Fixing the Four Team Playoff
Sam Burnham, Curator
I was a proponent of a college football playoff...until there was one. Please don't dismiss this as just a manifestation of my contrary and curmudgeonly nature. This is more of a finding out what it really was and then saying it wasn't a great idea after all. Now there is a tendency to want to add more games. Jim Harbaugh has suggest 16 teams. I'd point out that his team still wouldn't make that field. I'd also like to point out that there's a much better way.
What the bowl system did was it made big regular season games de facto playoff games. In the 80's it was Notre Dame-Miami and Oklahoma-Nebraska. In the 90's it was Florida-Florida State. Recently, it has been the SEC Championship game. Teams finished the regular season, beat their rivals, and won their conference (or sometimes not) and then made their case to the bowl people. This usually left one bowl winner and then that number 3 team that had a case and then a bowl win. So the reasonable idea became a "Plus 1" game where that third team gets their shot. The problem is, the way things are now, there will always be one more team that deserves a shot.
There is one way to fix this problem. It will require cooperation and a true spirit of competition from the big teams, the perennial powers. I'm going to use an odd example here but I think it will help us to see what needs to be done. Let's look at this year's schedule for Notre Dame. Now, I'm no fan of the Fighting Irish and never will be. But their attempts to build a stronger football schedule are starting to bear fruit and potentially makes several new regular season playoff games.
It's not necessarily the strength of the schedule as much as it is the variety of the schedule. The Irish have begun playing a truncated ACC schedule that will have them facing, among others, Florida State and Virginia Tech. They open their season against Michigan. They also will have games vs Stanford and arch-rival Southern Cal. Throw in Vandy for good measure. On this schedule we see opponents from the Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, and SEC. Throw in a Texas, Baylor or TCU and you play all of the "Power 5" conferences. They aren't always playing the toughest teams in the conferences but they are playing different conferences.
That being said, I'm a fan of conferences. They allow teams to keep some regional rivalries and also, in most cases, allow teams to keep most of their travel in a region of the country. Establishing clear conference champions usually (read: should always) narrow the playoff field thereby creating a sort of regular season playoff. The trick is to mix things up a little between the conferences.
Last year we saw the Auburn-Clemson game early in the season. Bama took on FSU in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Florida and Florida State are going to play every year. So are Georgia and Georgia Tech. Likewise with Carolina and Clemson. There are some other long standing rivalries that cross conference lines. But go back a few years and look at Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno leading Bama and Penn State in some fantastic match ups. Then there was Earle Bruce bringing the Buckeyes to face Mike Archer's LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge. These are games that fans want to see. These are also games that will shake up the regular season and straighten out the playoff a little more thoroughly.
Think of how rekindling old rivalries could help. Conference realignment has been given as an excuse for discontinuing Texas-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Georgia-Clemson, Miami-Florida.
What is the deal that the Aggies and Longhorns quit playing? The fans were upset when a tragedy cast a pall on the bonfire tradition at A&M. Now they don't play at all? What does this say about the tradition of football in the State of Texas that these two just don't play each other?
Do you realize that from Sanford Stadium Clemson Memorial Stadium is only five miles further than Bobby Dodd? Sanford is half, HALF, the distance from Clemson compared to Williams Brice. These two have played 64 times since 1897. Von Gammon played in the first UGA-Clemson game, that's how old the rivalry is. Put these two on the field this season, someone has to win and someone gets eliminated. It cleans up the playoff picture. You can still schedule Furman and Arkansas State. You just might have to cut out Louisiana-Monroe and The Citadel.
You think the Midwest and the West Coast fans wouldn't get excited about more regular season games between the Big Ten and Pac-12? Ohio State opens with Oregon State. That's a start. But where's the beef? How about a Southern Cal-Michigan home & home?
In short, the fans want to see these games. These games will generate incredible revenue for the programs, the playoff picture could get much more defined, and so many of the potential games just make sense. There are a lot of lame excuses for why it can't be done but there are no good reasons. Put down one cupcake and pick up one steak.
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