NCAA FB

New format is playoff in name only

Watch as the BCS committee talks about the new playoff system.
Watch as the BCS committee talks about the new playoff system.
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Dan Wolken

Before joining The Daily, Dan Wolken’s investigative work into the recruiting practices of Air Force football led to a Congressional audit. Wolken later became a leading national voice on college basketball, documenting the University of Memphis' rise to prominence and breaking important stories on the ensuing NCAA investigation.

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Even on what should have been college football’s greatest day, the powers that be couldn’t help but insult their fans one more time.

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Yes, a four-team tournament will decide college football’s champion in the 2014 season. The BCS — finally, mercifully — is dead. That’s the good news. And given the glacial pace of progress in this sport, maybe this isn’t the day to complain.

But this always has been college football’s way, to make its fans beg for a loaf of bread to the point of being thankful when a few crumbs fall off the plate. The new postseason that college presidents formally approved Tuesday at a meeting in Washington DC, is better than what it is replacing.

It’s not nearly good enough.

And it’s certainly not a playoff.

Including just four teams isn’t a true playoff. Catering to the corrupt bowl system by anointing six games as semifinal sites isn’t a true playoff. Putting the selection of teams in the hands of a cloak-and-dagger committee isn’t a true playoff.

And before the public even had an opportunity to catch on to the ruse, presidents and conference commissioners went ahead and stuffed this system down our throats for 12 years, always one step ahead of the posse.

Instead of a four-year or eight-year deal that would allow a real playoff to evolve organically, we get 12 years of a system that may not be much more satisfying to anyone except those who count the money.

It’s offensive to label this a playoff, to the point that the so-called “plus-one” might have made more sense. In that model, the bowl system would have remained essentially the same as before. Then, whoever was left standing as the No. 1 and 2 teams would meet in a championship game.

Under the system adopted Tuesday, only two bowl games really will matter. As long as athletic departments are going to continue outsourcing their biggest revenue stream and letting bowl-game operators take a cut, why not make as many of them seem relevant as possible?

At least in a plus-one, you potentially could have a New Year’s Day with several teams playing their way in or out of a championship game. That’s gone now. The TCU team that beat Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl or the Utah team that stunned Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl may not have been picked for a four-team playoff those years. But after proving how good they were against elite power conference teams, those games would have mattered in a plus-one.

And that’s ultimately going to be the downfall of this system, the idea that deserving teams will get left out almost every year while college football sells this as a way to identify a true champion. Prove it on the field? Only to a point.

There probably will be two teams every year on which it won’t be hard to find a consensus. But the third and fourth usually won’t be so obvious, and the difference between No. 4 and No. 5 most years may come down to personal preference. Or parsing the merits of a second-place team from the SEC against an undefeated team such as Boise State. How do you choose? Who is more, quote-unquote, deserving? More important, will you trust whoever is making those decisions?

And by whoever, they really mean whoever. The selection committee was one of many nitty-gritty details left unresolved, which is kind of a big deal because they’re only going to be the most scrutinized and debated people in sports every December.

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  • The four-team seeded college football playoff is ...
    • Awesome
    • Horrible
    • Don't care

Now we all know there’s only one truly impartial selection committee, and those are the men and women who run sports books in Las Vegas. Something tells me college presidents aren’t going to let them pick the teams. So it’s going to be up to a blue-ribbon panel, perhaps made up of some former coaches and other dignitaries, which automatically means much of the public will believe bias is in play.

Maybe that’s true, and maybe not. Either way, can these people really sell that team No. 4 is more qualified than Nos. 5 and 6? That’s going to be tough, and if the process isn’t transparent and explainable, it will undermine the credibility that was supposed to be enhanced by a tournament.

There’s also the matter of what role the Boises have in this system. Will there be room for them at the table, or does the “open marketplace,” as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby described it to ESPN’s Joe Schad, inherently favor the big boys? We all know the answer, and it probably won’t take but a few years for an undefeated team from outside the power structure to get shut out of the so-called playoff.

And when that happens, this venture will be seen as a failure. College football is the only sport in which you can win every game and still not play for a national title, a major reason the public was so fed up with the old system. What happened doesn’t change that. The BCS might now have the perfume of a playoff, but you can still smell the BS.

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