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Don’t Expect College Playoff to Eliminate Controversy


The voice rose up from the state of Florida eight years ago and cut deep into Big Ten country, where there existed a clamor for a historic rematch.

The voice rang with outrage against the idea that Ohio State and Michigan should play again in the Bowl Championship Series title game after the No. 1 Buckeyes had defeated the No. 2 Wolverines 42-39 in the regular-season finale in 2006.

The voice so contrarian to Midwestern wishes belonged to Urban Meyer, then coach of the Florida Gators.

“If that (rematch) does happen, all the presidents need to get together immediately and put together a playoff system. I mean like now,” Meyer said.

The campaigning helped Florida earn a spot in the title game, where the one-loss Gators thrashed undefeated Ohio State by 27 points (41-14), beginning a streak of seven national titles won by Southeastern Conference schools.

Meyer, now coach of Ohio State, was one voice in a chorus of nationwide complaints that annually battered the BCS until its walls finally tumbled down after 16 seasons of systematically pitting the two top-rated teams to determine college football’s champion.

So here we are now, free of the BCS, entering the first season of the generically named College Football Playoff, in which a 13-member selection committee will select and seed a postseason playoff bracket of four teams.

Is everyone happy?

“Certainly the fifth team is going to feel a little bit left out,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

Ah, yes, what about that fifth team, mathematically guaranteed to be the champion of one of the power conferences: the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern? Should the Big Ten champion expect to be selected to participate in one of this season’s Jan. 1 semifinal games, either the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl?

“It should be, yeah,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If you’re the Big Ten champion, you have a heck of a good chance. If you’re a champion with two losses or three losses, maybe not. So you know, it’s the same old thing: The more you win, the better off you are.”

The consensus inside college football is that the sport is better off shedding the skin of the convoluted BCS in favor of the first-ever playoff in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which will culminate with a championship game Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.

“I think I like it,” Meyer said. “It’s good for the fans. It’s good for college football. But there are still a lot of concerns.”

Meyer is worried about fatigue for participants and the financial strain placed upon a school’s fans and players’ families, who might have to travel to a league championship game and possibly two more postseason games within a month.

Even the beneficiaries of the playoff money, the 10 FBS conferences, acknowledge that the system ESPN paid $7.3 billion for the rights to broadcast for 12 years isn’t a cure-all for the complaints that have marked the national-title debate since college football was first played in 1869.

“The controversy hasn’t gone away. It has just shifted,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said.

Public debate is certain to erupt on Oct. 28 when the selection committee unveils its first top 25. The rankings will be announced each week thereafter on national TV until the final four is selected and seeded (No. 1 versus 4, and 2 against 3) on Dec. 9.

The selection committee has said it will value conference champions, head-to-head results and schedule strength, while not placing any limit on how many teams a conference can put in the four-team bracket. There are no automatic spots.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of data points that we will be able to make available to our selection committee,” said Michael Kelly, chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff. “There’s sprawl data, there’s parity data, there’s relative statistics.”

Such numbers, of course, were used as ammunition by critics of the computer-driven BCS. People grew weary of tweaks. The new playoff system, however, has coaches believing that their teams will now be judged more by on-field performance than by preseason polls that some saw as unfair beauty pageants weighted on historical reputations.

“All that nonsense is gone,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “You’ve got to win, period, and I like it.”

For the Big Ten, even if this system is revealed to be flawed, it probably will be a welcomed change. Ohio State was the league’s only team to play in a BCS title game, winning in 2002 and losing in ’06 and ’07.

Michigan State stood 12-1 after beating Ohio State last year in the Big Ten championship game, but the Spartans were No. 4 in the final BCS ratings. They went to the Rose Bowl and beat Stanford but were left wondering what might have been if there had been a playoff.

“I thought we would have been national champions, to be perfectly honest,” Dantonio said.

This season, the door to such an opportunity is cracked open a little more. Arguments probably lie ahead, but history is often messy. Finally, major-college football has a playoff.

“Hopefully,” Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said, “this will give everyone an equal opportunity to play for a national championship, which everyone wants.”

College Football Playoff

Major college football will have a playoff for the first time this season. A 13-member selection committee will name four teams to play in two semifinal games, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. Winners will advance to meet for the title at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The hosts of the two semifinal games will rotate each year among the Peach, Fiesta, Orange, Cotton, Rose and Sugar bowls. All of the games are scheduled for Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

Besides selecting and seeding the semifinal games, the committee also will assign teams to the Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach bowls in years when those bowls are not the hosts of semifinal games.

The committee will begin releasing its top 25 on Oct. 28, and new rankings will be released each week for the remainder of the season. Rankings will be based on criteria such as conference championships, strength of schedule, record and head-to-head results. Two teams from the same conference could compete in each game.

The Selection Committee

Each of the 13 members will serve a staggered three-year term. Committee members who are paid by a school or maintain a professional relationship with that school are recused from participating in votes regarding that school.

Jeff Long: Arkansas athletic director and selection committee chair

Condoleezza Rice: Former U.S. Secretary of State

Barry Alvarez: Wisconsin athletic director and former football coach

Mike Gould: Former Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen.

Tom Jernstedt: Former NCAA executive vice president

Archie Manning: Former Mississippi and NFL quarterback

Tom Osborne: Former Nebraska coach and athletic director

Pat Haden: University of Southern California athletic director

Dan Radakovich: Clemson athletic director

Oliver Luck: West Virginia athletic director

Mike Tranghese: Former Big East commissioner

Tyrone Willingham: Former Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington coach

Steve Wieberg: Former USA Today sportswriter

This article was republished with permission from the author, Todd Jones. It was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch.


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