Time Out with Newt Clark

Photo by Joey Cerone

After 16 years, the BCS era of college football has finally come to an end. The system that was so often criticized by fans across the nation will be replaced by the highly anticipated four team playoff. As hated as the BCS was, it will only take a few years until the playoff system is even more despised.

One of the most common complaints about the BCS was that it didn’t let teams settle it on the field. Every so often, there were times when three teams felt they deserved a spot in the National Championship, but since there could only be two, one had to be left out. This obviously never went over well with the fan base of the team who found themselves the odd man out.

This will become much more common with the four team playoff. Instead of the occasional year where you may three undefeated teams vouching for one of the two spots in the BCS Championship, you may now have four or five one loss teams fighting for two spots in the playoff.

Look at the 2010 season, which concluded with Auburn and Cam Newton defeating Oregon in the BCS Championship, as an example. The season ended with three undefeated teams: Auburn, Oregon, and TCU. With Auburn and Oregon playing much more difficult schedules—TCU wasn’t in an AQ conference at the time—there wasn’t too much debate about who should be playing in the BCS Championship. It would have been a different story had a four team playoff been implemented at the time. Obviously Auburn and Oregon would have got two of the spots, but what about the other two? An undefeated TCU would have a good argument, but so would a one loss Stanford, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Only two of those five teams would be chosen for a playoff spot, leaving three fan bases unhappy.

My second issue with the playoff system is that it will reward teams for not making their conference championship. The 2011 season is a perfect example of this. At the end of the regular season, Notre Dame was ranked No. 1, followed by Alabama and UGA. UGA would go on to lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship and dropped to seventh in the rankings. Meanwhile, an 11-1 in Florida team, who lost to UGA in the regular season, who didn’t even make the conference championship, moved up to third.

When the four team playoff arrives, it will be an advantage for teams to be in Florida’s position rather than UGA’s. Instead of having to go win one more game and actually earn your spot, you just sit on the couch and watch one of the teams ahead of you lose and open up your path to the playoffs.

The fairest way to conduct the playoff system, assuming that it stays at four teams, is to only allow conference champions to qualify. Most people will quickly dismiss this, claiming that if you have to be a conference champion, then the playoff won’t have the four best teams in the country. I agree that you most likely won’t have the four best teams in the country, but the point of the playoff system is not about choosing the four best teams in the country—it’s simply about crowning the single best team.

If you have a pool of four conference champions, there’s a pretty good chance that out of those four one of those is the best team in the country. During the BCS era, there was only one time when a team that didn’t play in their conference championship went on to win the national championship. It was Alabama in 2012 when their sole loss was to conference champion LSU, whom they went on to defeat in the BCS National Championship.