Did your mom ever tell you to be careful what you wish for?
Probably so, and it was good advice.
College football fans clamoring for a playoff might be wise to remember the wisdom of mothers.
A playoff push is gaining some attention just now for a couple of reasons.
The just completed bowl season (it is complete isn’t it?) was a poor dessert after what was a fabulous meal of a regular season. The championship game was yet another mismatch, and the rest of the so-called “major” (BCS) bowls did not yield compelling pairings.
Following that disappointing Division I (FBS) post-season, playoff proponents gained a powerful ally in University of Georgia president Michael Adams who proposed an eight-team playoff using existing bowls for a three-week tournament. (Interesting that he didn’t come on board for such a plan when Auburn went undefeated a few years ago).
So, while there seems to be some momentum for a playoff (in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey published this morning, sixteen of thirty college presidents expressed willingness to at least consider the idea), a few considerations should be kept in mind.
Would a playoff be more exciting than what we have now? History shows that for a handful of schools (and only a handful of schools) it might.
Division III has a playoff. In the past dozen years, Mt. Union of Ohio has played in the title game ten times and the Purple Raiders have won eight championships. Folks in Alliance, Ohio, probably love a playoff … the rest of D-3 … maybe not so much.
Division II has a playoff. Two teams (Grand Valley State and Valdosta State) have won the last six titles – four for GVS and two for VSU. A third team, Northwest Missouri State, has been in the title game five times over the past decade. Boosters in western Michigan, southern Georgia, and northern Missouri probably like a playoff … others in D-2 … perhaps no.
Division IAA (FCS) has a playoff. Appalachian State has won the past three titles, but rumor has it that people outside Boone, North Carolina, still enjoy the spectacle.
Would college football fans enjoy seeing a program or two emerge dominant over all others (even more than happens now)? SEC and USC supporters might end up happy, but probably few others.
Under Adams’ proposal, eight teams would play in four of the current major bowls around New Year’s Day, the winners would advance to a pair of semi-final games the following week, followed by a championship game the third weekend in January.
Let’s say Tennessee advances to the tournament.
First round is played at the Orange Bowl. The Big Orange wins and plays the next week in Glendale, Arizona. There, the Vols prevail once more and are rewarded with a shorter trip for the championship game in New Orleans.
Some fans on Rocky Top might have deep enough pockets to travel to what would essentially be three bowl games (right as Christmas bills are coming due), but most might need to hold off on the shopping trips to Pigeon Forge and save up for those three playoff dates.
A Simpler Solution?
Is there a simpler solution for determining a national champion in big-time college football?
Football is not a tournament sport.
A subjective evaluation will always be part of crowning a champ because some group (whether media, coaches, or others) would need to identify teams to include in any tournament or playoff.
A “plus-one” (extra game between the top two teams after the bowls) might work some years, but in others a clearly superior team would have nothing to prove. Who would LSU play this season … Georgia or USC? Oh, how about West Virginia.
Four or eight team formats have problems with team selection, travel, and season length, and a hunch is that there would still be discussion or controversy about the winner most seasons.
Personally, I wish we would go back to a free market approach and simply let bowls invite whatever teams they want.
Better pairings … more exciting games … a champion determined by a poll.
Wait … better be careful what I wish for.