Monday, January 2, 2017

College Football: Can we (or should we) fix the College Football Playoff?

On New Year's Eve evening people were already bemoaning another round of uninteresting College Football Playoff semi-finals before the 4th quarter even started in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Earlier in the afternoon Alabama had dismantled Washington 24-7 in a Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in a game that didn't feel as close as the final score.  Sadly, the nightcap was even worse as Clemson handed Urban Meyer his first shut-out as a head coach ever, thumping the Buckeyes 31-0.

It's probable that very few people were still tuned into the latter game, having chosen to go swill cheap sparkling wine rather than finish watching a mauling.

This is a problem, and it's a recurring one at that. In the three years that we've had a CFP 5 of the 6 semi-final games have been atrocious mis-matches with only Ohio State's 2014 upset over Alabama being what you would call a "good" college football game.  Add to that the horrible decision in 2015 and 2016 to schedule the games on New Year's Eve and you have a multi-pronged disaster.

But, can it be fixed?  SHOULD it be fixed? Is it too early after 3 years to declare the entire mess a disaster?

My answers to this are yes, and yes.  But while the feeling on the first question is unanimous the actual fix for the problem is not that easy.  My preferred choice, is to expand the playoff to 16 teams taking all FBS conference champions and the next 6 at-large teams to make a true playoff. I think that would work but there's little support for it.  The loudest noises are coming from those who want to expand to just 8, which is better, but still leaves out several deserving teams IMO. Amazingly, there are a few (usually SEC loyalists) who think returning to the old, SEC-biased B(C)S system is the best way.

Barring that however, and admitting that playoff expansion is not coming any time soon, here are my "doable" ideas for fixing a playoffs that are threatening to fall in on themselves......

1. Move the games away from New Year's Eve. Granted, this has already happened starting next season, but it was a needed change that should have never been necessary in the first place.

2. Expand the selection committee and bring in a more diverse group of voices. The weakest link in the entire system is the selection committee itself. It's very old-school, very "clubby" and very much not representative of how college football is ran today.  I would increase the committee to around 20, and I would bring in not just AD's, college football insiders and former coaches but also members of the media, internet media, and others. In short: I would bring in the people who are watching the most college football every week, and spending the most amount of time and effort writing and talking about it.

3. Start looking at the computers again. Not weighting them, or factoring them in, but looking at them. "The eye test" is meaningless considering many teams aren't scheduling properly, and many in the committee haven't been involved in the current game.

4. Stop releasing interim rankings. Those add nothing to the conversation. All they do is create a false conversation rigged to derive "controversy" where there is none.  What I would do is not release a top 25, but release a list of 10 teams that are "under consideration" without providing them any ranking at all.  Not only will this eliminate the tortured explanations from Horcutt every week but it will take away the bulk of the criticism when the committee inevitably gives the wrong team the benefit of the doubt because they're a blue blood and then denies it. (Looking at you Ohio State)

5. Publish, and stick to, a firm list of qualifications. Does winning your conference matter? Does score? Does strength of schedule?  Act like the college basketball committee and give us a strong indicator of why teams got in.

None of these 5 things are going to make the CFP controversy free overnight but, hopefully, they will improve the quality of games we see, going forward, in the semi-finals.

Of course, there's this:

This year, it probably wouldn't have mattered who the committee selected because it's pretty obvious both Alabama and Clemson are heads and shoulders above everyone else.  From that perspective maybe the system doesn't need fixing, it's the 3 and 4 seeds who do.

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