Time, and historians, will tell if the Big Ten, Pac-12 and others were right to think initially that it was not a good idea to play college football this fall. The Ivy League, which gives the nation the majority of its Supreme Court justices and a big share of its thinkers, thought it was smart—and stuck to its guns, staying shut down in an effort to combat the Coronavirus that still rages around the nation.
Yeah, yeah. Money talks. Even in a pandemic.
Like the rest of the world, I like gathering around a table with friends and family. But that is something I haven’t really done since March, because that advice from health experts seemed very wise.
That said, like many people, I have enjoyed watching college football and other sports that have played on when we were locked inside and needed a respite. Ir has been an ironic blessing.
Maybe we could have stopped this Covid-19 madness earlier. Maybe we are paying a big price for not taking it seriously enough earlier. I don’t know.
What I do know is that trying to navigate a finish to this college football season is becoming increasingly problematic. Games are being canceled. Teams are playing without key players.
Ohio State is walking a tightrope in an effort to play enough games to be eligible for the post-season. Wisconsin’s schedule already is in tatters. The Pac-12 is mess. Other leagues are shuffling their schedules like decks of cards in an effort to get to the finish line.
Try figuring out a College Football Playoff lineup in this kind of uncertainty.
And yet, it will go on. Because we like our games. And because college athletic departments need the money—no matter what they say.
And so, here’s a thought. This is a weird and unprecedented year. Why not think outside the box?
Just go to an eight-team playoff. Let’s run the virus gauntlet for two more games that matter, games that will be great to watch and that will bring in a few more dollars. Share the wealth with over-burdened health-care providers, please.
Everyone has been ignoring Dr. Fauci’s warnings. Led by Texas A&M, the SEC, ACC and other conferences are admitting spectators and turning games into potential super-spreaders. Notre Dame fans rushed the field in what might be the season’s most cringe-worthy moment.
In December and early January, the students are gone. Football teams can isolate.
An eight-team playoff would provide additional revenue. It would be a good trial run, similar to the expanded baseball playoffs. Why not give it a chance? Instead of a bowl game plus-one, an eight-team playoff would be plus-three. Two more games. For a very exciting new experiment.
An expanded playoff also could put an upbeat finish to what has been a very troubled season.
If this is supposed to be a national tournament, the field should reflect that. What makes the NCAA basketball tournament great is that it is inclusive. Football tends to think the other way. Instead of obsessing about ruling out candidates because they have a bad game or have played too few games because they initially thought it was unsafe to play, the College Football Playoff should aim for a national field.
Why not give everyone a chance to play a little more football? Since we’ve already decided to ignore the experts, what do two more games matter?
My expanded playoff would give a berth to the five Power Five champions, plus three at-large entries. Maybe yours wouldn’t. It works in the NFL. Just check out NFC East.
Let me just say here that I know this has no chance of actually happening. Unlike the official pro sports, which have a unified governing body, college football, which is professional in the most important ways, is a loose confederation that makes sudden change off the field virtually impossible.
I know some people have a problem with an eight-team playoff. But it’s an interesting concept that will happen someday. Can you imagine the excitement if the Pac-12 and Big 12 championship games are played for a playoff berth?
Here’s a no-risk chance to try it.
Using the usual logical assumptions that routinely get blown up in college football, let’s suppose the league champions are Alabama (SEC), Clemson (ACC), Iowa State or Oklahoma (Big 12), Ohio State (Big Ten) and Washington or Oregon (Pac-12).
The first at-large would be Notre Dame. Although at this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if Notre Dame won the ACC. In which case Clemson would be an at-large.
For the second at-large, let’s have an informal play-in game between BYU, which is looking for games, and Cincinnati, which is looking for respect. Yes, it would be a regular-season game in this irregular season. But it would become a must-watch event. The winner would be the first Group of 5 in the College Football Playoff.
The final at-large would go to Texas A&M, which has played quite well since not looking very good against Alabama. But who looks good against Alabama?
If you want to tweak the matchups, that’s fine. There’ s a lot of December football to be played. That would sort itself out.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Oregon/Washington
OK, Pac-12 you’re in. Let’s see what you’ve got. And for the Tide, a reward for a dominant season. In the Sugar Bowl.
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Iowa State/Oklahoma
Let’s see what blue-collar Iowa State or revived Oklahoma can do against the perennial-power Tigers, who are only one tough trip to South Bend removed from looking like a juggernaut. In the Orange Bowl.
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Texas A&M
The Fighting Irish, who have built momentum that makes them a serious playoff contender despite a tough loss to Clemson in the ACC title game, take on the Aggies, who have momentum of their own. In the Fiesta Bowl.
No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Cincinnati
The Big Ten figures out a way to let Ohio State show, on the field, what its true upside is. This would be an all-Ohio matchup in which the Bearcats will be the underdog. But the Buckeyes better watch out. In the Rose Bowl.
Winners advance to the semi-finals in Dallas and Atlanta, or wherever. With no fans (let’s hope) in the stands, location doesn’t really matter that much. Do that on Jan. 11, the Monday night when the championship game is scheduled to be played.
And then play the new championship game on Jan. 18, or whenever. Keep it in Atlanta, Move it to Indianapolis, or wherever.
Yeah, I know it’s not gonna happen. But it’s feasible. It would spread a little more joy, raise a little more cash. And in this unprecedented, unloved year, there would be no obligation to keep an expanded playoff moving forward.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? Oregon?