The new playoff format may help crown a national champion, but will it allow its constituent bowls to host exciting matchups featuring teams who miss the playoffs? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
With yesterday's announcement that the NCAA Presidential Oversight Committee approved the conference commissioners' recommendation that the college football bowl subdivision implement a 4-team playoff starting with the 2014 season, administrators and fans are heralding the death of the BCS and the ushering in of an exciting new time in college football. And they're absolutely right. A four-team seeded playoff rotating its semifinal games among the four existing BCS bowls and two new TBA bowls and bidding out the championship game Super Bowl-style is going to generate several times the GDP of most African countries and whip college football fans into a fervor as the season winds down and the time to select the four teams draws near. It's good for the sport, it's good for the fans, it's good for everybody.
But does it truly fix the problems with the BCS? Stay with me, here. Since 1998, how many times has the backlash over the two teams playing in the national championship game really been that great? And would a four team playoff have fixed anything? The folks at the mothership have done a great job of breaking down what the BCS would have looked like under the four team playoff model, so I'll let that analysis speak for itself (seriously, it's a great read and helps give context to my following points). Maybe the playoff solves some problems but creates others when it comes to picking a national champion, we really won't know until we see how things play out.
But here's my beef: the way a national champion was crowned wasn't the only problem with the BCS. There were always issues when it came to which teams were selected in the first place, and then with how teams were matched up in various bowls.
The automatic qualifier provision was always a bone of contention (usually with folks ripping the Big East) with piss-poor teams like 2004 Pitt, 2005 Florida State, and 2010 UConn making it into the BCS at the exlcusion of other, probably more-deserving candidates.
Then you have the selection of dubious at-large teams. In 2007 alone, you had an 11-1 Kansas selected over an 11-2 Missouri team that had beat them in the last game of the regular season and had lost only twice to Oklahoma AND the selection of a 9-3 Illinois team to play in the Rose Bowl. Just last year, a dubious Virginia Tech squad swiped a bid while very good Boise State and TCU teams were left to flounder in forgettable matchups. Who can forget Mack Brown lobbying in 2004 for Texas to move up in the polls so it could (and did) secure a bid over an equally-deserving Cal team? Oh, and don't get me started on how pretty much every selection of Notre Dame ever ended up shafting someone.
Finally, there are the matchups. In 2007, pretty much everyone in the world wanted to see a red-hot Georgia team take on USC in the Rose Bowl. Instead? The Rose took a pitiful Illinois team to sacrifice to the Trojans and we ended up sleeping throug Georgia's demolition of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Everyone was excited when undefeated TCU and Boise State teams made it to the BCS in 2009...until they were paired against each other. And for that matter, did anyone's pulse race when they announced Virginia Tech-Michigan for this year's Sugar Bowl (although that one did turn out to be a pretty good game).
The fact of the matter is, nevermind its flaws in selecting a national champion, the BCS (particularly since its expansion to 10 teams in 2006) has consistently produced questionable selections and boring matchups. At this point, we don't know much about the other bowls involved or how teams will be selected for them. We have the B1G-Pac 12 matchup in the Rose, the SEC-Big 12 battle in the Champions Bowl (site TBD), and a new ACC deal pending with the Orange Bowl. Will the new format provide both the opportunity and the incentive for bowls to feature compelling matchups between exciting teams? For the sake of college football, I certainly hope so.