College football's playoff problem nothing new; so why all the fuss?
Everybody seems to have an opinion on why the College Football Playoff got it wrong this year or why the system is broken.
I just have a question: What’s new?
Sure, there have been seasons when it has been much more clear who the four best teams in college football have been. But there have been other seasons that have been equally as messed up.
Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame are this year's lucky finalists. And this debate between Texas A&M and Notre Dame at the 4-5 spot, or the outrage over Cincinnati (No. 8 at 9-0) or Coastal Carolina (No. 12 at 11-0) getting snubbed is nothing new.
Some of the names are different, of course, and, therefore, the arguments are as well. But the general frustration with the way college football crowns its national champion is decades old. And it does not appear to be any closer to being fixed today than it was 10 or even 20 years ago.
Part of the reason for that is because of the sport itself. The cream tends to rise in college football faster and more consistently than it does in most other sports. Finding the kinds of upsets in college football that make March Madness so great just isn’t very likely — at least not on anywhere close to an annual basis.
So the argument that there really only are four or five teams capable of beating anybody each season doesn’t really rub me the wrong way. It might just be true.
But that does not mean that the fight to include more teams in the title hunt should die as a result.
None of this really registers around here because Kansas football hasn’t been anywhere close to relevant in the BCS/CFP talk in more than a decade. But it’s still interesting nonetheless.
And I’ll be honest, it’s even more interesting this year because of Coastal Carolina’s inclusion in the conversation.
You all surely remember that Coastal Carolina got its 11-0 season started with a win at Kansas back in September. And although the loss stung for the Jayhawks at the time, it certainly does not look quite as embarrassing after watching the Chanticleers win 10 more games by an average of 19 points per victory after it.
Their schedule does not look all that strong. TeamRankings.com has it as the 77th toughest in Division I this season. But that’s what happens when teams play conference schedules and don’t get the bump of beating other top-tier teams. All you can do is play the schedule they give you, right? And if, at the end of it, you didn’t lose to anyone on it, you absolutely should be given the opportunity to compete for the big prize.
Maybe they’d get embarrassed. Maybe they don’t belong on the same stage as the Alabamas and Clemsons.
But you can’t tell me that anyone thought college basketball programs at George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011 or Loyola-Chicago in 2018 belonged on the same stage as Florida, UCLA, UConn, Kentucky, Villanova or Kansas when March began those years. And look how that worked out. None of them won a title or even reached the title game. But they all got a legit shot at doing exactly that.
This isn’t meant to be a comparison between March Madness and the College Football Playoff, though. There is no comparison.
It’s also not a compassionate plea for Coastal or Cincy or Texas A&M to be remembered in history as teams that belonged and could’ve done some damage if they got the chance to compete for a national title. Who knows if that’s the case? And there are so many potential opinions on the topic that it’s hard to say one or more of them is right or wrong.
This is, however, a reminder that what we witnessed this season, no matter how right or wrong it felt to you, was absolutely nothing new.
And until college football genuinely looks at expanding its playoff to six, eight, 12 or even 16 teams, we’re going to continue to have these head-scratching seasons and continue to have teams out there that feel slighted.
How cool would it have been to see Coastal Carolina get a shot, even as an 8 seed and even against Bama in Round 1?
If you thought Boise State beating Oklahoma in a BCS bowl in 2007 was fun, you would’ve loved this.
By keeping that option off the table, college football as a whole is keeping its appeal from reaching a ton of casual sports fans. Maybe that’s not the goal. But that approach sure seems to work for college hoops.
It’s amazing how many stories you hear about people winning bracket pools each March who make their picks based on team colors or mascots or family members’ initials.
The Bama-Clemson college football title games have been terrific. And, yeah, it’s pretty clear that those were the two best teams in college football those seasons.
But how much fun is it really if everyone knows it’s coming and there’s not much anybody else can do about it. That includes going undefeated.
College football would be better off staging a best-of-five series between Bama and Clemson each year and riding that wave.
Expanding the playoff would be much easier, however.