College Football Playoff Is Genius, But Not In The Way You Think


It’s our fault.

At first blush, it appears that the NCAA tried to come up with an elegant and unnecessarily complicated solution to a fairly easy problem.

In actuality, they are brilliant manipulators of all of us – we’re the NCAA’s willing pawns.

The latest College Football Playoff poll has Alabama ranked fifth, on the outside looking in at the playoff. TCU leapfrogged the Crimson Tide to take the number four spot. But here’s the thing, selection committee. You know TCU is not a better team than Alabama.

Put them on the field and let ‘em play 10 times. Bama wins eight, probably nine, maybe 10 times. You know it, I know it, TCU knows it.

That’s not to take anything away from TCU. They’re playing great at the right time. And herein lies the problem with the new playoff format – it’s designed for, well, this. To get people talking and arguing and filling message boards with rants and raves about what the committee was thinking with their latest selections. And for putting eyes on games that, in retrospect, will have no impact on the ultimate playoff. I’ll admit it – I actually watched the Notre Dame – Arizona State game as if it mattered, even though I know, in the long term, it didn’t. It keeps us whipping up in a college football frenzy constantly, with still weeks of football to play. The NCAA, whose heart I would bless if they had one, has played us right into their bony, grim reaper hands.

All of this nonsense will sort itself out over the next few weeks. Saturday will take care of the first issue, when Mississippi State and Alabama play. If the Tide wins? Vault them way to the top! Mississippi State wins? Send Bama plummeting and let Arizona State sit on the cusp.

It’s high theater for the NCAA, and we’re doing their awful bidding, week in and week out. Guilty as charged.

But before you chastise me for taking part in said bidding, let’s be clear – it’s the system we’ve got. And so it’s what we talk about.

We yearned for a playoff for years, and when we finally got it, it came with this ridiculous committee format that is only slightly better than a collection of barflies arguing the merits of who goes where. The only difference is, the barflies aren’t beholden to the NCAA storytime manufacturing mandate. This committee clearly is. Here’s your top four, if you’re actually watching football this year – Mississippi State, Alabama, Oregon and FSU. And yes, FSU is fourth. They’re as impressive as a Hyundai. Reliable, dependable, and unexciting.

And the only reason this committee started releasing their rankings so early in the season? For this. To keep us all talking about college football. They could have waited until the final week to release the Final Four. But who would care about half of these teams by that point. Well played, NCAA. You made us do your evil marketing bidding.

As much as we loved to hate the BCS, it was pretty close to right. We should have welcomed the playoff by keeping that system, taking the top four BCS teams, making it a playoff and calling it a day. Most of the BCS controversies involved a third team feeling left out, and this would have solved it. But it wouldn’t have us all abuzz in early November.

The current incarnation is designed for exactly this: Debate weeks out, about problems that will sort themselves out. And this column right here shows that the NCAA got exactly what they wanted. We can’t help ourselves.

The bottom line – we didn’t get the playoff we wanted. We got the one we deserved.