like Boise, Utah, and TCU were denied title chances for no other reason than there was a bigger name team available.

And there were times when deserving major conference teams were denied a shot because they started too low in the rankings, and were unable to climb high enough in the polls to qualify (you Auburn fans know just what I’m talking about!).

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When we fans howled about that we generally placed the blame on computer polls and the conspiracy of BCS cartel members wanting to keep the big money within the BCS “family,” so how is this playoff format going to change that?

We will go from a cabal of computer geeks and “Big Six” representatives picking who gets into the title game to a selection committee to pick which four teams get invited to the football tournament. Why are we in such a rush to say this system will be automatically better than the BCS?

Think about the selection committee itself. Every March, we are treated to the NCAA basketball tournament which basically selects less than half of the teams invited to the Big Dance. And every March we are treated to the failings of the committee as well deserving teams are left out of the tourney to give at-large bids to better-known teams.

And for all the post-selection posturing about the decisions being based on the merits of the teams involved, we all know that it comes down to a business decision. Really, who is more likely to draw fans to a West Regional game in Anaheim: UCLA or Virginia Tech?

So if a selection committee made up of people who allegedly know the game of college basketball inside and out can so often get it wrong, or make decisions based almost solely on the bottom line, what will make the football committee less likely to do the same?

Think about it: the same people who ran the much-hated BCS will be the same ones who are in charge of the football tournament. Do you really believe that Roy Kramer or John Swofford are going to be on board with a system that diminishes their influence on the game, or the earning power of their conferences?

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Will BCS heavyweights like John Swofford of the ACC really relinquish their control of college football?

Furthermore, how fair is a four-team playoff? How can you even call a gathering of four teams a tournament anyway? Okay, if it was like the ACC’s old Big Four, maybe, but this is football and round-robin play is not involved.

In order for the winner of the three-game tournament to be recognized as a real champion fans have to believe that: a) the four best teams have been chosen; b) the selection committee is free of bias; c) the selection committee watches enough football to know who’s really good; and d) the former BCS conference presidents are not exerting any influence to make sure their conferences are well represented in the games.

Do any of us really believe any of those four things? Maybe you do, but I sure as heck don’t! I am not so naïve as to believe that the schools that dominated the BCS are now willing to give away all that power to some football selection committee. People who have amassed such power and wealth rarely, if ever, willingly part with it.

Maybe this playoff scheme will work. I hope so, and hope it one day expands to a number of teams that makes it a legit tournament. But until I see that happen, I am going to remain skeptical. I’ll believe this works when I see it.

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