It appears that the 12-team playoff is coming. The plan strikes me as one of those congressional pork-barrel ``something for everybody’’ deals.
If I were the czar of college football, this is not how I would do it. I noted some of my complaints earlier, when this bizarre idea to triple the size of the playoff first surfaced. When a mere doubling would have worked just fine.
That said, it appears likely that college football is headed for a 12-team playoff. I am not going to fret about this development.
This is not Covid-21 or cancer. It’s a bunch of college-football muckety-mucks trying to sort through the very legitimate gripes that the four-team playoff keeps boiling down to, yawn, Alabama, Clemson and a few of their closest imitators.
Although I readily acknowledge that it wouldn’t have been practical, here’s what I would have done:
An eight-team playoff, with the Power 5 conference champions earning automatic berths, plus three at-large slots that would be available to Notre Dame, Group of 5 schools that reached a minimum standard and worthy also-rans.
But that was never going to fly because it wouldn’t have given the ``it just means more’’ SEC a significantly bigger seat at the table. And the SEC dictates college-football policy more than any other conference these days for very good reasons.
It has the best teams, the most loyal fan bases and, in Greg Sankey, the most powerful and accomplished leadership voice. The Big Ten and Pac-12 are pretty rudderless these days. The Big 12 doesn’t carry enough weight. And the new ACC commish hasn’t been on the job long enough to start exerting influence.
The one issue where I take a decidedly minority view is the ``best-team vs. league champion’’ question.
I think of college football as an extension of war, a civilized version of the ancient battle for territory and dominance. Which is how it started—and how it is still celebrated, even though that doesn’t matter nearly as much at this point.
France might have had five feudal kings who were better than the king of Germany. But the French kings duked it out until one of them had conquered—and then France went on to settle its differences with Germany.
You win the SEC. You’re the champion of the Southeast. There may be four SEC other teams that could crush the Pac-12 champion like a bug. But they are also-rans in my book.
That’s the way it generally works in pro sports and in politics. Teams with mediocre records win NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL divisions all the time. Some even go on to championships.
There are undoubtedly politicians in states like California and Texas who are more skilled than politicians in North Dakota and Maine, but if they lose in their home state, they don’t get at-large bids to the Senate.
We saw this for decades in the early days of the NCAA basketball tournament, which was pretty much reserved for conference champions.
But, OK. . . cool. Let’s see how this 12-team deal flies from that standpoint. When the 12 teams boil down to a Final Four of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Clemson, the complaints, grumbles and yawns are going to be similar to what we are dealing with now.
An eight-team playoff actually would be more wide-open, from a national standpoint, than this 12-team proposal. What is so terrible about a Cinderella rising up and winning a championship? Are there any more memorable, beloved and important NCAA basketball champions than Rollie Massimino’s Villanova and Jim Valvano’s N.C. State?
But the SEC, understandably, wasn’t going to buy into an eight-team playoff that gave everyone else more than it gave the nation’s premier conference.
With a 12-team playoff, the Power 5 conferences that have been under-represented in the four-team playoff are dealt in. So are the Group of 5 leagues. The SEC is going to snatch a bunch of those at-large bids.
And for all the handwringing about Notre Dame being shut out of the bye that will go to the top four conference champions, I’m thinking the Irish will cry all the way to the bank with that first-round home game.
That’s the other thing I don’t like about this 12-team playoff proposal: First-round on-campus games.
First of all, who exactly is on campus in December? Not students. They are clearing out in droves the moment they finish their exams. Not alums. They are doing their holiday things. And everyone—students and alums—is planning sunny getaways, or wishing they could.
So now we’re going to drag everybody back to frozen, empty campuses?
And, oh yeah, do we remember why bowl games were invented? They were a reward for players and alumni in cold-weather regions. Because the weather can be pretty lousy in places like Columbus, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin, in December. Even Norman, Oklahoma, can be pretty nasty.
Wait till the Auburn or LSU Tigers or have to make trips like that. San Diego and San Antonio won’t look so bad.
You will read warm-weather sportswriters who will regale you with the glories of NFL games played on the Frozen Tundra. Easy for them to say. They will be sitting in hermetically sealed press boxes while spectators freeze their fannies off.
But again, if this is the direction college football wants to head, I am not going to get all exorcized. It will be fun and interesting. It just won't be the best way to choose a champion.
Here’s another headline we’re going to see: The bye is over-rated. Because teams get stale with long layoffs. We saw that when the NCAA tournament handed out byes to its top 16 teams in the early ’80s.
But that, I believe, will lead to a very quick move to a 16-team college football playoff.
I don’t expect to be a fan of that, either. By then, though, I hope to have come to grips with the fact that college football missed its best opportunity: An eight-team playoff that rewards conference champions, plus a few others to round out the field.
To me, football is a game about territory. At least it used to be.