Perfection may not be enough for the Wisconsin Badgers. If that happens in eight days, that wouldn’t be the Badgers’ fault.
It would be the fault of numerous people inside a board room deciding the fate of numerous excellent football teams in America, a committee that will subjectively decide who they think will be the four best college squads, and either create or destroy the dreams of deserving student-athletes and millions of fans based on their own whims.
It would be the "fault" of Alabama for not going undefeated, and for causing a messy SEC-centered debate – the subjective answers to which could decide whether a team with two losses (Auburn) should make it into the biggest playoff in college sports over a team like Wisconsin that was perfect.
It’s unfair. It’s wrong. And it’s time for the committee to no longer decide who gets into the College Football Playoff.
What criteria should decide which teams make the playoff?
Simple. Winning your conference. Nothing else.
It would not only create objective criteria which every single team would know and understand at preseason camp in August. It would mean that your performance in conference includes what become “playoff games” in the regular season, which increases the importance of September, October and November games while giving every team in a worthy conference an equal chance.
OK, now I can imagine the questions coming, and I’m sure there are a bunch more than this. Here goes:
What about those “at-large teams” that are better than the other conference champions? Isn’t the goal of the playoffs to get the four best teams into the playoff?
No. The goal of the playoff is to fairly, squarely determine the best team in college football.
In a sport with 130 teams, with no preset NFL-like control over who plays each other in inter-conference games and no way to fairly decide between how strong one conference is over another, the eye test often proves to be highly inaccurate in figuring out which conference is better.
By only allowing conference champions, it means that the only comparison point to decide which teams make the playoff is between teams within those conferences.
You no longer have to compare undefeated Wisconsin to one-loss Alabama, one-loss Georgia or two-loss Auburn, as committees may have to do in early December. You only have to decide between teams within their own conference.
Oh yeah, those teams don’t decide who is best-in-conference in committee meeting rooms. They decide that on the field, where the true, objective, fair and clear test can be made.
Pass that test in-conference? Win your conference? You’re in. You’re the best of your conference. You’ve passed the objective test.
If you’re Alabama and you go undefeated until November 25, and you then lose the Iron Bowl and don’t even make the SEC Title Game? You’re done. And you know that is what’s at stake as far back as August when you start preseason camp. No excuses.
To quote Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are: Not the best in your conference. Go play somewhere else on New Year’s Day.
Which conferences deserve to make the playoffs? Would you include the non-“Power Five,” especially if they go undefeated?
That’s where the human element of a committee will have to come into play, because college football is not the NFL. It’s already a de-centralized mess. There will be human element in deciding that piece of the puzzle, which certainly could be unfair to a Central Florida that goes undefeated but doesn’t belong to the power conference hierarchy.
Maybe the AAC, MAC, MWC, CUSA or Sun Belt produce one undefeated team. In my opinion, if that happens, you automatically make a five-team playoff six teams.
Maybe that’s not the best way. Who knows?
Such a final decision is beyond my power, but with that decision made months before a season begins, the subjectivity of which teams make the playoff ends there. That’s a better fate-decider than a highly-imperfect committee convening just after the conference championship games.
How would you handle a playoff with five, six, eight, whatever number of teams? Aren’t you extending the season and playing too many games, particularly right before or during students’ finals?
The college basketball world might say “hold my beer” to such a question.
Under the current college football system, the maximum a team might play is 15 games – 12 regular season games and three in the postseason, an extension of the season by 20 percent. Add one more game and you extend it 25 percent.
The college basketball regular season is supposed to go 28 games. But with early-season tournaments, conference tournaments in March and the “Big Dance,” it’s not out of the question for a college hoops team to play as many as 41 games – an extension of the season by 46 percent, with the most important games of the season happening during mid-terms which are sometimes even harder than finals week.
All the playoff would need to do is hold an extra round of games at either neutral “bowl” sites or campus sites on the first or second Saturday after the conference title games, and whittle the playoff down to four teams for the New Year’s Day semifinal rounds.
Doesn’t a “conference title-or-bust” system make the non-conference games meaningless?
Not necessarily. Perhaps you use a committee or a computer system to decide seeding for the playoffs, where strength of schedule plays a big part in deciding between where the teams that make the playoff belong. If that is the case, it perhaps means an SEC-champion Auburn that loads up on non-conference games with contests against Clemson, and also played a loaded SEC schedule with two wins over then-number one teams, may scoot past an undefeated Wisconsin squad that played relative lightweights.
It’s better to have that discussion than to have an argument that eliminates a deserving conference champion.
Such a factor may make it critically important to schedule tougher games in non-conference, to raise your profile in the seeding battle.
What about Notre Dame, BYU and the other independents?
Too bad. So sad. Enjoy your sweetheart TV deals that make you massive money by being independent. You can never win the national championship.
You want in the big party? Join a conference.
There is no way to perfect an inherently imperfect college football system. Still, this way would at least make the criteria for making the playoff objective and fair. It would end ridiculous debate on Twitter and in board rooms about which teams belong.
It would guarantee that a Wisconsin Badgers team that belongs to a top conference, and will have done everything within its power on the field if it beats Ohio State next Saturday night, gets a fair chance to win the biggest prize in college football.
It would guarantee that the only human element that decides national championships is the only element that should: The young men playing the game.