In just its first season, the College Football Playoff is heading for a debate bigger than anything we ever saw with the BCS and it is all because of the biggest flaw with the 4-team system.
The flaw is just basic maths: 5 is more than 4.
In college football, there are five so-called “power conferences” and just four spots in the College Football Playoff. That means no matter how it shakes out, at least one champion from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 is going to miss out on the playoff.
That number is probably going to be even bigger this year which will just make the debate over the importance of winning conference championships even louder.
Enter the 2014 season and the unprecedented dominance of the SEC.
After nine weeks, four of the top five teams in the AP poll are from the SEC. That is the first time ever that one conference has four of the top five. And those four (Mississippi State, Mississippi, Alabama, Auburn) do not include Georgia, a team many consider the best 1-loss team in the country.
All of a sudden we are facing a situation where maybe three of the top four teams at the end of the regular season are all from one conference and the committee has to decide how many will be included in the playoff.
That conundrum is accentuated by the fact that the selection committee has not been given guidelines on how to deal with conference champions. While one committee member may feel winning one of the top four power conferences should mean automatic inclusion in the playoff, another may feel like conference championships mean nothing.
Would the selection committee being willing to pick three teams from one conference and just one other conference champion, say Florida State in the ACC? That scenario means the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 champions all miss out and that doesn’t even consider Notre Dame who came within a pass interference call of beating Florida State on the road.
We don’t know yet and that is where the debate will rage. It is going to get loud and it is going to get ugly.
As long as so many teams are playing such wildly unbalanced schedules, it is impossible to know with any certainty that a third or fourth place team in the SEC is better than the champion of another conference.
An 8-team playoff with automatic bids for power conference champions (assuming they are ranked among the top X teams) clearly defines the importance of winning a conference and still leaves enough room for three at-large teams.
Make no mistake, college football is better off with a 4-team playoff than the BCS system. But the NCAA did not go far enough.
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