College Football Playoff: For once, conference commissioners get it right

Saban-BCS_TrophyIf you’ve read my work over time, chances are pretty good you know I’m not a huge fan of college football’s conference commissioners. Like, at all. Like, I’m pretty sure they’re the bane of our existence of humans and the lowest rung our society’s totem pole. The way I feel about college football commissioners is the way that George Bailey feels about himself in It’s a Wonderful Life; essentially the world would be a better place without them. And in this case, there is no angel to save Mike Slive, Jim Delany and Co.

Since I really started covering college football back in 2009 (the following summer is when the current realignment craze really got going in full-swing), the commissioners who run the sport have proven to be vindictive, self-serving and egotistical. They’ve stabbed each other in the back of pursuit of more teams for their conferences and more money for their Bank of America accounts, and in the process taken away so much of what we love about college sports. Texas and Texas A&M may never play in football again, and it’s the same with Syracuse-UConn and Kansas-Missouri in basketball, thanks to conference commissioners. I’m not saying they’re entirely to blame (they do need co-conspirators in the presidents and AD’s of these schools after all), but the commissioners are the ones who are driving the bus, the ones moving the biggest chess pieces.

Frankly, I still don’t like them. Doubt I ever will. But at the same time I do have to admit one thing: With the announcement Wednesday night that they (along with Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick) have agreed in principle to a four-team college football playoff beginning in the 2014 season, I can’t do anything other than to say, “Bravo, men. You did well for yourselves.” For once, the conference commissioners got things right.

As a matter of fact, I’ll take it one step further. The proposal that was agreed upon in principle isn’t only right, but is about as perfect as seeing Mila Kunis in a bikini. Frankly, had the NCAA put me, Aaron Torres, in charge of designing this playoff, I’m terrified to admit how similar my proposal would’ve looked like the one that came out yesterday from the conference commissioners. Maybe the world really is ending in 2012 after all.

Now for those of you who haven’t been following everything, let’s quickly go over the nitty-gritty of what was proposed yesterday, before we get to the analysis of it. According to multiple reports, this is how the four-team playoff proposal is expected to look:

– It will be a four-team, two round event starting right around January 1 and ending within the following two weeks, well before the NFL Playoffs begin.
– It will be played within the current bowl structure, meaning that most bowl games will stay as is. Also under the proposal current bowls will host the semifinals and the finals will be put “out to bid” like the Super Bowl is.
– The four teams in the playoff will be selected by a selection committee, with everyone in college football eligible. For those of you who didn’t follow this whole process with a fine-toothed comb (and unless you’re an absolute masochist, why would you?), that’s a bigger deal than you think. Many of the previous proposals (most of which were backed by Big Ten commish Jim Delany) called for only conference champions to be included in the playoff, which would’ve eliminated a team like the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide. You know, only the best team in college football last season.

Granted, this proposal isn’t perfect and unfortunately it still isn’t dried in ink either. There are still details to be figured out (who will be on the selection committee? What will their criteria be for picking teams?) and the proposal still must be approved next week by a group called the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee (a committee which admittedly sounds like it was formed specifically to submarine good ideas like this). But assuming the Presidents give the green light, this is how our playoff will look going forward.

Again, I can’t believe we’re actually here. And again, I’m stunned how much of it the group got right.

Starting with the number of teams participating, four is perfect for what we’re trying to accomplish here. Two was clearly not enough for most, and when playoff talks first started, my personal fear was that we’d somehow end up at eight or 16, if only because over the last few years college football has repeatedly chosen quantity over quality. More teams mean more games and more games means more TV money. And since when has anyone in this sport been able to turn down money?

Well apparently, the urge has been resisted for now. And for now, four seems just about right. It means one extra game, and one extra weekend, and no dragging this thing out until the middle of February. It also means less of a watered down product or likelihood of an undeserving team making the field. After all, how often are there truly five teams worthy of playing for a championship? Frankly, it hasn’t been very many. Having four teams won’t solve everything, but in most years it’ll be much better of an alternative than the two we’ve had in the past. If anything, it’s much harder to bang the drum and argue for the fifth best team than it has been for the third best team in the past.

