How to Fix College Football
As you may have picked up from the title this post will depart from my normal repertoire of writing topics. Non-the-less, I feel as though I need to give my two cents on a topic that I care deeply about: college football. Furthermore, today is the day of the College Football Playoff's national championship game so felt the timing was right!
I live in the South. For those of you who are unaware, the South cares very deeply about certain things: Saying "yes ma'am" & "yes sir", sweet tea, dogs, and racially-charged literature are certainly a few. But perhaps more than anything else, Southerners care about college football. It's not hyperbole when people say that college football is a religion in the South. There are more rites and rituals centered around Southern college football culture than a Latvian Orthodox Church (Seinfeld reference if anyone noticed).
For those of you who may be unaware of the current state of college football, let me offer a quick overview before moving on to my proposed reforms. The 2014-2015 college football season has brought about the dawn of the "College Football Playoff". Rather than deciding the national champion of college football by having the top two ranked teams play each other in a championship game, ESPN has decided that it can make about 10 times more money by having two national semi-final games as well. This means that the top four ranked teams (determined by the College Football Playoff "Selection Committee") make it in to the "College Football Playoff" with a chance to win it all.
As most of you will know, the championship game is tonight between the Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes. I have personally enjoyed the four team playoff this year because it has given weight to big games that had somewhat lost their luster in the BCS era because they became (in a sense) consolation prizes for teams that didn't make the national championship. All this said, because the national semi-finals have been successful, there are already many saying the playoff should include a quarter-final round of the top eight teams.
It is on this topic that I would like to offer up some suggestions.
What has traditionally made college football so great is the relative scarcity of the product. Each team plays a very limited number of games which gives weight and importance to each game. Each victory (even over an average opponent) is elating while each loss (even close loses against the best of opponents) is devastating.
The emergence of the College Football Playoff has successfully preserved that scarcity while also adding to the importance of two games that (under the BCS) where becoming increasingly insignificant. With this in mind I would consider the College Football Playoff a success (Something I was not expecting to say a couple months ago). However, I believe that expanding the playoff to include eight teams would ultimately deplete the scarcity that makes college football so special. Including eight teams in the playoff would diminish the importance of regular season games which is precisely what makes college football so unique.
At this point you might be asking if I actually have any reforms. Up to now I've simply said we should keep things the same. My title implies that I do have some things I would like to change and that was not meant to be misleading.
While I don't think we should change the number of teams in the playoff (four) I do think the conference championship games need to play a technical role in getting a team into the playoff. Right now the four teams that make up the College Football Playoff are the top four teams selected by the "College Football Playoff Selection Committee". If you go to Dallas or Waco Texas you can find thousands of fans (TCU & Baylor) who believe that this mode of determination is highly flawed.
Many different things would need to be addressed in making the conference championship games play-in games to the Playoff (like the current existence of 5 primary conferences, not 4). However, I believe the benefits of such a system are greater than the weaknesses of the current system and the difficulties that would arise in bringing about such a system.
The current system employs very shaky means for selecting the four teams that will play in the playoff. While we only have a sample of this year's selection, I doubt many people are claiming that this system is flawless. Creating a format where the winners of four conference championship games enter into the College Football Playoff allows for the feeling of an eight team playoff while preserving the importance of each and every game in the college football season. This is actually what happened this year. The four teams who were chosen for the college football playoff were the four teams that won their conference championship games. However, each of those conference championship games were not nearly as special as they could be considering the opponents in each game had no chance (even in victory) of making it to the playoff.
In conclusion, I believe that college football is in a lot of danger with many talking heads promoting an eight team playoff. While I see the draw of such a system I ultimately believe the drawbacks to be too strong. In the end an eight team playoff would diminish the importance of every other game that is not a playoff game (and thus destroy the foundation of what has made college football so great). I believe a solution is to create a system where conference championship games (in a sense) serve as the national quarter-finals. In this scenario the importance of the regular season (particularly conference play) would be upheld and the feel of an eight team playoff would also be achieved. The way that conferences are currently aligned and the way that scheduling currently works (allowing non-conferences games) would have to be changed in big ways but I for one think it would be very interesting!
Food for thought.