This Is the College Football Playoff We Have Been Waiting For?

A few of us are old enough to remember the “old days” of college football’s postseason. We remember things like the long-gone Astro Bluebonnet Bowl or the Freedom Bowl. We remember all the major bowls being played on New Year’s Day and watching all of them until our eyes were bleeding by the time of the gaudy Orange Bowl halftime show at night.

And we remember when the college football national champion was determined by the polls. Associated Press (AP), which was 65 sportswriters and broadcasters, and the Coaches’ Poll, which was distributed by United Press International (UPI), would have weekly rankings and crown a national champion at the end of the season. The teams would get their trophies from the polls and stake their claim to a title, although the NCAA never has recognized a national champion in Division I college football.  Any  D-I school counting college football national championships in its overall NCAA total is just, well, inaccurate.

There were several hiccups in the old system, all based on the lack of consistency between the two polls. The UPI poll would not allow votes for schools on NCAA probation. The AP poll would. The coaches rarely had time to watch many games other than their own, so they quietly left it to others in their program to cast their votes for them. The AP would wait until the end of the “bowl season” for its final votes. The UPI would do it at the end of the regular season.

In 1973, the final coaches’ poll was released after the regular season and crowned Alabama as the national champion. The Tide then went out and lost to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl that New Year’s Eve, (yes, youngsters, the Sugar Bowl used to be a New Year’s Eve game). The AP, because it waited until after the bowl games, gave Notre Dame the national title. In fact, during the era of the polls, there were 11 times the two polls came up with a split mythical national champion.

The demand for a single champion led us to the era of the Bowl Championship Series, (BCS), in 1997. It was devised by college presidents, athletic directors and a TV network. It utilized the two historic polls, added a few new ones, and it included computerized rankings which calculated things like a team’s strength of schedule. The premise was to give us a definitive #1 versus #2 championship game at the end of the season, and to spread out the major bowl games over two weeks for a bigger revenue pull.

For as many complaints as there were about the BCS, more often than not, it worked, pitting an end of the season #1 versus #2. There were some bumpy years if more than two teams went undefeated. In 2003, the writer’s poll mutinied the system and voted USC #1, even though LSU actually won the BCS title game and got the sparkly crystal ball trophy.

This Is the College Football Playoff We Have Been Waiting For?

Throughout the BCS years, fans and schools alike clamored for a playoff system, as exists at other levels of college football. Some feared it would ruin the historic bowl system, which is a revenue maker for host cities as well as for the NCAA. Others thought coming up with a system was problematic. Well, here it is. This will be the first season with a four team playoff. Let me count the ways we should be excited:

  1. The polls are not part of the final equation. Over the decades, the coaches’ poll has gone from being the UPI poll, to the USA Today/CNN Poll to the USA Today/ESPN Poll to the USA Today Poll to its current incarnation, The Amway Poll. The coaches may as well be peddling Amway dish detergent door-to-door now for all their poll matters.
  2. There is a committee of 13 people who will have the final say. The committee is made up of former players, current and former athletic directors, a former NCAA official, someone who has been fired from three college head coaching jobs, an Air Force Lt. General and a former Secretary of State. Certainly these should be credible hands for such a daunting task.
  3. The committee meets twice a week, every week to come up with a Top 25, but no poll will actually be made public until October 28th, eight weeks into the season.
  4. If a committee member is involved with a school being discussed, that member must recuse themselves. That does not pertain to discussing other schools where the member has a vested financial interest, however. For example, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez cannot take part in discussions pertaining to the Badgers. That does not preclude him from discussing conference rival Ohio State, even though Wisconsin and all other Big 10 schools get a cut of the financial reward if Ohio State makes the playoffs.
  5. Overall record and strength of schedule will play a major role in factoring the votes, but the strength of schedule will be perceptual only. There will not be a computerized calculation involved in the procedure. The entire voting process is completely subjective.
  6. As the polls come out each week, after October 28th, there will be no differential shown between any of the teams. The BCS rankings used to show us a mathematical calculation of the difference between each team so that we could envision what happens in the weeks ahead. Now, it will simply be the rankings according to the committee.
  7. The votes of the individual committee members will not be made public, unlike the writers’ polls and coaches’ polls of the past. No need for accountability with this blue ribbon panel.
  8. The process of voting on a top six for seeding purposes and then voting numerous times until you get to a Top 25 would take me three more columns to explain.

Eventually we will get a top four, playing a semi-final in two bowl games and then a championship game. And no, you still will not be recognized by the NCAA as the national champion. This is all put together by the schools and TV networks. This is what we call progress in big time college football these days. We get to keep the Independence Bowl, Liberty Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl, but we also get to crown a national champion, even if it is still a mythical one.


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