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Column: Why an 8-team college football playoff is best


By Joe Popely




In a unanimous endorsement, the 11 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick have recommended a four-team, seeded playoff to determine the college football National Champion.

It’s about time. Proponents of a college football playoff can start to exhale.

Or, if you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ll let out a quick sigh of relief and then gulp in a deep breath so you can explain ways the proposal can be improved.

A four-team, seeded playoff is a step in the right direction.

A four-team, seeded playoff sure beats the current system.

A four-team, seeded playoff is not enough.

The commissioners and Swarbrick send their proposal to the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, which is comprised of presidential representatives from the 11 conferences and Notre Dame, for a potential decision Tuesday.

The committee will try to find a model that pleases all reps.

The Presidential Oversight Committee won’t vote on the proposal but still has the final say in how a National Champion is crowned.

Members of the committee will debate and discuss all possible playoff systems, including the “plus-one” playoff system (choose two teams to play in the title game after bowl season) favored by Big Ten representative Harvey Perlman of Nebraska.

If some of the conferences don’t like it, they can opt out of the system, an unlikely scenario given the revenue, exposure and publicity that comes with playing for a National Championship.

I am sorry Mr. Perlman, but a plus-one system is lame. A plus-one system feels like a cop-out.

The current BCS bowls are usually exciting, well-played games (Err ... save this past year’s national championship). But really, most fans still don’t feel like they mean anything.

Having teams play in bowls and then selecting two teams to play in a national championship? Now that truly makes the other bowls look useless.

A major goal of the proposed four-team, seed playoff is to make selecting the teams worthy of competing for a national title an objective and transparent process.

A plus-one system, on the other hand, would only lead to more squabbling because it would likely use an arbitrary selection process.

How do you determine, for example, that the winner of the Sugar and Fiesta bowls are more worthy of playing in the national title game than the winners of the Rose and Orange bowls?

I’ll tell you how: with the same shadowy, confusing BCS rankings system that’s used today.

The four-team, seed playoff proposal would charge a selection committee, similar to the type used in determining what teams make the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, with selecting four teams to compete in the playoffs.

In particular, the committee would give more weight to teams that won their conference and have a strong strength-of-schedule.

As in that selection process, the selection process for the BCS playoff system will include snubs and selection committee flubs. It will never be perfect but can continually be improved. 

At least we will know how those teams are picked.

But four teams is not enough because it will likely lead to the same contenders year-in and year-out.

Coaches and administrators from the Big 12 and SEC in particular wanted the selection committee to ensure that the “four best teams” play for the national title, rather than give automatic bids to conference champions.

Fair enough. Nobody wants to see, let’s say, UConn get destroyed by Texas.  

It’s likely, though, that at least two of the four teams would come out of the Big 12 and SEC on an overly regular basis given the strength of those conferences.

Meanwhile, someone from the Pac-12 or Big Ten is left out, or Boise State and TCU will run the table and cry fowl once again.

The four-team proposal is solid, but it’s not enough.

An eight-team playoff is better because it ensures more teams with a legitimate shot at a national title will get their chance.

An eight-team playoff makes it more likely we’ll get diverse geographical representation in the playoff bracket and won’t feel like we’re crowning the National Champion of the South every year.

Keep the selection committee and give more weight to teams with a strong schedule and teams that win their conference.

Some worry that an eight-team playoff would stretch the season too long.

Then eliminate one of the “cupcake” games all FBS teams plays and trim the regular season schedule to 11. Force programs to schedule real opponents.

True, power conference teams will always have an advantage in scheduling marquee, out-of-conference matchups. But at least all teams with national title hopes will be motivated to play a legitimate out-of-conference schedule.

I mean, why is defending National Champion Alabama playing Western Carolina, an FCS team that finished 1-10 in 2011, in week 11 of the 2012 season?

I guess it helps them go undefeated.

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