CFP: A Matter of Caliber

15 Dec

When it comes to most sporting playoffs, the post-season net is cast far & wide. The fatter the field grows, the more glims gander and the more moola is made.

But money’s not the only motivation towards inclusiveness.

A small respect goes out to regionalism as well as a tip o’ the cap to quality by assuring the best team is included and gets crowned the year’s champion.

In football, the NFL and college differ slightly in their respective playoff picture. Both, like NCAA b-ball, are single-elimination, but the party’s noticeably bigger in the pros.

NFL punches 12 tickets, six in each conference (AFC / NFC) with four division winners and two wild entrants, while the new College Football Playoff system seeds four schools.

Since someone started awarding college football’s national championship, retroactively selected by Mr. Parke Davis (‘33 (Princeton)) who generously started the list running from 1869 (Wikipedia)), the title has most often been decided on a two-team tussle.

As a myriad of competing pollsters sprang forth over the decades, sometimes that meant dueling title match-ups over the holidays, where the two winning schools could simultaneously hold the winner’s cup and rightly call themselves national champs.

And it worked out pretty well. There were some rightful grumblings (1970), but all in all, it pleased the nation on the whole.

Then greed worked its way into the picture (80s) and a push for a playoff began.


I favored the duel polling-system (AP / UPI) over the BCS. It was a unique operation. Where else but boxing and college football could you have two, legitimate champs and hardly anyone squawked?

As the CFP rolled out its first final four selection this week, the Committee took heat for passing on two 11-1 schools in TCU (6) and Baylor (5). But given the narrow parameters within which they selected, they have to be commended for, overall, doing a fine job.

The problem: Committee’s action was half-measured. A 4-team field’s too small.

If the changes that took us from a duel polling system, to BCS and then the CFP, were suppose to promote one thing virtuous beyond working their money-makers, it was that every championship caliber team would make the playoff.

Popular opinion would say TCU and Baylor both possess the same CC as do selectees defending champ Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon, though, those same folks would be hard-pressed to bump any of the chosen four.

Some sports put on a big playoff bash: NBA, NHL, NCAA b-ball, hockey and baseball, too. The pool is diluted in early rounds but whomever runs the gauntlet, survives the long arduous journey will leave little doubt they are the best team in the land.

Other venues like NFL and MLB have expanded their playoff franchise and the results are mixed. Not infrequently, the hottest team, not necessarily the best, will take the trophy.

The College Football Playoff Committee certainly understands the multiple goals they’re entrusted to pursue in their mandate, things like $$$, quality of competition and fairness, as well as the practical limitations in holding a gridiron playoff during holiday season.

But at some point the CFP field will likely have to be expanded to eight teams.

Every year you can count on anywhere from 2 to 8 clubs who are, by regular season’s end, clearly in possession of something special. In pigskin play, the field of top talent is small. Some years, one team may stand slightly taller than the rest, but there’s always at least a few more who qualify as possessing the championship wherewithal.


Two teams tangling for the title is what we had. Four, in most seasons, won’t be enough. Six won’t work, so it’s gotta’ be eight. That means another week of playoff. And there in may lay the crux of the problem.

The truth behind the Committee’s decision to forego an eight-team, expanded field and the additional week of playoff it would require, may never be fully revealed.

Not likely it was an academic conflict a bigger playoff might’ve posed for players as could be inferred. Concern over studies from the greed-meisters of College Enterprise, Inc.? Fat chance.

More likely it was a competing financial interest(s).

Expanding the playoff pool has potential of diluting the quality of competition.

Again, some season’s there’ll be only 2 or 3 top-talent teams to test. Other years, like 2014, it may be as many as 5 or 6. But better to be inclusive (8) than exclusive (4) and leave out some serious contenders and the title’s worth in doubt.

That means the grumblings will grow. That was bearable 20 years ago but with today’s information highways in social media and the internet, the rumblings could prove grizzly.

Events like these prefer to be settled, predictable every year so money-makers can plan accordingly, but maybe a flex-format is a route to consider. Leave the Cmte the option of expanding or retracting the field each year, depending on the caliber of teams in that particular season of play.

Whatever the reason(s), they best get it corrected soon or the squawk-meter will red-line with complaints every December and “Remember the Alamo” will turn into ‘Remember Baylor -TCU.’

Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo credit: NCAA official football, Wilson; UTx, wc.cca, 2005, Johntex; TxTU, K.Mericle, wc.cca, 6.7.07
Posted: 12.15.14 @ 5:37; edit 6:51pm EST


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