ONCE AGAIN, the Bowl Championship Series got it right.
Just as it had done for most of the past 15 college football seasons in determining the pairing for the national championship game, the BCS knew what it was doing when it decided last week on a four-team playoff to begin after the 2014 regular season.
BCS officials, conference commissioners and TV executives met in Florida with a two-pronged order of business. First, they needed a college football playoff that would satisfy university presidents who generally oppose the idea because the sport already is spiraling out of control. Next, they needed to quell the annual uproar by media and fans who clamor for a playoff of any kind.
They departed Florida having pacified both camps.
University presidents are likely to approve the plan later this summer because it adds two teams — and two semifinal games — to the playoff mix. By playing the semifinal games on New Year’s Day as proposed, presidents will be further satisfied since it will mean not extending the season into the spring semester on college campuses.
Media and fans now believe they have a playoff. It is not the eight- or 16-team variety wanted by most, but a playoff is a playoff. As part of selling the new system to the public, BCS officials need to immediately begin calling it a “playoff,” and drop the “four-team event” nonsense they touted out of the Florida meetings.
The beauty of the new system is that not much will change. The bowl system will remain virtually intact, as it should, and the regular-season will continue to be the most meaningful in sports.
“I think it is a pretty good system,” Eric Hyman, USC’s athletics director said of the current BCS system, whose sole purpose is to select the two teams that will play in a national championship game. “But I think the public outcry was getting more toward a playoff and that will happen. I think the current system has been pretty terrific, myself. You just have the skeptics out there. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.”
What media and fans got was a subtle shift in the annual controversy over which teams should play for the national title. Previously, the argument was about the third team in the BCS rankings that got left out. Now, the argument will be about the fifth team in the rankings that gets left out.
Last season serves as the perfect example of what will change. The final BCS rankings at the conclusion of the 2011 regular season looked like this: 1. LSU; 2. Alabama; 3. Oklahoma State; 4. Stanford.
The only argument against the LSU-Alabama national title matchup came from Oklahoma State. Like Alabama, Oklahoma State lost one regular-season game. Alabama got the edge in the rankings because its loss was to unbeaten LSU, while Oklahoma State lost to an Iowa State team that finished 6-7.
Under the new four-team system, Oklahoma State and Stanford would have joined LSU and Alabama in the playoffs. An argument, no doubt, would have come from Oregon, which was No. 5 in the BCS rankings.
Oregon lost to both LSU and Southern California during the regular season. The Ducks and Stanford tied for first place in the Pac-12 North Division, but Oregon played in the league championship game thanks to a 53-30 drubbing of Stanford — the Cardinal’s only loss — during the regular-season.
The debate over which teams get into the championship game (current system) or into the playoffs (future system) is what drives college football during the regular season. It is a constant topic of discussion from the first kickoff in August until the final conference championship game in early-December.
A four-team playoff is not going to lessen that discussion. That is a good thing, because the current BCS system works. It simply needed tweaking. At least that is what many SEC coaches said on a recent teleconference.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good system right now,” said Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, whose words were echoed by other coaches. “I think everybody looks to poke holes in it, but for the most part it’s worked out very well every year.”
It works because college football playoffs begin with the opening week of the regular season and gradually eliminate teams from the national championship hunt until only two remain. For the teams that drop out of the title-game picture, there remains a quest for a bowl game.
None of that will change with the four-team playoff because, once again, the BCS got it right.