The 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee were officially announced Wednesday, the most significant news for the sport this week. Next season they will choose the four teams that will compete in the long-overdue tournament to crown a national champion. It created some waves among wrong-headed Neanderthals who questioned the credentials of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and some misguided skeptics who wondered how these 13 would avoid voting their biases.
That’s hogwash. Rice has more than enough experience assessing precarious situations and making decisions; and the rest are not only are respected for their integrity but will be certain this highly-scrutinized process is conducted above board.
The potential problem here is not going to be the committee. It’s the playoff system itself. The four-team model is a huge improvement over the BCS, but it’s still not enough. To give every legitimate contender a shot at the title and be certain the best team ends up with the crown, the field should have been at least eight teams.
The CFP selection committee already is certain to be treated like a piñata. To recreate the tension of the BCS rankings and give as much transparency to its process, they will issue rankings every couple weeks beginning in the middle of October. So there will be at least three times for them to invite outrage about how they’re not calculating strength of schedule right or not weighing some esoteric metric enough.
Then they’ll put out their Final Four and the screaming will really start. The NCAA Tournament men’s basketball selection committee gets raked over the coals over the last six-to-eight teams it does not choose and it gets to issue 37 at-large invitations. The FCP picks only four teams, and are not compelled to choose conference champions.
Look no further than this season to get an idea of why a four-team model isn’t enough. The Big 12’s Texas Tech is formidable and undefeated but ranked in both polls behind five other teams from four other conferences that haven’t lost. Let’s say No.1 Alabama (SEC), No. 2 Oregon (Pac-12), No. 4 Ohio State (Big Ten) and the winner of last night’s late ACC game between No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State all end up running the table. The Red Raiders likely wouldn’t leapfrog one. The committee, were it in place, wouldn’t choose them and indignation would follow.
This format leaves college football with the same problem the BCS had all along when it encountered teams from non-Automatic Qualifying conferences that turned out to be powerhouses. Such teams cracked the BCS seven times to reach major bowls – and went 5-2 in them – but none got a shot at the ring. And probably none would get one in this new system.
That means that great Cinderella stories like Butler reaching two men’s basketball Final Fours and two championship games, one where it was one shot from winning, aren’t possible. Cinderella never even gets to the dress for the ball here. The CFP is just the four No. 1 seeds.
College football doesn’t need a 68-team tournament – 16 would probably be fine with all the conference champions invited – but eight would be plenty. A team not among the top eight probably doesn’t have a realistic shot at even a Cinderella run through three tough games. And this season’s Texas Tech Red Raiders aren’t exactly a Cinderella.
Something better could come soon enough. The basketball tournament was at 16 teams in the 1940s and grew from there. Progress takes time and ultimately the CFP field may expand. So when the committee names a quartet that excludes an unbeaten team that is undeniably a contender, it might be best to hold our outrage. They aren’t flawed, the system is.
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