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The Problem With The 4 Team Playoff

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The news is in. College football fans nationwide have been waiting for a playoff since before the BCS era, and they finally have it. Well… kind of. Yesterday it became official that, starting in 2014, four teams will be selected by committee to play in a semi-final bracket to determine which team is the “true” national champion of Division 1 college football. Factors considered by committee for determining these four teams include strength of schedule, wins and losses, head-to-head matchups, and conference championships. Although it is huge news that there have been steps to alleviate the problems that a one vs. two BCS matchup has caused, the idea that this four-team playoff is any semblance of a real solution is actually quite a stretch. I’m not saying the “playoff” isn’t better than letting computers and pollsters determine who will duke it out in the BCS National Championship. It is certainly more effective than the absolute mess that was letting the AP and the Coaches’ Polls determine who was the champion by vote, which ended up with split-championships and a lack of closure on the season. Despite all that, there are still a few reasons why this should not be considered the ultimate “solution.”

Most of the problems stem from the fact that it will only be four teams selected to participate in the playoff. The reason the BCS has taken so much criticism has to do with the odd man out when it comes time to put two teams in a final game. Given the amount of parity during the regular season, the assumption that there is going to be less of an outcry from the fifth team out than the third team is shaky at best. We don’t exactly know how the committee will end up choosing participants and seeds if an undefeated non-AQ team is being weighed against a powerhouse that lost early but climbed the rankings through a tough conference schedule. The same scenario that once happened between 2 and 3/4/5 will now be happening between the fourth ranked team and the few ranked below them.

When Alabama and LSU met for the second time in the national championship game last year, ratings were considerably lower than the previous championship game. Regardless of the fact that most people believed they were the two best teams in the country, no one wanted to see an in-conference rematch. This is important because ratings obviously equal money, and money is a prominent THE motivating factor in the process of figuring out the new playoff structure. The higher-ups were obviously not concerned with appearing monetarily driven when they told the world that the national championship game would go to the highest bidding venue. They clearly want this sporting event to have the potential to be as big as the Super Bowl, and guess what? It does.

Now, this isn’t necessarily bad, and I’m sure Jerry Jones is already signing the check and making the banners for the first game because…let’s be real…that motherfucker would pay to have Arkansas in the final game every year if it was allowed, but this could ultimately hurt the process of selecting the four teams if money is clearly a driving force in the matter. The problem is once again rooted in the size of the bracket. At some point the committee is going to have two teams, one from a conference that already has a team in the mix, thus posing the potential for a rematch, and one from a non-AQ conference that doesn’t travel well compared to a powerhouse. Who do you pick? On one hand you have a team that will travel well but the rematch might not draw as much national attention, on the other you have a team that will provide a more compelling matchup for the ratings but doesn’t have a fan base large enough to generate an amount of money to appease the people who own the venues and are doing the bidding. Granted the venue will have been booked years in advance of the committee’s playoff decision, but will that venue be hesitant to bid again if the committee makes decisions that don’t benefit the venue? Either way, someone’s wallet is taking a hit in a scenario like that.

The real problem here is that four teams are not enough to solve any logistical problem. Whether that problem is criticism of the playoff system and its decision committee or a problem with revenue not reaching its full potential, more teams will eventually have to be added into the bracket in order to placate the lamenting fans and ensure that the people boosting money into the series are happy with their return. Eight teams would definitely be more realistic of an approach considering the recent number of non-AQ teams that have cracked the top ten, and a lot of analysts seem to be happy with a quarter-final bracket.

I, however, fucking hate sports analysts, so I decided to throw in my idea of a perfect playoff scenario. Even if it were eight teams I’m sure a couple lower teams would bitch in order to keep the tradition alive of moaning about not getting into the college football elite club. I don’t think anyone outside of the top 8 should be considered a national champion, let alone the top 10. However, the way rankings work, 7-10 would bicker like children until the end of time making their claim that they deserve to make the final cut. So, I propose that much like the NCAA basketball tournament, two play-in games between seven/nine and eight/ten are implemented to determine who get the last two seeds. This way the entire top ten is allowed to play on the field in order to determine a true national champion. I could go on forever about venue possibilities and combinations, but that would make all of you reading this with your phone on the toilet bitch way too much in the comment section.

The reality of this brand new playoff system is that it isn’t really that much like a playoff at all. It offers no closure, and no real satisfaction for the fans. It’s like the BCS saw us starving for playoff sustenance, determined that we were hungry, and tossed us a fucking chicken wing for all of us to share like a pledge class during hell week. We’re still going to think someone is getting more of a share of that fucking wing than they deserve while the BCS thinks we are going to be elated and grateful that they tossed us a half-inch bone that doesn’t solve any problems. So, until the playoff becomes more encompassing, I wouldn’t be so quick to call the four-team bracket anything close to a solution.

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Grandex Marketing Manager, Snack Enthusiast, Lover, Gator. Co-Host of the Inside TFM Podcast.

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