The Commissioners for the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences (plus Notre Dame), have reached a consensus on a four-team playoff starting in 2014. For those that loathe the BCS system, this should sound like fantastic news. The burning question is though, will it change anything at all?
In truth, it might. Then again, it might not. What comes out of the next round of meetings will determine the all-crucial details that will determine whether we’ve really gained a better system or simply repackaged the old deal in a new dress.
Here’s what we know right now:
- The new playoff will involve four teams.
- The semi-final games will be played within the existing bowl season.
- The bowls hosting the semi-final games will be major bowls and will no longer hold conference affiliations. In other words, the Rose Bowl will no longer be tied to the Big Ten and Pac-12, the Orange Bowl will no longer be tied to the ACC, etc. That’s big for traditionalists that don’t like seeing “outsiders” infiltrating their bowl games.
- A selection committee will decide who the four teams are that will compete for a shot at the national title. It won’t be solely on poll rankings or computer algorithms.
The four-team model isn’t at all surprising.
It is about the only model that the commissioners have even remotely glanced at with any seriousness since the entire playoff debate began years ago.
However, who is this committee? What will their qualifications be? What ties will they have to particular conferences, or will they have any at all?
What kind of criteria will they be looking for when having to decide between four teams with identical records and similar schedules to fill the final two spots for the playoffs?
See where this can go?
In fairness, getting any kind of a playoff is a step in the right direction. Trying to say unequivocally that only two teams out of 120+ have “earned” the right to play for the national title is a bit ridiculous.
The teams that combine to make up the FBS cover every geographic region, play wildly dissimilar schedules, have as many different types of stadiums and fan bases as there are cities to host them, and out of all of this you think you can identify just two that absolutely rise above and beyond the rest?
Pu-leeze. There have been four-loss teams in the past that I would have loved to have seen go head-to-head with the championship contenders. There are just too many variables that exist to draw accurate conclusions.
We’ve been comparing apples to bananas. The oranges were left out of the basket altogether.
Even if it isn’t perfect, getting four teams into the mix and forcing the contenders to battle it out on the field at least offers a measure of legitimacy that the current system sorely lacks. Perceptions can take a back seat to performance when it matters most. And, as much as I’ve personally lobbied for an eight-team playoff, keeping it to only four teams does help guarantee that the regular season remains as important as it has been.
On the downside though, what about number five? You know, that team that won just as many games as the number four team, beat one extra ranked opponent, but happened to lose to some crummy, po-dunk school in a trap game and got overlooked for the playoffs? What about that conference champion that put together a 10-win season against tough competition, but doesn’t have the pedigree of some of the other contenders and fell one game short of matching records with a conference runner-up somewhere else that arguably may have played a slightly softer schedule?
It’s going to happen if there aren’t safeguards put into place before this deal is finalized. Mark my words, if there aren’t specific guidelines for selecting the four teams that will participate in these playoffs, we’re going to get exactly what we have now, only on a bigger scale. The powers that be will scratch their heads and mumble “you wanted a playoff” while continuing to make the same lame decisions that brought on the ire of the fans in the first place.
The Boise State’s and TCU’s of the college football world will still get snubbed. The Oklahoma State’s will still get passed over because they drop a triple-overtime road game to Iowa State – a team that has made something of a name for itself for doing little more than coming up with one huge upset per year.
We’ll still hear debates as to whether a two-loss SEC champion should get the nod over a one-loss ACC champion and we’ll still argue about exactly what Notre Dame’s record should be for inclusion since they don’t play a typical conference schedule. For that matter, we’ll still argue as to whether or not the Irish should be allowed to participate in the playoffs at all until they join a conference (I vote no).
So, the conference commissioners have agreed that a four-team playoff is the way to go. I’ll be the first to say that I’m thrilled. I wasn’t sure I’d ever live to see this day, to be honest with you.
However, we’re not out of the woods yet, folks. Not even by a sliver of a long shot. What we know right now is just enough to see that nothing may change at all. As the old psychological saying goes, the BCS can only really change when it wants to change. If the commissioners don’t honestly see what the problems are that have plagued their system, then all the window dressing in the world won’t cause that skunk to change its stripes.
Stix Symmonds is a Big Ten Columnist and College Football Analyst for GridironGrit.com. He’s also the co-host for Stix & Stones Big Ten Banter and Ranked! podcats. Follow @StixSymmonds and @GridironGrit on Twitter!