For Alabama football, Selection Sunday was a no-drama event. A few schools had dreams dashed but the Committee did its job and got the final four correct.
Alabama football fans love the College Football Playoff and why not? The Crimson Tide always makes the final four field. A revolving door of other schools and fanbases are not so enthralled. This season, the most irate are Georgia, Ohio State and UCF.
UCF was justifiably left out again. Ohio State’s argument was not sound. Georgia had the best gripe if the Playoff’s purpose is to pick the four best teams at the end of the season. Georgia looked like one of the four best now in pushing Alabama football to a dramatic comeback.
The Selection Committee party line is the choice among Oklahoma, Georgia and Ohio State was difficult without much separation between the teams. Committee Chair, Rob Mullens said,
Every combination was vetted. Looking at their full bodies of work, their resumes side by side. In the end, what we decided was amongst the group of three, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Ohio State that the committee voted that no one was unequivocally better than the other.
The key phrase is “full bodies of work.” ‘Full bodies’ means the Committee chooses the four best teams over the course of a season – not the four best teams at the end. Georgia fans and many others may not like the protocol but it is consistent with the Committee’s guidelines.
Beyond the rightness or wrongness of this Committee’s decision, there are two subplots and to understand them takes a review of some history. Going back even before the BCS, to the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance, efforts were made by CFB powerbrokers to establish post-season order. Meaning order from a system that defined one clear national champion.
Compare the forty seasons before the BCS, going back to 1957 when Ohio State and Auburn were Co-National Champions. In the period 1957-1997, 14 seasons had multiple national champions. In 1964, there were three. And this only counts the NCAA-defined ‘major selectors.’ Throw in all the other ‘national’ entities who named an annual national champion and the claimed shared titles were even more. Fans forget, but it was a clunky, convoluted mess.
The BCS almost fixed the problem of no clear champion. Only once, in 2003, was a title shared with the AP Poll naming USC National Champion, rather than the BCS winner, LSU. The BCS did a credible job of picking the two best teams but the computer polls equation allowed for an annual disconnect and excuse for complaints.
Make no mistake, the BCS was hugely successful. Successful in terms of generating more money for Power Five conferences and the established Bowl structure. It was even a major impetus for the massive realignment and growth of the Power Five conferences.
In the end, the massive influx of money was part of the dissatisfaction with the BCS. Bowls and their executives were perceived to be making out like bandits, while the goal of a clear, true champion languished. That, in simplistic review, is why there is a College Football Playoff.
The Playoff format will almost assuredly grow to a six or an eight team field. What the expanded fields will not do is ensure the two best teams play for the national championship. Going back to the BCS first year in 1998, there have been few years when more than three teams deserved a national title shot. Most years it has been only two. In an eight team field, a freak upset in the first round could keep one of the best teams out of the national championship game.
Such a result from a freak upset is acceptable if we want college football to become, like college basketball, a tournament sport. If we do, Mike Leach might have the best plan – why not 16 teams or 32? Somewhere down that path, the regular season ceases to matter. The conference championships could become superfluous. It might be better but it will not be college football as we know it.
The current Selection Committee will hold back any expansion as long as it can. Perhaps that was even a consideration when Oklahoma was chosen at No. 4 rather than Georgia. Choosing a second SEC team for the second straight year, much less one with two losses might have caused a schism in the Power Five ranks.
My conclusion is the Committee got its job right again. I confess, when the Playoff field is ultimately expanded, I hope it is never past six teams. Take it to eight and the Power Five conferences will demand every Power Five Conference Champion be included. Then you will never have the best eight teams. How can I be so sure? The PAC 12 Champion this season is Washington – who could not beat the 9th best team in the SEC, Auburn. I rest my case.
Since Alabama football gets in every season, maybe it does not matter how big the Playoff field becomes. Except, we should also be concerned, as Nick Saban reminds us, about what is best for college football.