published Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Debating new college football playoff specifics

The college football power brokers -- those in charge of the biggest schools with the biggest and best football programs -- will vote on a new postseason plan to determine the champion of the top level of the sport.

The commissioners of the BCS conferences and the athletic director of Notre Dame suggested a four-team playoff that is picked and seeded by a selection committee. Whether the university presidents endorse that plan or go another a direction could be decided as soon as today when they meet in Washington, D.C.

As college football prepares to join the modern world of deciding its champion with a playoff system, Times Free Press columnists Mark Wiedmer and Jay Greeson discuss the possible new system, its strengths and flaws and what it means in the grand scheme of things.

Jay Greeson: No one is going to say that a playoff wasn't needed in college football. Bowl bigwigs and confusing computer programs have left everyone thinking Nick Saban is behind a curtain pulling all the strings and waiting to give the Scarecrow a brain. It was always a matter of when, not if, in regard to a college football playoff, but do you think this enough, Mark? Is a four-team field big enough -- I say no -- and if they are going to expand it sooner rather than later, why not start at eight teams?

Mark Wiedmer: Call me old-fashioned, but for two or three reasons, I prefer the current system with the single addition of a plus-one if a situation develops like a couple of years ago when both Auburn and TCU were still undefeated after the bowls, but Auburn was crowned champion.

The one problem with a plus-one (if needed), however, is logistics. And, yes, perhaps that would open the door for UPS to sponsor the title game. But an "if necessary" game almost forces the game to be played at the stadium of the higher ranked opponent, since almost no city would agree to "maybe" host a national title game, but maybe not. And it's not like a city could be ready in a week. Maybe two or three weeks, but not a week.

So I guess I'm OK with a four-team playoff, but the more teams you add the more fan bases you anger for those who don't get in. More coaches will be on the hot seat -- imagine being Saban and not making a 16-team field for two straight years, for instance -- and the current bowls will become the football version of the NIT, something no fan base wants to support.

JG: There's nothing wrong with old-fashioned. It's worked for vanilla ice cream for a long time. I agree that too many would be terrible -- and 16 would be too many -- but too few does nothing more than move the argument/bellyaching from No. 3 to No. 5. Think about last year: On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the top three ranked teams in the country were LSU, Alabama and Arkanas. Arkansas lost so it was forced out. But if you were taking only four last year, who's your four? Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Oklahoma State? That leaves a couple of pretty strong teams in Wisconsin and Stanford looking in, and we haven't even discussed the perennial party crashers such as Boise State and TCU.

Rightly or wrongly, the current system was doomed as soon as two teams from the same conference met in the title game. That said -- old-fashioned or not -- if the new playoff system spoils the best regular season in all of sports, then it will be a disaster. (As for UPS, not sure that brown will do anything for the BCS power players since we all know their favorite color is cash-money green.)

Weeds: An eight-team playoff does seem perfect as long as every conference is limited to no more than two schools. Beyond that, as much as I strongly believe that Alabama was the nation's best team, I'm not sure Alabama deserved a chance to win it all. The Crimson Tide lost on their home field to LSU, which then won not only the SEC West but also the league title game. It certainly could be argued that LSU had done enough not to play Bama again. Of course, one advantage to an eight-team playoff would be that at least the Tide would have to win twice to meet LSU again. Oh, yeah, one requirement for a playoff I would insist on is that you don't meet a conference opponent until the title game. One other thing: No automatic bid for Notre Dame. Nothing against the Irish, but they should have to earn a spot as much as anybody else.

JG: Great call on the Irish. This is the time for Notre Dame to pick or get off the pot -- join a conference or be subjected to the fancies of the committee. There can be no special wording for Notre Dame in the new set-up.

Heck, the Irish already have their own TV network in NBC, and it's not like it they've been a part of the title discussion in the last decade or more. And since we're dealing with the semantics, you bring up an interesting point that will be paramount as the presidents look at the shaping of the new playoffs: Should only conference champions be eligible for the postseason? Alabama was clearly the best team last year at the end of the season and under the set-up deserved a shot and made the most of it.

