• phil cantor/@osgphil

December 2020: The year we see how stupid the College Football Playoff is


Screengrab: @theACCDN/Twitter

So, we've finally hit the point where all of College Football's subjective warts are about to air in public. It's the day we find out what most of us already know, who will be in the "playoff".


As I write this, the "selections" have yet to be made, but if I may be so bold, we know what is going to happen. Which really sucks.


1st seed: Alabama

2nd seed: Clemson

3rd seed: Ohio State

4th seed: Notre Dame


Yeah, I know, I'm stating the obvious. Texas A&M has an argument for the 4th slot after Notre Dame laid an egg vs. Clemson in the ACC Championship. But the Aggies don't have the "Brand" name the Irish do, and for the CFP Committee, that's really the only thing that matters.


If we're being totally unbiased, Cincinnati or even Coastal Carolina might arguably be more worthy of the fourth spot, but we all know that will never happen. Heck, there's a chance neither of them will make the "Pick Six" games either which is outrageous and would speak volumes to just how screwed up the "committee" system is.


And that's part of the problem here.


I've been saying this for the past week in several columns, College Football will never get this right until they take the objectivity out of things. Which means no more polls and no more "playoff committees". They rely solely on the opinions of a chosen group of people. It's not possible for them to be neutral.


Because people by nature are not nearly as objective as they might think they are, "committees" will never be totally right. And listen, I get it. College Football has always been about rankings, polls and bowl games. It's tradition, right?


If you are a firm believer in keeping with tradition, ok, that's a choice and it means you don't get to complain if your team gets screwed over or never gets a chance to find out if they are national championship worthy. For roughly 120 of the 130 teams in College Football the highlight of your season will be a chance to play in such lovely places as Montgomery, Alabama or Boise, Idaho in a totally meaningless lower tier bowl game that exists only to fill ESPN's December programming schedule.


But if you believe we all need to TRULY know who the best team in College Football is or at least have a reason to be excited about what your team can accomplish in a given season, something needs to change.


The so-called "playoff" exists right now solely for the benefit of the Power Five Conferences and really, it's only four of those five. The Pac 12 is largely irrelevant in that grouping these days in part because they've struggled to be competitive on a national scale and in part because the lack of east coast recognition and publicity killing their brand combined with totally incompetent leadership under the bumble-headed Larry Scott.


I've said this before, at the beginning of every season, the stupid, pointless pre-season polls automatically rule out most teams from any kind of playoff contention. The same teams are always in the top 25 to start the year, all because of their "brand".


Meanwhile, Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame compete for the four team playoff. Since 2017, some combination of these teams are the only ones who've played for the title. The only other teams to break through this combo: Florida St., Michigan St. and Washington. That's it. Nobody else.


That has to change. If you are a TRUE fan of the game, seeing the same teams year after year after year needs to stop. Yes, right now, there's a reason the same teams make it in: Money.


They have most of the money. Because they continue to play in the playoff, they continue to make a ton more money than the other schools. And it matters. A lot. When all the four and five star recruits go to the same place, it's about money and facilities and because these schools have it all, they get all the best recruits. Then the cycle continues.



All of this could and would be easy to change or fix. If there were enough people willing to change it. Just taking the fact decisions are made off-the field would help. Taking it out of the hands of a "committee" or "pollsters" would be a good start.


Why do we have to breathlessly await the weekly AP poll or Coaches poll or Committee poll on Sunday's? Why are "power rankings" even a thing? Polls tell us nothing about who the best teams are, only the most popular.


Sure, it's pretty obvious Alabama and Clemson are the two best teams this year, I get that. And yeah, they easily won their conference titles, I get that too. They should and would be competing for the title in a REAL playoff for a championship whether the current system stays in place or we go to one that matters for everyone.


Which is the whole point here. Why can't we have a legitimate on the field competition for playoff teams? Why can't each of the Power Five conferences have a playoff team with two wild cards and a Group of Five team? Or some years more than one Group of Five team?


