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Where College Football is Now and the Immediate Future - Playoffs

The admonition that one should always be careful of what one wishes for is always advisable. We wished for playoffs (with most of college football fandom) we got them, and it wasn’t a nice Toyota. It was more like some hybrid world car monster with a plug and lots of money involved. GO HOKIES!!!

Empty stands, dreary day, quiet start to a disappointing season.
John Schneider - SB Nation

It’s been seven years, now. Seven years seems like an impossibly long time ago and that playoff article still leaves me with some fond memories of sports arguments over the nature of the changing playoff beast in the NCAA. Well, the first iteration of the thing ended up being a cyclical foray into a tag team of the usual “offenders”. Four teams, almost complete selected by a committee just doesn’t really cut the football mustard. Football seasons are won and lost on the field, not on a polling sheet perused through and marked by coaches, assistants, select sports journalists, and then a committee of insiders.

This year the NCAA, probably in a spasm of survival instinct, has finally been talked (perhaps driven, shoved, and stuffed) into establishing a twelve-team playoff schedule that leverages bowl season and conference championships to provide some semblance of a real playoff system for the FBS. We’ll talk later about the ridiculousness of the proposition of 130+ teams competing on totally uneven monetary and talent footing for the same championship. For now, though we are going to gloat just a bit, and then talk about what this means for big time college football in the next few seasons.

The new structure is encouraging but relies on a conference structure that might or might not exist in 10 years, and a list of wildcards that exceeds the list of champions.

What Does This Mean for All the Realigning?

In my childhood there were lots of wonderful toys on the market and everyone wanted the hot new brand name being advertised on the Saturday morning cartoon shows. When the Sears and Penney’s Christmas Catalog books came out in September the pages of toys were found, perused, thumbed… marked, and hints dropped to parents. Ultimately the cool toy that everyone wanted ended up costing way more than the Christmas Club account allotted and some substitute for the fancy snow cone maker was found. The substitute never quite equaled the quality of the real thing. So, there is a lesson that there is often a difficulty in finally getting what you wish for. The fulfillment doesn’t actually match the desire.

The stupid Joe-Bob brand shave-ice maker broke after three or four ice cubes went through it and the syrup tasted like baby aspirin no matter what color it was. We loved our folks for trying but man was that disappointing.

Hey! You got your expanded playoffs! What’s the Beef?

This current formulation is still fraught with problems. The first of which involves the 12-team format. In the original envisioning, from the article, the playoff would have been a 16-team assembly with 10 divisional champs from the “Power 5” playing for their conference championships on “Championship Weekend” as a huge chunk of the playoff seedings, with the best of the Group of 5 champions being seeded in for the final three teams in the 8-game tournament first round. There would be no “byes” and no voting. All would be strict formula assemblies with the G5 seedings based on the best three G5 teams as won on the field.

The current formulation seeds in too few champions and leaves way too many “vote ins”. Voting should never, ever, ever be part of anything that has to do with a true football championship. I know that’s my opinion, but that’s what football was always supposed to be, and it’s the primary reason why each of the follow-on formulations have failed. Voting and committees are always prone to “influence” and “subjectivity”. It’s time to impose some absolutes in the situation to allow for a true sorting out of the event stream. The problem with college football has always been the perceived “homerism”, favoritism, and monetary value of programs, instead of winning on the field. It’s not a total fix but it would really help to give fans the understanding that the process was fair and the championship the result of real competition on the field.

The Current Format Feels Like an Emergency Stopgap

The NCAA and various related entities (ACC conference and Rose Bowl folks can call home, now) dragged their feet on the entire playoff scheme for quite a while. My guess (and it is a guess, folks) is that the money on the table, again, spoke louder than the individual integrity and tradition arguments stated by those organizations. That should set off a few alarm bells, but in this day and age, I doubt anyone is thinking past the “better more exciting major bowl games” for New Year’s. Be that as it may, this still looks like it has a seriously “transitional” feel to it. The SEC and B1G expansions have not completed. The G5 realignments and FCS promotions haven’t ended just yet, and the “natural drive” to super conferences with huge media contracts has not really ablated all that much. That means the current formulation for the final playoff tournament isn’t going to last very long, if it even lasts longer than the four-team “Fakeoffs”, or the two-team BCS fiasco.

Eventually the top end teams from most of the major conferences will settle into the two super conferences being formed out of the SEC and B1G. I am still of the opinion that Florida State, Clemson, and Miami will end up being a major add to the SEC with one other team to complete its drive for a 20-team super conference. The B1G is a bit further off, but not much as the UCLA and USC move is completed. I also suspect that eventually Notre Dame will go back to its B1G association because as the super conferences finalize there won’t be any place for independents in any future playoffs.

Where Does Tech Fit in? Maybe Where does the ACC?

Frankly, I do not see the ACC surviving the next five years “whole”. Drop the ‘w’ on that for a very accurate pun, because the ACC is going to develop a major hole. The bleed off of top end teams will greatly weaken the viability of the conference within the “Power” subgroup. If we see the three teams that I mentioned jump to the SEC – with a potential of a four-team filch, Virginia Tech has been floated in the rumor mill as the fourth. I have also heard NC State, so don’t get all crazy hopeful at this point. But the speculation is that the ACC will end up limping, with or without Tech in it. That’s probably “it” for the SEC.

The B1G expansion to 20 teams isn’t absolutely guaranteed, but if the SEC does it the B1G is going to be compelled to compete in like media markets. It will need to expand to 20 teams as well, and where does it go for those? ACC candidates for B1G fits are Pitt, ‘Cuse, Tech, BC, and Louisville. With the Big XII rehabbing and looking like they are going to have some interesting mid-tier competition, West Virginia could stay put.

So, if the drive to expand the SEC and B1G continues to move ahead, the current playoff format won’t make the grade. The two 20-team power conferences will outweigh any major playoff competition as they settle on a championship drive to be played between them. That would freeze out the current format completely.

In either case, or both, really, the ACC ends up a skeleton of 2nd and 3rd tier programs where basketball is the driving sport – sounds an awful lot like a repeat of the Big East dissolving doesn’t it?

There is a Positive Here, I Promise

Look, this development is not a net negative. It’s actually a major step in a good direction that should have bene taken a generation ago. College football should never have been poll based. Most of it isn’t with the FCS running three full major divisions of regular championship tournaments. There was never any excuse other than bowl money and media egos over voting influence that evolved into the current mess. It’s like the tradition of negotiating/haggling for the price of a new automobile. It became so ingrained and so much of a traditional approach to buying and selling cars that everyone accepted and defended it, even if it was jacked around, corrupted, and ultimately resulted in uneven treatment. Just name the price of the car, if I can afford the loan, I’ll buy it. If not, then it’s no deal, easy, peasy and objectively fair.

The same can be said for the final kicks of the old regime as real playoffs supplant old traditional guessing, polling, and reading chicken entrails to find the magic teams to play for the big bucks. It’s time for that to go away. We are getting closer to winning on the field real championships. Next stop will be the breakup into major divisions like the FCS and the presentation of multiple championships at maybe three tiers of program competition. I still don’t know why the Mouse and like networks haven’t seen the huge profit potential for three tournaments instead of 140 teams competing for a single championship.

Oh well, to quote Spanky McFarland from the old “Our Gang” comedies… “They’ll never learn”.

Next up, we look at the new leagues forming and try to do a deep dive into where the SEC and B1G will go by 2025 and beyond (and the fates of the rump leagues, too!)