The Open Man countdowns to the 2018 college football season with 129 — in honor of the 129 programs participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year — things we love (and some we hate) about the sport. Click the 129 Things tag to see every entry.
The College Football Playoff sucks.
OK, that’s not entirely true; elements of the Playoff are good, great even. Some of the best games of the last few college football seasons owe their existence to the College Playoff: Ohio State-Alabama in January 2015; the two Alabama-Clemson national championship games; this past January’s title game; and the epic 2018 Rose Bowl Game, which will be covered in an upcoming edition of 129 Things (teaser!).
However, the Playoff nurtures some of the more exhausting facets of covering this sport, not the least of which is the Ricky Bobby’ing of success outside the final four.
I expounded on this idea in December when, during a telecast featuring Kansas freakin’ State, Jordan Rodgers launched into a diatribe that every move a program makes should be with the College Football Playoff in mind. Certainly every team dreams of championship glory and kicks off training camps in August with such rhetoric.
Of course, even those programs making strides toward competing for the College Football Playoff may not even get a fair opportunity to do so. Basketball season begins with 350 or so Division I teams aspiring for the Final Four. The odds are much longer for some than others, but a UMBC has the same shot as Virginia. The NCAA Tournament is the essence of “every man with two hands stands a fighting chance.”
UCF was afforded no such chance at the College Football Playoff, despite conditions being seemingly ideal for the Knights to be granted that opportunity. Two of the five power-conference championships had two losses, and the third contender for the Playoff’s fourth spot (and eventual national champion) failed to win even its division. As Ohio State’s inclusion over Penn State in the 2016 season suggested, and Alabama’s invite in the past campaign reinforced, the value of conference championships has been diminished.
And while UCF’s case for a national championship opportunity might be waved off for strength-of-schedule concerns, Alabama’s final Sagarin rating before the Playoff was much closer to that of UCF than it was to any of the other three teams in the field. And those other three also faced the peril of a 13th game, which ultimately cost Auburn — a team that beat Alabama by two scores en route to a division title and Top 15 Sagarin rating — a place in the final four.
If nothing else, the 2017 season’s College Football Playoff proved the sport’s power division has widened, despite non-BCS conference antitrust lawsuits being a key catalyst in even forming a tournament. Perhaps UCF is being petty or silly commissioning a championship banner and distributing rings its to players, but those are physical reminders that the system has a serious flaw.
The alternative for that flaw isn’t great, however. It includes retooling the Playoff and expanding, a precarious proposition that, with too much meddling, damages what is undeniably the best regular season in American sports.
So what’s the solution?
There isn’t one; not a clear one, anyway. The College Football Playoff opened Pandora’s Box. The sport teeters ever-closer to an NFL-ization as a result of Playoff-motivated realignment, the proposed homogenization of scheduling and the likely erosion of traditions that made the game popular. All this tinkering to find a “true” national championship has already failed in its primary, intended purpose.