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The changing playoff landscape

So here we are, about to crown another college football champion (at presstime, the game hadn’t been played yet).

Say what you will of the College Football Playoff’s current format, but somehow, it’s always managed to get it right. Sure, there’s the bellyaching about placing every conference champion in the mix, or that there are not enough teams.

Blah blah blah.

I’m not an opponent to the four-team format, but I’m not really a proponent either. In a four-team setting, sure, somebody worthy is going to be left out. Same if you went to a 32-game format. Somebody is going to cry foul.

I’ve always said of the current format: pick the best four teams, irrespective of conference championships or bloated records (see Cincinnati in 2021).

I advocated an eight-team format when all this talk was going on 20 years ago. Eight teams essentially answers all the questions. On any given year, at most, you might find four teams with a legit beef about being the national champion. Usually it’s two, maybe three. Not much more than that.

EIght teams ensure that you get pretty good matchups and the teams all will have pretty good records and resumes…or at least they should. Plus, you can get an eight-team playoff done in three weeks, four, if you insist on having a two-week break between the semifinals and the finals.

I don’t like the 12-team format. I don’t like bye weeks in the playoffs (this isn’t the NFL), and you run the risk of having some three-loss teams playing for a national championship. I hate where we’ve arrived as a society where we have to offer participation trophies.

I remember, back in the day when getting to post-season was a reward for doing great things. When I graduated high school, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, there were maybe a dozen bowl games. I remember a few eight-win teams staying at home for the holidays.

It was tough.

Now, win a few games, like Bluebird Girls’ Academy, Missouri Wesleyan and go 6-3 in your conference, and you get a bowl game, or, perhaps, fairly soon, a shot at the playoffs. I’m sorry, but I don’t think a three-loss team deserves a shot at a national championship.

I can hear the naysayers who want to compare the apples and oranges that are college football aned college hoops. “But Steele, don’t you remember N.C. State won the national title with 10 losses? So did the 1981 Indiana team. Even the Lady Vols won a national championship with 10 losses.”

Hoops and football are different sets of dogs. Basketball plays 30-35 games a year and has a conference tournament. A loss in November isn’t as critical to a basketball team as a loss in September might be to a college football team. 

Sure, LSU won the national title with two losses, so that’s a precedent. But those were unusual circumstances. LSU, in 2007, as I recall, lost two games in triple-overtime to ranked teams. That’s how the Tigers leapfrogged everybody after the SEC championship.

Having a playoff already has made the bowl games almost unwatchable, with a few exceptions. Now we have trends where players opt out of playing bowl games, abandoning all those who helped the stars get their NFL shot. I’m not a fan. You see unmotivated teams playing in the Sugar or Rose bowls. This is the environment the power brokers of college football has created.

Maybe I’ve become a bit of a curmudgeon in my old age, but, being honest, I thought college football was a lot more interesting the old way. Perhaps controversial, but a lot more interesting. 

But what do I know. And, oh yeah, get off my lawn!


Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox radio show, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT, Monday-Thursday on WRJB radio, 95.9 FM, Camden, Tenn.

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