11:42 am Jun. 27, 2012
College football's decision to allow a four-team playoff to decide the sport's championship is a good start, because any move toward the 68-team NCAA tournament that decides college basketball's champion is an absolute positive.
There are concerns with the proposal, which will take effect in 2014. Yet to be decided is exactly how teams will be selected to participate in the two semifinal bowls, to be played on either New Years' Eve or New Years' Day, and the championship, to be played the first Monday after that. Both a computerized model, or a group like the selection committee utilized in basketball, has inherent limitations.
Still, the decision guarantees a fairer path to the championship for a greater number of teams. No longer will a champion be decided by the votes of sportswriters or coaches, as it was for most of my childhood. Any one of four teams will get a shot at winning two games and becoming a champion. It is the most democratic college football has ever been, even if the candidates ultimately get determined in a rigged way.
It doesn't approach the magic of March Madness, however. Year after year, 68 teams, who have either won plenty of games in the regular season, their conference tournament, or frequently both, get the chance to win six games over three weeks and win a championship. It is a testament to both the overall quality of teams in the NCAA tournament, and the respect for the accomplishment of winning it, that no one seriously objects to calling the tournament's winner the champion.
Connecticut in 2010 was the ninth seed in the Big East Conference. But after winning the conference tournament, then the NCAA tournament, it was clear to everyone: Connecticut was the national champion. Even with nine losses.
That kind of drama has been totally missing from college football, well, forever. Fans of every team know that the moment their team loses a game, they're almost certainly not winning the national championship. Two losses, and it is impossible. I still remember the 2006 Rutgers team that seemed possibly destined for an unlikely title run, and how the season utterly ended the moment the Scarlet Knights fell to Cincinnati.
So stories like Connecticut, a team coming together over the course of a season to win a title, haven't existed in college football. Teams like Virginia Commonwealth, the remarkable 2011 team that beat Kansas and a number of other heavyweights to make the Final Four, still won't happen in college football.
Nevertheless, four is better than two. The new playoff system is a start.