December 3, 2014

ZAKOUR | The Problem With College Football

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By JOHN ZAKOUR

College football has a ton of issues. Unbalanced scheduling, player safety, player compensation and conference instability, chief among them. No small matters. But the state of the sport is still strong, with the college football playoff helping.

The college football playoff, as flawed as it is, is working. There is interest in more games than ever and the best regular season in sports has gotten even better. The main complaint from playoff detractors was that the four-team tournament would devalue the regular season, that each game wouldn’t matter as much. But it’s done the opposite.

I think back to the 2011 regular season, which culminated in Alabama routing LSU in the title game. It was an awful, bitterly boring championship game. Maybe in part because Coach Les Miles’ LSU squad had seemingly eliminated Alabama (no playoff, remember?) by beating them in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season. But a few twists later, a No. 3 Oklahoma State team was left out and the same Alabama team was allowed to play for the title. So that rendered, in essence, the LSU-Alabama game meaningless. It also meant that the 12-0 LSU team had a bye in the SEC title game, while if they had lost it, they would still be allowed to play for the title.

In reality, the old system was far too harsh and fickle. A No. 4 ranked Stanford team led by Andrew Luck barely got any title consideration. Alabama was not even a unanimous No. 1 after the title game (rightly so) as Oklahoma State got four top votes and even LSU got one. Clearly, the voters thought it was fickle too. This was probably more an indictment on the system and giving Oklahoma State their due than it was an indictment on the quality of the Alabama team.

It’s not the only time in recent memory that voters have had discontent with the title game. Alabama was unanimous the next year, but Oregon also had a 12-1 record (its only loss was to a top-fifteen team in overtime), and was denied their chance. In 2010, an undefeated TCU team beat a red-hot Wisconsin attack in the Rose Bowl and also earned a few first place votes in the final poll. That year resulted in two undefeated teams with impressive resumes, even as Auburn was the rightful champ. In 2009, Alabama was the only undefeated power conference team but a 14-0 Boise State, with a win over Oregon, didn’t get its chance. And 2009 would’ve actually been a great year for a four team playoff, as there were five undefeated teams going into bowl week.

College football has the best regular season in sports — but thats just a football thing. You play college football only once a week in wholly unbalanced schedules that feature rivalries and trophy games. Expanding the playoff to 32 teams wouldn’t stop that.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the college football committee. They are tasked with seeding and selecting the four teams that will play for the title, along with the big time New Year’s bowl games. And the committee isn’t perfect. The credentials of its members are questionable. Many don’t seem    qualified and all of them seem like they have definite biases and ties to college teams. The fact there are several sitting athletic directors leads me to believe they all have their agendas. And Infamously, Condoleezza Rice is on the committee. Clearly, she hasn’t played football or held any kind of job relating to the sport.

But the committee seems to be doing, well, a good job. Its rankings that are released every Tuesday are sensible and logical. Its not over-valuing a Florida State, team despite the squad being winners of 28 in a row, as it’s sputtering and smoking up in the process. Impressively, the group has Florida State ranked No. 4, the lowest seed, despite the team’s win streak and defending champs status.

The committee has some conference equality, as it seems there will be four different conferences represented in the four teams, while not buying too much into the SEC’s supposed conference supremacy. It’s done a good job of evaluating team’s resumes and not treating the game like a weekly horse race. At the very least, the committee is doing better than the AP poll or the old BCS rankings, the former of which still has FSU top-ranked.

This just all goes to show that you don’t really have to be an expert to rank teams. There’s a big difference between coaching football teams and determining which teams are best. All you really need is intelligent fans who pay attention and are open-minded. I’m sure the sports staff of the Daily Sun could do it. I’m sure me and a few of my friends could to it, and hell, we’d do it for free.

Yeah, the committee isn’t perfect. Eventually I think the playoff will expand, after the contract runs out in 2025. In reality, the resumes of TCU, Baylor and Ohio State aren’t all that different — but only one will get in. Eight teams would be a good number. I would love12 teams with byes or a full 16 team bracket. I think fans will learn the more teams in, the more intrigue, the higher the stakes and the better the college football.

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