Seriously. How hard would it be? They do a larger scale playoff in the lower levels and conference titles matter in EACH conference. They do it in the pros. And the NCAA does it in basketball. Why can't we do it at the highest level of College Football?


A large part of it is Bowl Games. The antiquated system of an alleged reward for teams at the end of the season. Win six games, congratulations, you get a bowl game and you get a bowl game and you get a bowl game.



They (bowl games) largely mean nothing anymore. Players are opting out of them in larger numbers every year because there's nothing to be gained by playing if you are a potential NFL draftee. Only a potential injury.


The games are complete exhibitions. They mean absolutely nothing to players other than a Best Buy gift bag and free chain restaurant food. In 2020, they mean even less as we have 11 bowls that have been canceled and with teams opting out almost daily, we may not have enough teams to play the ones that remain outside the Pick Six playoff games.


Which should tell you everything you need to know about bowl games. Their relevance is gone. They'll never be what they were. For people my age, there's a certain nostalgic thing about sitting in front of the TV all day on New Years Day watching the games. Welp, while it is a great childhood memory, the world my friends has changed. A lot.


Bowl games as currently organized largely exist to (a) make money for the "committee" and (b) fill December programming voids for ESPN. That's it. I said this in my last rant, the "committees" are largely local corporate executives wearing horribly colored sport coats who get upwards of six-figures to help put on one football game each year.


The bowl games are super profitable for them.


If you didn't know--the way they are set up is pretty simple. When you get invited to a game, a team is required to "purchase" game tickets from the "committee" to sell to the allegedly excited fan base. The school is responsible for selling the tickets. If said school doesn't sell all their tickets--guess who's on the hook for the cost? No, it isn't the bowl "committee", it's the school.


Think about it. 20,000 tickets at $30 each is $600,000. Add in say $400,000 for travel expenses for the team and traveling party and it's a $1 million outlay. As long as the game pays out over a million, you likely aren't losing money. But very few schools sell out their ticket allotments. Guess who profits from that?


I'm not a legal expert, but I wonder if it were anything other than sport, is this type of set up even legal?


While the cost and amount of tickets generally varies by game, the above example is just a quick exercise in the math involved. The point is more about how and why bowl games should just go away.


Hey, listen, at the end of the day, I get it. There are way too many people with their hands in the cookie jars for the bowl system to disappear. I know it won't happen without a lot of people kicking and screaming along the way. Don't feel sorry for bowl committees, the corporate execs make plenty of money doing their day jobs. They'll be fine.


The argument also always includes "Well, the city makes tourist dollars". I don't know about you, but I've never quite understood how measurable that is. You can easily find an economics professor somewhere who will say it is profitable and its also very easy to find one who says it makes no difference what so ever in a city's economy.


I suppose for a "playoff" bowl game, yeah, there's probably good traveling fan money to be made (in any other year than 2020). Mostly because for those games, fans will travel. But those are largely the exceptions to what I believe to be the rule.


Try watching one of the late December bowl games on ESPN and see just how many "fans" are in the stands. Even in a non-pandemic season, the games are not even close to a sellout.


I also fully understand since the four-letter network largely owns or funds these games and has incentive to make them profitable, they aren't likely to go away. But I would make the argument having the eight or more games of a full-on playoff could and would be even MORE profitable for them.


Those games, much like the NFL Playoffs would be much, much more exciting, draw more in-person fans and a much bigger TV audience. I'd bet money on it.


But doing that would take a bold move by everyone from the "playoff committee" on down and I just don't think you can get that many execu-trons to buy into such a radical break with longstanding tradition.


Which sucks.


Because until something changes, every single year, there's a really, really good chance we're going to see some variation of Alabama vs. Clemson playing for the so-called title and it won't change. It can't change.


The system is set up for the teams that make the playoffs to continue making way more money than anyone else which means they will always be a step ahead. And until something changes, there's nothing the other 120 or so teams in the FBS or the fans who are dying to see something remotely approaching fairness can do about it.

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