Four-Team Playoff is Not the Solution
By Jacob Shoor
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A four-team playoff is even more unsatisfactory than the bowl system capped by a two-team playoff to name the national champion.
I think most people who have been demanding the head of the BCS have been so delirious that there is going to be a playoff larger than two teams (and that is what we have now: a two-team playoff) that they have not bothered to think about how, before they know it, they will hate a four-team playoff as much as they now hate the two-team playoff.
An article by CBS Sports' Brett McMurphy may help open some eyes to the fact that the four-team playoff is fraught with land mines. The most powerful conference commissioner is the Big Ten's Jim Delaney, and Delaney is going out of his way to emphasize the conference champion-only model for a four-team playoff. The Pac-12's Larry Scott, not surprisingly considering the Rose Bowl Alliance that is only going to become tighter, agrees with Delaney. The SEC's Mike Slive, envisioning repeats of last year's BCS Championship of two SEC teams playing for the national title, wants the top four ranked teams, regardless of conference titles. The ACC's John Swofford agrees in the main with Slive.
And so we already have armed camps divided about how the four teams in the playoff will be selected. The two positions represent fundamentally different visions of how major college football should proceed into an era in which bowls will eventually exist only as names attached to playoff sites. And because the Rose Bowl Alliance is so rich and controls a swath of the country from PA across the midwest and past the Rockies to the Pacific, its emphasis on protecting the integrity of the major conferences by honoring their champions cannot be dismissed. No matter how much basic sense the Mike Slive plan makes (what could be more 'fair' than to have the top four ranked teams play? Maybe only the top two playing? Maybe the top 16?), it cannot work long term if adopted. And I think that the Pac and Big Ten will prevent its adoption.
But the Jim Delaney plan will also lead to major dissatisfaction. The first time that the SEC has a team ranked top four that is not SEC champ, Mike Slive will be ready to declare open war. And that is not the whole of it. The first time a Pac or Big Ten champ is not among the top four rated Major conference champs, both leagues in the Rose Bowl Alliance will be livid.
And perhaps most important: the first time an independent Notre Dame gets in the four-team playoff, everybody will be ready to scrap the system.
All this is a way to help frame what I outlined in a previous article: http://www.southernpigskin.com/SEC/view/a-feasible-playoff-system. A four-team playoff is even more unsatisfactory than the bowl system capped by a two-team playoff to name the national champion. If you are going to junk a century of the traditions of college football bound up with bowls, you at least need to do it right from the get-go.
And getting it right means that two things, the main component of the Jim Delaney plan and the main component of the Mike Slive plan, both need to be in the system. The Major conferences must be honored by having their champions in the playoffs, and teams that are second place, perhaps third place, in Major conferences need an opportunity to strut their stuff in the playoffs if the rankings say they belong.
To do both, the playoff must be at least 8 teams: champions of five Major conferences and three at-large teams. The bone tossed to Mike Slive: a conference can have as many as three teams in the playoff if the two that are not league champs are ranked Top eight. The bone tossed to Jim Delaney and his ally Larry Scott: the Rose Bowl will always be a neutral site for either the National Championship Game or the semi-final on the side of the bracket with either the Pac champ or the Big Ten champ or both.
That is a three week playoff rather than a two week four-team playoff. That is not as comprehensive and thus not as 'fair' as the 16-team playoff I have endorsed, but it is much better than any four-team playoff that can be devised.