January 6th, 2014—the end of the BCS era.
The college football world declared out with the old and in with the new after Florida State beat Auburn 34-31 when it was announced that “A new era for postseason college football begins next year.” (Quote courtesy of the New York Times)
The Bowl Championship Series began in 1998, and though there were many flaws in the system of selecting the two teams that would play in the title game, we were privileged to have seen some of the greatest college football games of all time, including the Texas-USC “Going for the corner!” game in 2006 and Jameis Winston’s game-winning drive as Florida State took down Auburn to end the seven year-SEC Championship reign in 2014.
But while there are people that cherish the good memories, there are also people that pinpoint the mistakes, and for the most part, the latter are shouting the loudest—and unfortunately for the BCS, their pattern of continual errors was too much to overcome, and the critics of their system ended with the last laugh.
There were ultimately two major blemishes that led to the demise of the BCS system.
In 2003, USC, LSU and Oklahoma held the top three spots in the polls, respectively. Each team finished with one loss, but the committee chose Oklahoma and LSU as the championship representatives, despite an Oklahoma 28-point loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game. LSU would go on to beat Oklahoma 21-14 in the title game, but because USC won their bowl game, they remained number 1 in the AP poll, and ended with a “split” National title—a travesty that no sports fan should ever have to witness.
The second error by the committee occurred in 2011, when Alabama and LSU, two SEC teams, squared off in the title game after LSU had already beaten Alabama on the road in the regular season with a snooze-fest score of 9-6. Alabama would beat LSU 21-0 in the championship game, which makes the committee look a heck of a lot better, but realistically a 12-1 conference champion Oklahoma State team should have received the nod over Alabama.
Fast forward to 2014—fans are licking their chops at the announcement of the College Football Playoff system. There would now be four teams vying for the title—a lesser version of the NFL playoffs that would surely decrease the controversy in college football.
Well, no. Not really.
The committee has essentially taken the BCS process and expanded it from two to four teams, and are still stuck with the unfixable issue with college football—if you choose two teams, team three will always feel left out. Choose four teams, and five and six will feel they deserved a shot. It’s the same as college basketball, but the stakes are nowhere near as high for the 69th and 70th best teams as they are for the 5th and 6th best teams.
Is there a fix for this predicament that will appease everyone? Of course not—people are greedy and will always be left wanting more. But the most obvious quick fix is 8 teams—you get your Power 5 champions in for sure, and 3 other teams have the opportunity to be “wildcards”.
It’s interesting that the committee chose to initially go with four teams in the playoff knowing that one or more Power 5 Champions will be left out—one certainly can’t deny that it creates more drama late in the season, but it also throws more bias into the selection: “what constitutes a good win or a bad loss?”, “How can we compare one team’s schedule to another?”, “How do we determine strength of conference?”
Among others, these questions can be answered, but only with opinions. Now, for the most part, college football fans should be able to trust the committee—a team of college football experts should be able to select the correct four teams to compete for the title.
But they’ve proved they’re only human—last season, Ohio State had no business being in the playoff after failing to reach the Big Ten Championship and losing to the Big Ten Champion Penn State. And this season, pending the outcome of the last few weeks, the College Football Playoff Committee could face their toughest test yet because of one team—Notre Dame.
The Irish do not belong to a conference, and have been independent since their beginning. This season, they have amounted to an 8-1 record with a very respectable schedule, with wins over Michigan State, USC, and NC State, and a one-point loss to number one Georgia. They have to be considered title contenders.
For their sake, the committee should be cheering for Notre Dame to lose—if the Irish win out, the 13 people who make the selections could potentially be faced with a serious dilemma given the following scenario:
- Alabama and Georgia play each other undefeated in the SEC Championship
- Clemson/Miami win out and play in the ACC Championship
- Oklahoma/TCU wins out
- Wisconsin wins the Big Ten Championship and goes 13-0.
- Notre Dame wins out
Now, those are a lot of “if” statements—college football is unpredictable, and with four weeks left to play, something crazy is bound to happen. On the off chance that the above scenarios play out, we may be in for an inevitable playoff expansion.
But for now, our college football playoff is constricted to four teams—it’s relatively new, and it doesn’t make any sense, but above all, it creates madness.
And isn’t that what college football is all about?