Rob Oller | College football hits bull's-eye with proposed 12-team playoff format
Columbus experienced consecutive days of blue skies. Prehistoric bugs mostly have stopped smashing into windshields. And a college football 12-team playoff is nearly bulletproof.
So which one of you made a deal with the devil? Perfect weather is one thing. No more having to listen to — or read about — cicadas is another. But a proposal by college pooh-bahs that is hard to poke holes in? Pinch me.
Criticizing college football power brokers has become something of a blood sport for fans and media, beginning with the NCAA and continuing through conference commissioners — we’re looking at you, Kevin Warren — and including the College Football Playoff administrators and selection committee. Governing college athletics is mostly a thankless job, even if those vacation homes in the mountains are a nice bonus. Solving the name, image and likeness conundrum is one example of how impossible it is to make everyone happy.
But dadgummit if this 12-team playoff plan doesn’t come close to checking all the boxes. The plan is still wet cement, though it should solidify as the full playoff management committee votes on whether to recommend expansion to college presidents who make up the CFP oversight committee. The presidents and management committee are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Dallas. Expect a presidential rubber stamp no later than September.
Alternate reality:In 12-team format, Buckeyes would have had some juicy matchups
Will there be tweaks? Likely, but most changes will be cosmetic more than substantive. That’s how solid the initial proposal was. If anything, major structural changes will fall to conference commissioners, who must decide whether to eliminate divisions in order to improve conference championship game matchups and better position their teams for playoff consideration.
How would that work? The Big Ten currently bases conference championship game qualification on East-West division winners. In 2018, Northwestern made the conference title game out of the West with a conference record of 8-1, but the Wildcats were 8-4 overall. Ohio State and Michigan in the East each were 8-1 in conference games, but the Buckeyes were 11-1 overall and Michigan 10-2.
Revisiting the 2018 season, but eliminating divisions and instead selecting championship game participation based solely on record, Michigan instead of Northwestern would have played Ohio State, because the Wolverines’ won head-to-head against the Wildcats. An Ohio State-Michigan rematch would have been problematic for many, but under the proposed format the Big Ten would benefit. Which of Ohio State’s defeated opponents would stand a better chance of earning a second Big Ten bid into the 12-game playoff? An 8-5 Northwestern or 10-3 Michigan? Or flip it around. Beating Michigan a second straight time would help the Buckeyes’ playoff seeding more than defeating a five-loss Northwestern.
Such scenarios will play out throughout all conferences, which means divisions may soon be a thing of the past. Could conference championship games also get tossed? If player safety was as important as the NCAA and college presidents and athletic directors like to pretend, then giving athletes a weekend off to rest for the upcoming playoff grind would be a no-brainer. But conference championship games bring in TV and attendance dollars, so you can forget about them exiting the schedule.
As for the CFP, it is handling its own business better than anyone could have expected.
Among the positives of the 12-team proposal:
• Notre Dame no longer is so golden. Fans irritated by the postseason preferential treatment, perceived or real, afforded the Fighting Irish through the years will love that ND cannot earn one of the byes that would go to the four highest-ranked conference champions. Further, until joining a conference, the Irish would never fare better than an at-large selection, because automatic bids go only to the six highest-ranked conference champions.
• First-round games played in home stadiums. This is where Notre Dame potentially wins, if it can earn a high enough seed to host one of the four playoff openers. But the bigger winner is college football, which can show off its pageantry in places like Wisconsin’s Camp Randall in December. Have fun with that, SEC teams coming north for the holidays.
• Variety adds spice. Alabama and Clemson have made the playoff six times in seven years; Ohio State and Oklahoma four times. That is 71% of the spots to four of 130 FBS teams. December playoffs may not be March Madness, but for fans watching from home, 12 teams trumps four.
All-in-all, college football nailed it. Not perfect, mind you, but if nitpicking is the worst that happens, then the gatekeepers of the game have done something right.