College Football Playoff: What happened to the goal of fairness?

(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

SEC Commissioner, Greg Sankey and more than few Alabama football fans are content with a four-team Playoff. Sankey, of course, also understands an expanded field will reap massive cash from media fees. That is one reason Sankey and three of his counterparts came up with a 12-team format.

Three months ago many believed a Playoff expansion was a done deal. The 12-team format presented in June by Sankey, along with Jack Swarbrick of Notre Dame, Big 12 Commissioner, Bob Bowlsby and Mountain West Commissioner, Craig Thompson, was attractive. The media dollars would be huge. Group of Five teams would have a real chance to make the expanded field. With first-round byes, the four top-ranked teams would not be punished by playing a game against, ‘not a National Championship contender.’

Best of all was the prospect a field of 12 teams would cease the persistent whining about unfairness. Lack of fairness was the explanation most often used for why the Playoff needed an expansion.

Such a fairness debate ignores the history of the College Football Playoff. Wisely, the current format was built on selecting the four best teams.

Ranking teams in the No. 3 through No. 5 or even No. 6 slots will always incite debate. But not burdened by automatic qualifiers, the Playoff Selection Committee has been free to, in its best judgment, select the best four.

It may not have always accurately determined the four best teams (mostly it has) but with outstanding success, the format has resulted in each season, the nation’s two best teams playing for the National Championship.

Fanbases can whine about teams not chosen each season, but a lack of fairness should not be part of the argument.

The June, 12-team proposal included the top six seeds being awarded to the six, highest-ranked, conference champions. No conference champion would receive an automatic slot. There is nothing unfair about that.

What would be unfair would be a Conference Champion gaining an automatic Playoff slot, despite being ranked outside the top 12 teams. Based on a 12-team Playoff field, with Conference Champion, auto-qualifiers – last season No. 25 ranked Oregon would have made the Playoffs. Would Oregon have been as deserving of a Playoff slot as two other, two-loss teams, like last season’s Northwestern and Iowa? I think not.

The most, out-front, obstructing forces to expansion are the Pac12 and the Rose Bowl. Neither has any basis to argue fairness. If the Pac12 can’t field a good enough team, it should not be entitled to a slot. The Rose Bowl’s attitude is even more galling. They want preferred status to select what Playoff teams compete in the Rose Bowl. And they want to have their ‘sunset on the west coast’ traditional kickoff time locked in.

In writing about the recent College Football Playoff expansion debate, Pat Forde pulled no punches.

"Shortsightedness and petty disputes have caused an unnecessary halt to the improvement of the worst postseason in sports."

I am not sure many Alabama Football fans agree the seven seasons of CFB Playoff history were any part of a “worst postseason.” Forde didn’t spare any words when he accurately wrote,

"The warring crime families that are the FBS conferences must stop the bickering, stop the backstabbing, stop the posturing, stop the kowtowing to the bowls, stop the every-league-for-itself greed, stop the shortsightedness, stop the obfuscation and overcomplication."

Forde is right. There will be an expanded Playoff. Bigger money will make it happen.

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Some of us don’t agree that expansion is necessarily better for the game. But when it does happen, Forde is correct – do it right.