College football has crowned national champions for more than a century, but the sport’s methodology in determining a champion always has lacked true authenticity.
Championships have been decided by mathematical formulas, by human polls, by computers, by confounding logic.
The history book lists multiple national champions for some years. Louisiana State and Southern California “split” the national title in 2003, even though USC didn’t play in the BCS Championship Game.
A year later, an undefeated Auburn team got left out of the title game because computer rankings determined that USC and Oklahoma were more worthy.
Public pleas for a playoff constantly met resistance from the sport’s old guard, encapsulated by an infamous quote from Ohio State President Gordon Gee in 2007.
“They’ll have to wrench a playoff system from my cold, dead hands,” Gee said.
Thankfully, change didn’t require such a drastic conclusion. Decision-makers finally budged and college football joined the ranks of other sports by adopting a playoff, starting this season.
So long, BCS. Hello, playoffs.
“This may be the most significant change in the history of college football,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the new College Football Playoff.
A 13-member selection committee will choose four teams to compete in the inaugural playoff. The semifinals will be at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. The national championship game takes place Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
No break from bickering
The overdue arrival of a playoff likely will increase the excitement and popularity (and revenue) of college football’s postseason because fans can understand and embrace a tournament format.
The playoff, however, won’t eliminate the annual controversy surrounding which teams get to play for the national championship.
The BCS caused anger and confusion by relying on computer algorithms. The playoff will lead to resentment from the team that finishes No. 5 in the committee’s rankings.
Consider this hypothetical: Five teams from power conferences finish the regular season with one loss. Good luck appeasing the fan base of the team not included in the playoff.
“Any event that’s worth its salt brings contention with it,” Hancock said. “That’s because it’s an event that people want to participate in. And so those that just barely don’t make it are very disappointed.”
Former Wisconsin coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez weighed the “good and bad” before agreeing to be on the selection committee. He said committee members understand the pressure and magnitude of being asked to choose between teams with similar résumés.
“I’m sure people ranked 5, 6, 7, 8 are going to disagree,” he said. “But we’ll have reasons and criteria that we used to determine which teams were 1 through 4.”