Sometime around 2020 — maybe a little sooner, maybe a little later — we will get sick of the four-team playoff.
The gap between the No. 4 team in the country and the No. 5 team in the country will become too narrow, or it will become too hard for a mid-major school to crack the top 4, or maybe the massive amounts of money that are about to flow through the ranks of college football will become too much, as college presidents will sit back and try to figure out exactly when the sport became an enterprise that is more concerned with TV deals and revenue than a finals schedule or an education.
Actually, scratch that last one. It’s a little too unrealistic. But at some point between 2014 and 2025 — the current timeframe for the new four-team college football playoff announced yesterday that effectively killed the BCS — the flaws of this playoff will rear their heads, and college football will come up with a bigger and grander spectacle.
But right now, in 2012, this new playoff is what we have to work with. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s new and exciting and a whole heck of a lot better than what the BCS had to offer.
Imagine the matchups if the playoff had been in effect last year. LSU and Stanford would have played in one semifinal game, while Alabama and Oklahoma State would have played in the other.
We would have had Tyrann Mathieu pitted against Andrew Luck, the best defensive back in the country vs. the best quarterback in the country. We could have seen Oklahoma State’s prolific offense against Alabama’s shutdown defense, Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon trying to crack Nick Saban’s schemes.
And if LSU and Alabama had both won to play in the national championship — the end result of the BCS last year — that would have been fine. The playoff would have silenced all the uproar that came with pitting two SEC teams that already played each other in the regular season again in the national championship game.
If the playoff works the way it is supposed to, then schools like Boise State and TCU and all those other mid-majors that have gotten thrown to the side in favor of the traditional power conferences will get their chance. In 2010, TCU beat Wisconsin in one of the best Rose Bowls in recent memory. With the playoff in place, the Horned Frogs would have had a shot at the national championship.
The playoff will also make the championship game more competitive. Alabama didn’t play a game from Nov. 26 to Jan. 9 last year — at the very minimum, the semifinal games will be an interesting tune-up for the championship game.
Six bowls will rotate for two semifinal games every year, with the championship game being awarded to a neutral site with the highest bid. So the system keeps the bowl system basically intact, which means traditions like the Rose Bowl can carry on. It also means non-traditions like the Capitol One Bowl and the Meineke Car Care Bowl Of Texas won’t go away, but it was unrealistic to expect this new playoff to fix everything at once.
So yes, the new playoff system could be a great thing for college football and for its fans.
But from the perspective of a current college student, the new playoff didn’t shake the issues that bothered me the most about the BCS, and really the bowls in general. The bowl system operates under the, well, lie, that the student part of student-athlete is their biggest concern.
If education was the most important thing, games would be played at home sites and not at a TBA money-backed location. Semifinal and championship games wouldn’t be in January, because starting an academic semester under the pressure of two tournament games in seven days is akin to trying to get a 5-year old to do homework right before bedtime on Christmas Eve. School falls by the wayside when a national championship is on the horizon.
Maybe education is just a casualty of a system that makes hundreds of millions of dollars off of students that aren’t paid a dime in return. Maybe that’s what football players sign up for, fully aware of the time commitment and dedication being a college football player takes.
But maybe this new playoff system is the first step towards a larger playoff, which is the next step until an even bigger playoff where 16 teams play in a month-long debacle that will make this little four-team playoff look like rec league flag-football tournament, with more money flowing in than ever before, student-athletes graduating under the ruse that missing a month of class wasn’t a big deal and that their educational experience remained fully intact and not corrupted by the suits behind the money-driven playoff system.
And that scares me a little.
Everett Cook, a junior at the University of Michigan, is a summer sports reporting intern at The Baltimore Sun. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/everettcook.