College football is a total mess
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Picture this scenario: Following a football league’s grueling regular season, the fans of a nationally popular game are told that people who have yet to play one second of the game they cherish will be tasked with deciding who gets to play in postseason competition and who doesn’t.
Welcome to the world of college football.
Many years ago, wire services and other media entities just crowned a national champion of college football. That system received so much negative attention that college football needed a new plan and a definitive solution.
As a member of the Fourth Estate, I continually voiced my opinion to decide on an actual national champion of college football on the field. At that time, basketball, baseball, hockey and other major and minor college sports crowned their national champions following playoff game competition.
College basketball became a mega-conglomerate with March Madness, a postseason tournament that has grown to be one of the most significant television events of the year. The Final Four weekend, the culmination of this tournament season that features over 150 men’s college basketball teams, is a can’t-miss TV event. And when you add to that the Women’s College Basketball Tournament, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s “Frozen Four” hockey tournaments, as well as postseason competition in women’s college softball and men’s baseball — not to mention other college sports that decide champions through a head-to-head match — you wonder why it took so long for college football to join the modern age.
One of the main arguments against a playoff system in college football centers around the idea of football being a “dangerous game.” I pooh-poohed that argument for decades by pointing out that college football, like football at any level, is a risky endeavor and that the people controlling the sport, from Pop Warner to the National Football League, care about money first. At the same time, player safety comes far down their list of importance. So, why not settle the issue of crowning a college football champion on the field of play?
Like many others in the media, my words fell on the deaf ears of those who controlled college football, the NCAA. When that archaic organization joined the modern sports landscape and worked out a system that they felt would produce a legitimate college football champion, their efforts, like so many of their futile attempts to get something right, continued their legacy of futility.
Enter the current situation of the College Football Playoff — an absolute MESS!
This past weekend, a committee of 13 people decided they would pick, in their opinion — the four top teams to play for the National Championship of college football.
These 13 people, as a group, have watched college football for this entire season, so they claim. They also purport to have a firm grasp of the best teams in the college game. They created this lineup to compete for the National College Football title:
Number 1: The undefeated and top-ranked Michigan Wolverines (Big 10 champion, 13-0), presently the subject of a significant sign-stealing (i.e., cheating) scandal. With all that has already been exposed in this scandal, one has to wonder why the committee even considered their entry into the tournament. The answer: Money.
Number 2: The University of Washington Huskies (Pac-12 champion, 13-0) with no significant scandal attached to their season.
Number 3: The University of Texas Longhorns (Big 12 champion, 12-1), who spanked “Bama” in Tuscaloosa, with their only loss being a 34-30 setback to the Oklahoma Sooners.
Number 4: Alabama, postseason champions of the Southeastern Conference, rose from the eighth position in the national rankings and jumped to the no. 4 spot following their 27-24 victory over two-time defending national champion Georgia in the SEC postseason championship game. The Crimson Tide’s victory stopped the Bulldogs’ 29-game win streak.
But the rub is that Bama’s victory should not have vaulted it past the undefeated (12-0) Florida State Seminoles, the postseason champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference. There is a problem with that. Several problems. But none more significant than the committee going against its own precedent by snubbing a Power Five conference champion with a perfect record that included three wins over top-20 teams and wins over SEC teams outside of Tallahassee.
Added to that insult is that the Seminoles, with one of the top defenses in the country, were bypassed because of a season-ending injury to star quarterback Jordan Travis, who suffered a broken leg Nov. 18 against North Alabama. Despite the monumental loss of Travis, the team still finished unbeaten, with victories in non-conference games against Louisiana State University and Florida, beating the Tigers by a wider margin than Alabama did. And while the committee sees Florida State as a lesser team without Travis, it failed to remember that a lesser team beat Florida in Gainesville and, despite being down to their third-string quarterback, beat Louisville for the ACC postseason title.
I realize that the playoff selection process is a subjective decision made by a collection of individuals. That fact alone will always be open to criticism and controversy, like our current one. And this will still be the case when the playoff field expands from four teams to 12 in 2024.
I agree with those who say that the purest, most conclusive metric is results — wins and losses. On that basis, Florida State had a better season than Texas and Alabama. And if the committee ignores that, then what is the use of a playoff at all? And for that matter, what is the use of even having a season?
Pick a team or conference you like and anoint them national champions of college football.
Florida State and college football deserve better than what it got from “the selection committee.”