Weeds: Ah, the selection committee. Call me a cynic but I'd like to see a dramatic departure from the current makeup of the basketball tournament committee, which seems short on sharp basketball minds and long on geography-challenged, Duke-partisan folks who sometimes don't appear to know the difference between Dr. James Naismith and Dr. James Andrews.

They also refuse to let any cameras in on the selection process. Let the football committee be both transparent and heavy on people who actually understand the game. For instance, why not put former coaches Phillip Fulmer and Lloyd Carr on the committee?

And let's do away with this nonsense that every season stands on its own, that the past is no predictor of the future. Are you telling me that the fact the SEC has won the last six BCS title games doesn't say something about the power of the league? Heck, the use of current polls and computer rankings pretty much begins with last season's performance.

But more than anything, if this is where we are -- or at least where we will be at the close of the 2014 season -- let's do everything we can to make the public feel the process is as fair and unbiased as possible. At least as long as there's always at least one SEC school in the fiercest foursome, of course.

JG: Yes, the selection committee. The group that is supposed to be the cure to football ills but is the same theory that routinely can't pick the proper 68 basketball teams. First, while the playoff is a better way than the BCS, there is no perfect way to determine a college champion because there is not an even playing field, period. Sure, the Kentucky Wildcats were the best team in college hoops last year and they won the whole thing, but that was a byproduct of good fortune, not a fundamentally good system. As glorious as March Madness is, the tournament does not determine the best team from that college basketball season, it determines the best team from a three-week run in the spring. (See: UConn, March 2011).

And you bet the public should be privy to the selection process. Get 11 members -- all of whom have a background associated with and a love for college football -- and put them in a room. Heck, they should televise the selection process so that people who disagree with the choices can at least see why they were made.

Heck, sell the broadcast rights to the ultimate college football playoffs selection show, because in the end the new playoff system of college football is based on one of the oldest human emotions -- greed. It's not about competitive balance or opening up the process to the little guy or even for the good of college football or its fans. It's about greed and those in power keeping the power and those making the most money making sure they will keep making the most money. And that's as old-fashioned as you can get, Weeds.

Weeds: Greed may be good for Wall Street's Gordon Gekko, but universities were supposed to stand for more noble stuff. If college presidents really want to send a statement with this new format, they'll demand that every BCS conference school play one home game a year against an FCS program such as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, with at least $500,000 guaranteed the visitor and that single game each season thrown out of any championship formula.

They'll also strongly encourage every BCS school to play one game against a nonconference BCS program -- Florida-Florida State, Southern Cal-Notre Dame, Bama-Penn State come to mind -- as a way to show your league really is as good as you say it is, in much the same way all these Big East-SEC, Big Ten-ACC hoops challenges have sprung up.

And while we're at it, let the merchandise profits from the playoffs be placed in a pool to pay for athletes who are out of eligibility but short of a degree to return to school.

Lastly, we all need to recognize that no system's perfect. A four-team playoff might prove better than the current model, but it won't do much to appease the first team out.

But that's OK, too. How many folks outside the state of Kentucky ever talk about college basketball in July? At least in the South, college football's imperfections make it the perfect conversation starter 365 days a year. And as any SEC fan can tell you, those discussions have been priceless since the days of leather helmets without facemasks.

JG: Wow. Who said you were old-fashioned?

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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Livn4life said...

Good banter back and forth guys. My contention is if the bowls in any way figure into the playoff, all bowl/conference tie ins need to be severed or it will always be a corrupted system. Now realistically we have no idea where the Los Presidentes will come down on the whole thing. So we need to let the chickens hatch on the whole playoff thing before we count them. If it does get the green light, I can hardly wait to hear all the whinations from those doggone good teams who get left out. Rather than a playoff for them it will be a Brushoff.

June 26, 2012 at 1:58 p.m.
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