The slippery folks who rule college football are toying with new ways to distract the mob. After years of unpardonably rooking fans, they hope to placate us by considering a four-team playoff for 2014. The system has been so corrupt for so long, we are supposed to be grateful for the smallest possible concession. But let’s be real: What they are proposing is just a blueprint for another sewer line.
This week, the superpower conferences held their annual spring meetings, and they were a peepshow into the inner workings of empire, from the Southeastern Conference to the Big Ten. We saw the forces that really control them: quaking fear, and jealousy. A four-team playoff is inadequate, and everyone knows it, and the only reason they’re considering it is so they can continue to direct the lion’s share of revenue to themselves, because they are afraid of open competition.
The Bowl Championship Series is an exercise in rabid self-interest that unfairly excludes nearly half the teams in the country from playing for a championship. Now an even more severe choking point for cash is proposed, disguised as a playoff. Just listen to the arguments coming out of the conference meetings. These guys are so busy trying to maintain an unfair advantage and kill each other off, they can’t even agree on how to select four teams.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany insists the playoff should be restricted to four conference champions. Forget rankings, or mid-majors. Just reward the teams that sit atop the four most popular leagues. How very convenient. It’s a cold hard fact that no Big Ten team has played for a national championship since 2008, but Delany’s format would guarantee a Big Ten team in the national championship semifinals every year, no matter how weak they are on the field.
The SEC’s proposal sounds more reasonable — at first. Commissioner Mike Slive is a smart guy who has held the high ground on a playoff for years, and he says he wants four teams chosen strictly on rankings, with no guaranteed spots to anyone.
“The best four teams ought to be selected to play for the national championship,” he says, and he doesn’t want to “gerrymander” who they are. Yet how should we decide who those best four are? Rankings can be notoriously weighted in favor of larger leagues. How convenient: If you go strictly on rankings, there is a smaller chance an underdog can carry a winner’s check off to Boise, Idaho.
SEC schools, who have won the past six national championships, have zero motivation to create a seat at the table for anyone else. You can bet that any ranking system they participate in would reward the SEC teams disproportionately for their strength. The league has such a superiority complex that Florida Coach Will Muschamp actually fantasized aloud about an all-SEC playoff.
Good luck forging a fair system or a broad consensus based on either format.
The solution is plain: Adopt a true playoff format of eight teams. Make the postseason into a genuine tournament, instead of a rigged sham that favors the favorites. Only trouble is, it means letting more schools have a seat at the money table.