While we’re here, I’m also a big proponent of a selection committee. Heck, even if we had never gone to a playoff and instead stayed with the current BCS system, I really did think that a selection committee was the best way to solve a lot of what ailed the BCS.

What do I mean by that? Well, for a quick example, think back to last year and the debate we had over who was more deserving of a BCS Championship Game appearance, Alabama or Oklahoma State. We sat around on that first Sunday in December watching, waiting and wondering who was going to play LSU, and when it was finally announced that Alabama would be the participant… well crap, how unfulfilling was that? We didn’t get any clarification on why the Crimson Tide was the team, no explanation as to why they were more deserving than Oklahoma State was. All we got was a complicated computer printout that nobody understood and a bunch of unanswered questions.

And after watching that whole process play out and thinking about it, I kind of came to a conclusion about the way we were selecting our championship game participants. The truth was, the more fans I talked to, the more I realized most weren’t upset that Alabama was playing in the title game, but instead were upset that they had no idea why Alabama was picked in the first place. They weren’t saying Oklahoma State was more deserving or Alabama was more undeserving, they just wanted to know why that was the case. Fast-forward to 2014 and that issue will be gone.

Now interestingly, I’ve also found the more people that I’ve talked to, it seems like many aren’t totally gung-ho about the whole selection committee idea. Their thinking is that regardless of who is on the committee, there will still be human bias, a point which I can’t really argue. At the same time, isn’t human bias a much better alternative than unexplainable computer formulas? Again, we aren’t going for perfection here, since perfection is unattainable. We’re going for “better.” And I do believe a selection committee is everyone’s best bet right now.

More importantly, the reason I like a selection committee is because at least humans have to be accountable to someone. At least- regardless of which teams they pick- someone has to get up in front of the cameras, and explain how and why these teams were selected. Give me a little bias and total transparency over a computer formula no one understands and no transparency any day of the week.

And finally, I really like the idea of that the bowl structure was able to be maintained under the new system. That might not mean much to you, but to the players on the field, the coaches fighting for their jobs, and the fans that get to travel in December from cold to warm, snow to sunshine, it means more than you think.

Not to mention that with only four teams in the playoff (again, which is still the right number), it means a lot of good nine, 10 and yes, 11 win teams will be left out of the field. In 2011, it would’ve meant that either an 11-win Oregon or 11-win Stanford team get left out. It would’ve meant that a 12-win Houston team was stuck home for the holidays. And it would’ve meant that Boise State- a team which was one field goal away from going undefeated…again- wouldn’t have been in the playoff either. If they couldn’t play for a title (which none of them would’ve been able to) don’t those teams deserve to be rewarded something at the postseason? Don’t they deserve better than a thanks and slap on the back after the first weekend of December? I say so.

Beyond that, let’s not forget that for the vast majority of teams in college football (like, more than 100 of them actually) finishing in the top four and getting to a playoff isn’t really a feasible goal. Look, I love the folks of Kentucky, and for all I know, they may win 10 straight college basketball championships. But the idea that they could get to 12 wins in football and play for a title seems as likely as me getting voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive. I’m not saying it’s impossible… but I’m not holding my breath either, and neither are Kentucky fans on future college football playoff berths. Same with schools like Kansas State, Ole Miss and Syracuse. Simply put, it probably ain’t happening for them. But getting to eight wins and a bowl game? That’s doable.

In the end I’ve got to admit that frankly, I’m stunned how little flaw I see in the proposal that the commissioners came up with. Could the semifinals have been played on campus? Sure, but putting together an event that big, in a time-frame so short is a lot tougher than people realize. Could we have gotten more clarification on how the four teams were selected, or who will be on the committee? Of course, but it’ll come in time. Could we have gotten a proposal that only allowed conference champions? Absolutely. But why wouldn’t you want to see the four best teams playing it out against each other on the field? If not, I’m guessing you don’t like puppies, sunshine and apple pie either.

Instead of nitpicking the nitty-gritty details here, let’s instead applaud the commissioners. For once (and likely the only time ever) they sat down, put their egos aside and got things done. For once, they did what was right for college football. Who ever thought we’d see that.

Then again, who ever thought we’d actually get a college football playoff?

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.