Playoff System Better, Not Perfect


As I sit here today I have butterflies churning in my ample gut. I am actually nervous, or maybe anxious is a better word, for the start of the college football season. The question is, am I feeling excited about a year that will be so different or is this anxiety? You see there will be a playoff this year. In fact, there will be a four team playoff for the next twelve years. I’m excited about the fact that a champion will be decided on the field, but I’m already feeling that the four team format will fall woefully short. I’m afraid that in a couple of years we won’t like this system any better than we liked the BCS.

This new system is a step in the right direction, but it’s a baby step. The new format is full of flaws. The first is the most obvious; there won’t be a large enough pool of teams in the playoff. I’m old enough to remember when the NCAA basketball tournament expanded to 64 teams. Even with that large number, there are teams that feel cheated every year (just ask SMU last season). And in fact, we have recently added a couple of play-in games stretching the field again. I know it’s not realistic to stage a 64 or 68 team football playoff, but how about a number somewhere in between 4 and 68? And how about the option of increasing the size of the field sometime in the next dozen years?

President Nixon presents Texas Head Coach Darrell Royal the National Championship plaque in 1969

The next problem is math. I’m a communications major so you might be expecting me to say, “they told me there would be no math in this job.”  I do say that a lot, but in this case I wish there was more math. The BCS tried to add objectivity (read: math) to a very subjective process. I never really understood the computer program that helped rank the teams, but I appreciated the idea. The selection committee in the new system consists of 13 people including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The idea is to factor in record, head to head competition, strength of schedule and conference championships to determine the four “best” teams. That sounds great, but I could see the committee deciding that a one or two loss SEC team is better than an undefeated team from a “lesser” conference. In fact, there could be more than one undefeated team on the outside looking in when its all said and done.

Finally the greatest flaw is the length of the contract. Twelve years? Really? How about we take a look at the process for a couple of years before painting ourselves into a 12 year corner? Progress is good, the BCS process was better than the days when the President declared the National Champion ala Richard Nixon after “the Game of the Century” in 1969. Still it did not take long for us to determine that there were flaws. This too is a positive step, but these butterflies are already telling me that we will find flaws and want to improve them.

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John Rhadigan has called Texas home for nearly 25 years, having spent 11 years at NBC 5 as a sports reporter/anchor and 13 years as an anchor at Fox Sports SW. Rhadigan is the recipient of more than a dozen Emmy Awards for sports reporting and anchoring.