This is the time of year when everybody suddenly wants college football to be just like the NFL.
You know, with significant efforts to even out rosters and schedules, and with voluminous and precise tiebreaker procedures to determine exactly who makes the playoffs and why.
Wouldn’t that make the college game a better product, with some research consultant team at the Elias Sports Bureau digging deeper and deeper into the tiebreaker rules until it is abundantly clear, according to Rule 6, Subsection IV, why Alabama or Ohio State or somebody else gets the final spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals?
In my book, that’s no improvement.
Admittedly, now, we’re talking about a very short book, with more pictures than words, but that suits the basic premise within, which is don’t complicate college football. It’s a noisy and colorful thing, an improvisational experience, more art than science, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Think about what you’re asking with demands for the kind of absolute fairness that supposedly can only be satisfied by enlarging the college playoff field to six teams or eight or 16 or whatever, to bring an end to the arguments, to bring an end, if necessary, to all those silly little bowl games with their silly little sponsor names.
First, you would have to divide up the 124 Division I programs into schools that want to play for a national championship and schools that understand that is a total pipe dream and wish only to make their players and their fans as happy as possible in their own little worlds.
The championship contenders would then need to be limited to 10 regular-season games. Any more than that and the teams that make it all the way through the postseason process to the national title level would be playing for as long as NFL teams do. Nobody really wants that.
Consequently, the teams that don’t have good years would get 10 games and no more. Ten games of marching bands and tailgating and such, with only half of those at home. That’s a drag for all but the elite programs, and there are very few elite programs.
Now work must be done to level the playing field if we’re looking for fairness and clarity at playoff selection time. Get rid of all the conferences and all the conference title games, which bring lots or rematches. Bunch all the teams into a couple of mega-leagues, say, East and West. Make them play each other as much as possible, and if some classic rivalries get lost in the process, so be it.
How else can you discern between a team with one loss in the SEC’s regional footprint and a team with two losses in Big Ten country or no losses at all in some off-brand conglomerate? It’s got to be fair or it doesn’t work.
A win here has to be the same as a win there. Same goes for losses. That’s how the NFL does it. Play the games. Do the math. Break the ties, not by the eye test but by established and immutable criteria. Voila, playoffs.
Change the college game in some of the ways suggested here and nobody would have to wonder if Central Florida deserves more respect for a 12-0 season than a No. 12 ranking in the final CFP poll. That’s because the Knights would have to earn that record against a top-tier schedule of overspending heavyweights. Not saying it can’t be done, but Clemson and Oklahoma and Georgia and Alabama didn’t go undefeated this year, and even they have an occasional cupcake built into the season just to get a breather.
Oh, hey, that brings up another issue that bugs some people about the college game. What’s with Clemson scheduling Kent State, or Oklahoma scheduling UTEP? No fair padding your record like that, right?
Again, that’s focusing too much on the national title chase alone and dismissing all the other teams that understand, without having to be told, that they will never be a part of that discussion.
Mismatch or not, just one of those games can pump life into the finances of a smaller program, from football to tennis. Also, without these games, you never get Appalachian State upsetting Michigan or Georgia Southern beating Florida in the Swamp.
A whole string of “Rocky” movies was built on stuff like that, so don’t pretend there’s no entertainment value.
So we’re back to where we are every December, wishing that more common sense could be hammered into college football and its national championship selection process, which has already moved on from the BCS and all the other guesswork that came before it.
In the end, there are no real secrets. The college circus eventually will close down for the winter and all the people who railed against it will find themselves wishing it was August again, when the preseason polls open fresh arguments about who really belongs where and what can be done about it.
Some ties just don’t need to be broken, like the one between the quirky college game and its feverish followers.