Well it is finally here. The first bracket of the College Football Playoffs. After years and years of fans, media, and teams clamoring for a playoff system here we are. The lone remaining collegiate sport without a playoff system will prepare for its inaugural tournament. Four teams set to fight it out and crown a tournament style champion. Simple as that, right? Everyone is happy, right? As a certain noted college football analyst might say…Not So Fast My Friend. What would college football be without some controversy?
The four teams announced by the College Football Playoff panel are certainly worthy. Alabama is dynasty that year in and year out competes for national titles, Oregon is finally getting their chance to grab a long elusive title, Florida State is the defending champion and undefeated, and Ohio State has progressively improved as the season went on despite being down to their third string quarterback.
And no I am not going to be one of those that complains, oh well they should extend it to eight or 16 teams. Although I do feel that it should be eight, and have always said so. But four is what they picked so four is what it is. And no I am not going to be one that says no matter how much they do extend the spots to there will be teams arguing for a spot in, because that is true as well. What I am going to talk about is the setup. These rankings the CFP panel released every week leading up to today’s shakeup.
I think they biggest problem with this setup is the weekly releasing of the polls and the interviews held after. Yes I know it is all about exposure. Driving the interest and keeping people talking about the playoffs. But here is the problem with weekly releases about the poll. They can be influenced, and I feel without a doubt have been influenced.
We have seen numerous times this year a team move dramatically up or down. Just this week TCU, ranked third last week, dropped three spots after winning 55-3 (albeit an inferior opponent). And I am not arguing for TCU, because Baylor did beat them head to head. Which reminds me how much blame does Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the Big 12 deserve? He did not take a stand for either of his teams and both were left outside looking in. The Big 12 by-laws even break it down as head-to-head winner shall be champion. The conference’s slogan is “One True Champion”. This misstep coming after the Big 12 nearly fell apart because they sided with Texas, allowing Texas A&M and Missouri to move to the SEC; almost losing Oklahoma. It’s been a rough stretch for the Big 12 conference no doubt.
Back to the influence of the polls. Besides this week’s poll we saw the panel previously said a team looks better than another, justifying their ranking. But then when the public debates that for the entire week somehow the panel corrects it and changes their tune. These panelists are not machines, they take into account other factors (like the “eye test”) which is great. But by announcing the rankings each week they are subjected to criticism and possible subconsciously that influences their rankings following.
We heard all year about the eye test. How many teams looked better than Florida State this year? But you can’t leave out the undefeated defending champion, right? Well we also heard all week about Ohio State playing the best football of any team. And they looked great. But for them to rise from #16 in the first poll to #4 and into the playoffs over a span of six weeks. In fact moved from #14 to #8, six spots, in just one week after their win over Michigan State. Only one other team made a similar jump, Alabama moving from #5 to #1 after knocking off Mississippi State. But that was a win over the #1 team, not a team that was #8 (Michigan State).
So that’s quite a push, I wonder how they jumped that high in such a short amount of time? Could it be because we also heard all week about media clamoring about the fact that TCU and Baylor may be left out because the Big 12 conference couldn’t decide? Because whether anyone wants to admit it the Big 10 has more influence than the Big 12? Hmm……there it is. The narrative was created and the panelists bit on it.
These panelists have the right mindset and have a tough job. Choosing what teams will compete for a national title. What schools will get a chance for greater money. There is no easy way to accomplish the selections. People complain every spring about the March Madness seletions. Every tournament at every level always has schools that feel they were excluded.
The setup for the CFP was made to be transparent so people can see the process. And obviously the higher ups want the weekly attention so they can’t just wait until the end to release the rankings. The panel members will continue be judged each week they announce the rankings. It truly is a subjective process. But what I do not like is the obvious weekly roller-coaster rankings without a base guidelines. Is it eye-test? Is it based on history? Is it based on your schedule? They have used all of these reasons. But you can’t pick and choose when to apply them. College Football has made its bed and now must lie in it.