It is official. College football has a playoff and to the delight of most. As a College Football Purist myself, I find the new formatted system acceptable, but it was not easy to take in. Traditionally, I have been a proponent of a plus-one model if the particular season called for it, but any talks of an 8-team playoff goes way too far.
It’s the pageantry, rivalries and tradition of college football that makes it the best sport in the world. It’s become a talking point for us College Football Purists, but the fact of the matter is that college football remains the only sport where the regular season still matters and even that has taken some what of a hit. The reason why the pageantry, rivalries and traditions of college football are so great however, is largely due to the importance of the regular season. Now, with the new playoff system in tact, college football must do all that it can to protect the integrity of the regular season.
Pro-playoff fans have always touted the NFL playoffs and or cited how fun the NCAA Basketball Tournament is to watch. But the devastation of the losses in either of those two sports does not compare to one in college football. If top five teams meet on the football field, odds are that someone’s national title hopes die that day. In basketball, the cold reality is that in the grand scheme of things, that would be one of the more meaningless games played all year. The worst that could happen is that one of the teams may drop a seed or two as the brackets are unveiled. Florida and Ohio State met as top five teams on the basketball court during the 2006-07 season with Florida winning. The teams both went on to be number-one seeds and both schools wound up playing for the title. Nothing resulted from Florida’s victory in Gainesville.
It’s not only the top teams meeting that make college football great however. The upsets and the rivalries also have added importance because of the regular season. Take last season and Iowa State upsetting #2 Oklahoma State. The loss for the Cowboys kept them out of playing for the BCS National Championship. Upsets of that magnitude happen all the time in basketball and they never keep one of the best teams in the country out of the NCAA Tournament. It could be an upset like that which puts the team that pulls the upset into the tournament, but the top-tier team is left virtually unscathed. Last season’s upset will go down in Iowa State lore. How many regular season upsets in College Basketball (other than Chaminade and Virginia) even get mentioned more than a few years later?
Rivalries also have had added importance due to a lack of a playoff. Sure, Duke and North Carolina or Kentucky and Louisville are great games and fun to watch, but do they usually shift the landscape of college basketball? Almost never. Duke and North Carolina split last season on the basketball court and both schools earned top-two seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky’s victory over Louisville on New Year’s Eve was an exciting one, but it didn’t stop either of the two schools from meeting a second time in the Final Four. In fact, both Final Four games were match-ups from the regular season. You could say that LSU and Alabama met twice last year on the football field, but that was the first time that teams who had previously played met in the National Championship in 14 years of the BCS.
The rivalries are also better because of the magnitude of the regular season. When UCLA defeated arch-rival USC on the final Saturday of the 2006 season, it ended USC’s chances of playing for a third national title in four years. It remains and will forever remain one of the more memorable wins in UCLA football history because it ended their rivals hopes of a national championship. Had that happened on the basketball court or with a larger playoff pool, the only repercussions would be a lower seed in the tournament for the Trojans.
The BCS will be scrapped for a selection committee and they will be in charge of upholding the integrity of college football’s regular season. We College Football Purists should view them as the Supreme Court of College Football. This committee has to be made up of football people, not university presidents or co-ed intramural bowling coaches. There will a number of new things that need to be considered like conference championships, strength of schedule and keeping the importance of every game as high as possible.
Conference championships should be held in high regard by this newly formed selection committee. It still puts a premium on winning the conference and avoids making them irrelevant. We would not want teams like LSU of last season, resting players in the SEC Championship with a spot in the postseason already locked up. The same would be true of Auburn the year before. It happened last year, but it’s always been hard for me to fathom a team being good enough to carry the title National Champions and not being able to carry the Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC Champions banner.
However, while conference championships should be held in high regard, having them as a requirement goes a little far. If that were the case last year, Wisconsin and Oregon would have been in the four-team playoff (had it existed) rather than Alabama and Stanford. Fewer losses with similar schedule strength in that case should take precedent, but in the event of choosing teams with similar resume’s, the conference champion should win out. If last season played out under the new format and the final spot was between an 11-1 Alabama team that failed to win the SEC West and an 11-1 Oklahoma State team wearing the Big XII crown, Oklahoma State should get the nod.
The issue of resting players could also present itself the week before the conference championships in rivalry games. Say if Ohio State and Michigan already had their respective divisions of the Big Ten won when they met on the field in late November and were set to meet again a week later for the conference title, the late November game suddenly doesn’t seem so important with so much emphasis put on winning the conference crown. If one or both of those teams are undefeated, the undefeated school may not play to win that game. The selection committee should do all it can to incentivize those schools to win both games and not make the rivalry moot. There will obviously be seasons where a team that loses in one of the final two weeks still gets in, but schools should carry a constant fear that with a loss, they may not.
The circumstances could also be similar with non-conference rivalry games. For example, if Florida and Florida State met in the last weekend of November and the Gators were 11-0 and the Seminoles were 10-1, that game may only mean something to Florida State. If the SEC Championship the following week determines Florida’s fate, they may not play what has always been a heated rivalry game with the same intensity as usual. If both teams came in 11-0 and each had conference championships the following week and were locks to be in the top four with a conference title, neither may care all that much to win the game. The objective of the selection committee first and foremost should be to keep every game as important as possible.
While there is still much to learn about the new playoff format, the system has done a lot of things right to keep the traditions of college football alive. Keeping it at four teams for a dozen years was a good start and keeping the bowl system and conference tie-ins was also a huge plus. We’re still going to see the Big Ten and Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl a lot and the ACC will keep its tie-in with the Orange Bowl. It also opens the door to allow an undefeated mid-major with a couple solid non-conference wins the chance to compete for it all.
Hopefully, the system gets no larger. Adding 8, 10, 12 or 16 teams would make all the other bowls like the NIT is in basketball. It’s no longer considered an accomplishment to make the NIT and there is nothing I hate more than having to watch the NIT. Being the fifth or sixth best team in the country and winning the Sugar Bowl should still be considered a really great season. Finishing 13th or 17th and winning a game like that just doesn’t seem to have the same luster.
If you’re a College Football Purists like myself, you’re probably a little worried about where this is going to lead. This may not have come out as great news when you first heard it and like it or not, it does take away from the regular season a bit. If you’re a SEC school now, avoiding the first loss is no longer all that important and the door is opened for schools to rest players prior to big games. I was not initially all that thrilled with the ideas of bowl games as semifinals. I would have rather seen both semifinals the week after the conference championships with the losers of semifinals still going to bowl game. I was also worried that teams would play in multiple bowl games in the same season which would have been a travesty. But since the title game will not be considered a bowl game, I find it a little more palatable. The best way to look at this for a College Football Purist is like this: it’s like the pre-BCS days with bowl games with conference ties and traditions only there is one more game afterward.
It appears, at least for the time being, that the sanctity of the regular season will stay MOSTLY in tact and there will be no more third undefeated teams on the outside looking in. Hopefully for the sake of college football, this doesn’t lead to an 8, 12 or 16 team monstrosity where the value of making a bowl game is greatly diminished.
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