The NCAA has approved a four-team playoff system that will start in 2014 and last at least through the 2025 season. The four teams competing in the playoff will be chosen by a selection committee, similar to the current BCS system. Teams will be selected based on win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether or not a team was champion of its conference.
While most college football fans have hailed this as great news, plenty of fans and pundits alike are merely using this to renew their call for a more expansive playoff system, arguing that this is a step in the right direction but that it still does not go far enough.
But the truth is, this move isn’t only an improvement on the BCS system, it has the potential to be a true fix for college football’s postseason woes. That’s right. A more expansive playoff system is NOT needed. College football’s championship system is about rewarding the best team in college football – not the team that slips into the playoffs in the last week of the regular season and then gets hot for a three or four game stretch.
Now the obvious argument against the four-team playoff is something along the lines of “Well in the NFL, 12 teams make the playoffs and in college basketball 64 teams go to the big dance…,” and so on and so forth. But the bottom line is that this isn’t the NFL, and it isn’t March Madness. In college football, you have greater disparities in talent between the top programs and the mid-tier programs because 121 colleges are competing for a relatively small pool of athletes (who must meet certain requirements in terms of eligibility), while in the pros 32 teams are competing for a much larger pool of talent. A larger playoff would simply lead to more yawn-fest blowouts. If everyone really wanted to see Iowa and Clemson playing each other, the Outback Bowl would have a hell of a lot better ratings, but that’s not the case. The average college football fan doesn’t actually care about all of the 8-4 and 9-3 teams in college football.
There’s also the length of the season to consider. A larger playoff would mean more games for the teams involved and hence more wear and tear in what is already one of the most violent competitive sports. Have we learned nothing from the NFL’s concussion fiasco? Can we really expect unpaid athletes to shorten their professional careers and further risk their health just so we can have more games?
And if the point of the playoffs is to create a “win or go home” mentality, then can’t it be argued that the current system creates that? Win your regular season games or risk not getting into the playoffs at all. Under the NFL’s playoff system a team can dog it for the first half of the season and then get hot and run through the playoffs. Under the new NCAA playoff system every single regular season game is crucial for those teams hoping to make it into the playoffs, and that should be the hallmark of a championship team.
To be a champion means to have no margin for error. To be the best of the best is not to overcome mistakes, but to rather to define success. To be number one, a team should have to put together a complete season of high-caliber football. Anything less, is not right for college football – or its fans.