Now that college football has a playoff — appropriately named College Football Playoff — the only questions that remain are about how the committee should select the field. While this new system gives the appearance that the college game will finally have a true national champion, the selection guidelines will ultimately determine the legitimacy of the four-team playoff.
Let’s be honest: everyone expects the SEC to dominate the College Football Playoff. Considering that the conference has won the last seven national championships and has a 9-1 record in the BCS title game — with the lone loss coming at the hands of another SEC school — it’s only natural to assume that this string of dominance will continue, especially if more than one school makes the field.
Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle for the SEC isn’t another conference or team — it’s the selection committee.
A closer analysis of the proposals in front of the powers-that-be will bear this out.
While everyone involved in the decision-making process for the playoff wants to see the best four teams in the nation settle the issue on the gridiron, there’s considerable debate about what that actually means. Based on the comments of several conference commissioners, it’s evident the committee wants to place an emphasis on strength of schedule, while giving extra weight to conference champions.
But what does that mean? Will the committee use a formula similar to the current BCS system, which factors in all of these components, or will it use the “eyeball test” to determine the best four teams?
More importantly, who’s going to serve on the committee? Will each conference receive the same number of members or will some have more than others?
The answers to these questions could have a very negative impact on the SEC.
Consider the 2011-12 season as an example. While it failed to win the SEC West, it was apparent to everyone that the Alabama Crimson Tide was one of the four best teams in the country. However, Nick Saban’s squad could have actually missed the field completely depending on what selection criteria the committee used. If it adopted a “champions only” format or gave any kind of weight to league champions, the Crimson Tide would have probably stayed home behind twice-beaten conference champions Oregon (No. 5) and Wisconsin (No. 10).
The same thing could have happened if the committee members had the freedom to pick whomever they wanted. While the Tide would have clearly passed the “eyeball test”, they could have stayed home because of people on the committee who think like Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany — who argued that teams that don’t win their division shouldn’t play for the national championship.
Those last two paragraphs ought to concern every SEC fan. How could the 2011-12 Alabama squad — which was clearly the best team in the land at season’s end — possibly miss the four team playoff under any circumstances? Sure, the LSU Tigers probably would have won the crystal football anyway, but does the conference really want to be part of a system that penalizes 2011 Alabama or the 2012 Florida Gators for a single misstep against a Top 10 divisional opponent?
Of course not!
That, my friends, is why I won’t feel all warm and fuzzy about the College Football Playoff until the details about the selection committee are settled. If the new system accepts anything less than the four best teams — regardless of conference affiliation — it’s no better than the BCS, Bowl Alliance or Bowl Coalition.